With upstart carriers in play, the incumbents and a hedge fund seek traction.
BCE might be in the middle of Round 2 of its blockbuster acquisition of Astral Media Inc., but CEO George Cope says that would not prevent the telecom giant from becoming an acquirer of rival wireless carriers if Ottawa allows for such deals. Potential acquisition targets for BCE could include Wind Mobile and Public Mobile.
Wind is attractive because it offers service in Ontario and pivotal western markets, which generate higher average revenues per user. BCE’s Bell division has already made a push to gain western market share through expanded distribution of Bell stores and the Source and the expansion of the LTE network that it shares with Telus Corp. Public Mobile might also be an option because of the type of spectrum that it owns, which makes it a better fit with Bell’s other network assets. (BCE owns a 15-per-cent stake in The Globe and Mail.)
Rogers Communications Inc.
Earlier this year, Rogers announced an “option deal” to eventually purchase fallow wireless spectrum from Shaw Communications Inc. Rogers wants to use those radio waves to add capacity to its wireless network in key western markets. Rogers won’t formally apply to take control of that asset until the fall of 2014, to remain onside with Ottawa’s ban on transfers to incumbents before that time.
The deal with Shaw is partly what prompted the government to call a review of its spectrum-transfer policy. But if Ottawa gives its blessing to Telus’s purchase of Mobilicity, industry observers suggest the Rogers-Shaw deal should sail through.
Potential bidders for Wind include the major incumbents and private-equity firm Catalyst Capital Group Inc. Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris is also partnering with Wind CEO and chairman Anthony Lacavera on a potential buyout of the Toronto-based carrier.
There is, however, a potential wild card that could spoil any incumbent bid. Under the rules for an upcoming auction of wireless spectrum, bidders and their affiliates cannot pursue takeover talks with other bidders after June 11. A potential sale to an incumbent could be shelved if either Wind or Mr. Lacavera’s holding company registers as a bidder.
Catalyst Capital Group
Fund manager Newton Glassman is making a play to back a fourth player. He invested in Mobilicity’s bonds and made a proposal to refinance the company but was rebuffed. However, he bought the bonds at a discount and will reap a windfall if the Telus deal goes through and his bonds are paid in full. Mr. Glassman is still believed to be eyeing Wind Mobile as a possible way into the wireless business.
“Catalyst still believes that the Canadian wireless market can support an independent, strong, national fourth carrier that will offer consumers real choice, while meeting the government`s priority to provide greater wireless coverage at better rates for consumers,” Catalyst said in a statement. “We remain open to continuing to offer our restructuring and telecommunications industry expertise to invest in the right player, provided the policy and regulatory environments are appropriate.”