On Dec. 16, 2009, at a ceremony on Toronto’s waterfront, Anthony Lacavera pulled the cover off a humorous statue that depicted a “typical” cellphone user and launched Wind Mobile, a feisty upstart that led the charge of Canada’s new wireless companies. A year later, Canada’s telecom industry is in flux, with four new competitors in the market and more planning to begin chasing customers in 2011. Mr. Lacavera talked to Iain Marlow about poor-quality networks, advertising wars and buying up his new-entrant colleagues.
What have you learned so far?
The demand for wireless services is exploding. The growth in data consumption – mobile Internet – is exploding. And there’s a great opportunity to build a national independent choice for Canadians.
It wasn’t long, of course, before Rogers and Bell brought out discount, unlimited talk-and-text services to rival Wind’s offering. Are you worried about them?
No, on the contrary, we’re very proud of the impact we’ve had in the market. It’s clear the incumbents are offering these new, unlimited rate plans in response to Wind’s presence in the market. That’s good news for Canadians. That’s good news for competition.
Wind has been discounting like crazy. Would you be doing this if sales were going well?
I think that’s a nice excuse if you’re a big guy who’s losing market share. The reality is that we are winning market share. Our promotions are really to help consumers get over the sting of incumbent termination penalties, early cancellation fees.
Roughly how many subscribers are you up to now?
We’ll be well north of 200,000 by the end of the year.
What was the lowest point of the year?
The real low point was between last November, when we had been denied [the right to operate] by the [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission] and prior to the Industry Canada reversal on Dec. 11. That was a difficult time. We had built the network. We had over 700 people hired. We had paid in full for the spectrum [about $442-million]. We had almost $800-million invested. And we already had approval from Industry Canada. To have the CRTC stop us dead in our tracks was very difficult.
And the high?
The high point was the Competition Bureau. [The bureau took Rogers to court over what it called “misleading” advertising related to its Chatr discount brand that questioned Wind’s network quality.] Rogers’ Chatr service was clearly offside. One, [for the bureau] to take legal action against Rogers. But two, and most importantly, to come out with stats that show our network is as good as the incumbents’.
Do you really think your one-year-old network is better than their 25-year-old networks?
We’ve never made the claim, nor will I make the claim today, that we have as much coverage as Rogers. We don’t. They have more sites than us in the Greater Toronto Area. And that leads to better coverage, in buildings, for example. The reality is that they’re comparable. The whole time, they were saying our network is garbage compared to theirs. The Competition Bureau did their own independent assessment and said, “No, that’s not true.”
You’ve expanded west from Ontario. Any plan to start operations in Quebec or the Maritimes?
Yeah, we hope we are able to secure frequencies in Quebec. That’s been our business plan. And absolutely we do intend to expand in the Maritimes.
Your Egyptian financial backer, Orascom, is in the process of being sold to Russian telecom giant VimpelCom. Will they pull the financial plug on Wind Canada?
I think that the incumbents would love to see Orascom withdraw, because they’re facing a fundamental change in the Canadian market if they don’t. Whether the VimpelCom deal happens or not, we’re going to be here for the long term. They should start getting used to that.
You and others have mentioned the possibility of Wind buying the other new wireless companies, Mobilicity and Public Mobile. Do you see that happening in the new year?
Long term, there’s only room for one new network in Canada. Our scale, and international scale and scope, give us the best position to be that one, new national network. And we continue to have an open door for smaller new entrants to talk to us about how we can work together. And I do believe there needs to be consolidation among the new entrants.
You’ve talked about Globalive and Wind branching out into new lines of business, such as Internet protocol-based TV service. What can we expect from you in 2011 and beyond?
Throughout 2011 and 2012, we will be rolling out a bundle that competes with all the services the big guys are offering, including data [both wired and wireless Internet service] and TV. The difference will be we’re doing this on a next-generation, all-IP [Internet protocol] network that’s built from the ground up to use new technologies for video, data and voice.