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A Freedom Mobile telephone outlet in Ottawa, Ont. May 2022. The company has made a slew of offerings such as seamless handoffs to potential and current customers.Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

Quebecor Inc.’s Freedom Mobile wireless division is introducing seamless roaming, launching its first 5G services, sweetening roaming charges for existing customers and expanding into Quebec, in a slew of offerings aimed at holding onto customers and growing its subscriber base.

Quebecor’s telecom subsidiary, Videotron Ltd., acquired Freedom Mobile for $2.85-billion in March as part of Rogers Communications Inc.’s RCI-B-T much larger takeover of Shaw Communications Inc.

Since then, Quebecor QBR-B-T has reiterated its plans to expand Videotron’s wireless offerings across Canada. The company has promised to keep its phone plans at a 20 per cent discount to the three other major incumbents (Bell Canada , Rogers and Telus Corp. T-T) for 10 years from its benchmark date of last Feb. 10, or it will have to pay annual penalties totalling $200-million.

As of July 24, Freedom Mobile is also implementing seamless handoff when moving between home and partner networks. Previously, when moving between networks, customer calls would sometimes drop, or data would be interrupted.

In a 2021 filing to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Videotron said that the absence of seamless roaming was the biggest barrier to its countrywide growth, particularly outside urban centres, and resulted in thousands of dropped calls per day.

Seamless handoffs have been mandated by the CRTC, which directed the wireless incumbents have the functionality in place by this Aug. 7.

As of July 24, existing Freedom Mobile customers will be able to access their “home” data on partner networks without paying extra fees, a boon to its customers who live outside major urban centres. Previously, customers were allotted a limited amount of data on partner networks, after which they would have to pay a fee or see their service throttled.

Freedom Mobile operates its own network in densely populated areas in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, and through the networks of other carriers to provide countrywide coverage.

Access to competitors’ networks is negotiated through domestic roaming agreements, and the cost is ultimately passed down to Freedom Mobile customers, affecting wireless prices. The Globe and Mail previously reported that Quebecor and Rogers were engaged in discussions with the federal government about reducing the domestic roaming rates for Freedom Mobile customers.

Quebecor is hoping to strike a deal to provide access over BCE Inc.’s BCE-T Bell Canada network with the help of Canada’s telecom regulator. In mid-July, the CRTC said the two companies had been unable to come to a decision on price, and that it would offer final arbitration as part of the mobile virtual network operator framework.

Under this framework, incumbents are required to offer access to their networks to eligible regional players such as Quebecor, so that those smaller players can grow their subscription bases while they develop their own national network facilities.

As of the end of July, some Freedom Mobile customers will also get access to 5G service. Customers with plans priced at $45 and up per month and eligible SIM cards will be connected to the company’s 5G network in the coming weeks, it said in an e-mail, with that service rolling out over several weeks.

In the agreement to acquire the company, Quebecor said it would enable 5G for 90 per cent of Freedom Mobile customers within two years, and promised to spend $150-million to upgrade the company’s network.

Also in mid-July, Freedom Mobile told employees in a memo that it is expanding its coverage into Quebec.

The company said the new services will apply to existing customers, but has not said whether or when it plans to expand them to new customers.

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