“I am actually going to have to speak up with Dvai,” Mr. Lacavera says. “It’s not even approaching analysis any more. At least before he would say, ‘Wind hasn’t been successful but here’s been the reasons. Or here’s the other side of that coin.’ Now it is just incumbent propaganda: ‘The government has failed, Wind has failed.’ ”
Commenting on that rebuke, Mr. Ghose said the facts speak for themselves. Wind’s initial target was to have 1.5 million customers by the end of 2012. It currently has 675,000. Its ARPU, meanwhile, is above $30 but is only half of what big carriers pull in. Moreover, complaints are up despite a brand promise of “freedom” for consumers.
“If he wants to criticize me, that’s entirely his objective. But the fact is, we have estimates. He’s always been below the estimates,” Mr. Ghose says. “Unfortunately, I think the vast majority of people would agree with me – he’s been an abject failure. He’s certainly not been a Clearnet or even a Microcell,” referring to two wireless startups from an earlier time.
Mr. Lacavera says analysts like Mr. Ghose fail to provide context, including the “unprecedented” regulatory and legal challenges that Wind has faced. Its launch was delayed after the CRTC deemed that Wind did not have sufficient Canadian ownership and control in 2009. Although cabinet intervened, the case wound its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Incumbents, meanwhile, launched aggressive discount brands like Rogers’ Chatr, while problems with domestic roaming and tower-sharing rules slowed Wind’s expansion.
Mr. Lacavera also admits to making mistakes, especially by focusing on “prepaid” subscribers at the beginning instead of more lucrative “postpaid” customers, who are billed monthly after usage. Now he is hopeful that Wind can start offering nationwide data and voice plans since Ottawa announced plans to cap the rates that small carriers must pay incumbents for using their networks.
“The wind is really at our back now,” Mr. Lacavera says. “But the wind was really in our face, like hurricane-force winds were in our face, for the first three years.”
Incumbents, he added, have received plenty of help from the Canadian government over the years, including “free” spectrum (for which they pay licensing fees), while also benefiting from previous “monopolies” for local telephone and cable service. “How much of those monopolies were directly or indirectly on the backs of taxpayers? This is going to get me into a lot of trouble, this article.”
It wouldn’t be the first time, but Mr. Lacavera isn’t one to self-censor. Journalists consider it part of his charm. Disarming as he dishes, he tells me of his displeasure with some of my stories. It seems he couldn’t “stomach” reading The Lunch with Bernard Lord, head of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which appeared in this space in December, 2012. (Wind, along with Mobilicity and Public Mobile, split with the CWTA in April.)
When our food arrives, Mr. Lacavera is disheartened to discover that he has to take a pause from our banter to remove his trays before digging in to his fish. “What a nightmare,” he says.
Now best known as being Canada’s wireless underdog, Mr. Lacavera is a third-generation Canadian of Italian origin. He was born and raised in Welland, Ont. His father, then a lawyer, is now a judge with the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto. His mother is a retired high-school teacher. His younger sister is director of litigation at Google Inc.
He describes himself as a “normal kid” who got good grades, played hockey and acted in school plays. After earning a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Toronto in 1997, he started Globalive Communications Corp., now Globalive Holdings. His parents urged him to get some work experience at Nortel Networks before striking out on his own, but he was never excited about working for someone else.