The 700MHz Spectrum Auction: Screwed If You Do, Screwed If You Don’t

Posted on 01. Oct, 2013 by in Mobile, Technology

On Monday September 23rd the CRTC released the list of companies that had put forward a deposit with the intention to bid in the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction. Unfortunately that list of companies is populated with only incumbent Canadian carriers and small regional players looking to pick up localized spectrum blocks, none of which will poster much diversity in the Canadian wireless market.

The problem is that Canadians are still being left with no real chance to break out of the current three-player system Canada is currently stuck with. When it comes to a fourth national carrier we really aren’t spoiled for choice. While Wind Mobile is probably closest we have they are currently locked out of Quebec, something that isn’t likely to change any time soon. As such, for companies other than ROBELUS you are screwed if you bid and screwed if you don’t bid.

The following chart outlines the different bidders and the predictions for their bid in this auction:

Band BC Alberta Saskatchewan Manitoba Ontario Quebec The Maritimes
A Bell/TELUS Bell/TELUS Bell/TELUS Bell/TELUS Bell/TELUS Bell/TELUS Bell/TELUS
B TEULUS TELUS TELUS TELUS Bell Bell Bell
C Rogers Rogers Rogers Rogers Rogers Rogers Rogers
C1 Wind Wind Wind Wind Wind Videotron Wind
C2 Wind Wind SaskTel MTS Wind Videotron Eastlink

Rogers, being the Largest carrier, will have their choice of blocks and will most likely choose to continue their interoperability with AT&T in the US and buy all of either block B or C.

Bell and TELUS will also want to maintain their interoperability with the AT&T LTE bands and will want to pick up whichever of B or C Rogers doesn’t buy. As Bell and TELUS cannot both buy the same band they will most likely split the B/C blocks with TELUS picking up the blocks out west while Bell will choose to buy it from Ontario out to the Maritimes. Both Bell and TELUS will probably want to augment their B/C blocks with some extra coverage and will most likely split the A block for that purpose.

Canada has a huge variety of regional carrier who will all want to pick up LTE for both urban data and rural broadband in their respective regions. These regional carriers can be expected to pick one of either block C1 or C2. SaskTel will be expected to pick up  one of those blocks in Saskatchewan, MTS will pick up a one in Manitoba, and EastLink will pick up one in the Maritimes. Quebec is the one exception here in that they will probably repeat what they did in the AWS auction and buy as much as they can, which in this case would be to buy both C1 and C2. This would leave Wind Mobile to  buy one of C1/C2 blocks in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Maritimes while most likely not being able to buy any in Quebec.

This breakdown creates two problem. Wind Mobile, the carrier with the best chance of expanding nation-wide, is left in a tough spot by this auction. With its current use of AWS spectrum for HSPA conectivity Wind is aligned with T-mobile and AT&T in the the US for their 3G and roaming capabilities. With Wind being all but shut out of the bands used by AT&T for LTE (B/C), and having to use C1/C2, they will be using bands populated exclusively by Verizon who uses EVDO instead of HSPA for their 3G tech. This means that not only will roaming in the US be a problem due to technological interoperablity but it will also make it harder for Wind to source phones with support for both T-mobile 3G bands and Verizon LTE bands.

This auction predictions in this post were made with input from Jordan B.

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