Globalive Inc. is attempting to re-enter Canada’s wireless industry with a bid to acquire airwaves from now-defunct Manitoba carrier Xplore Mobile Inc.
Anthony Lacavera, Globalive’s founder and chairman, said the bid, if successful, would allow his company to start offering wireless services in Manitoba. His aim is to acquire additional spectrum – airwaves used to transmit wireless signals – by participating in coming auctions to create a national, wireless-only carrier.
“We will bring wireless prices across Canada down to globally competitive levels for all Canadians,” Mr. Lacavera said in a statement. He declined to disclose the price or other details of his offer to Xplore Mobile, which was shuttered in August, 2022.
Globalive’s bid is contingent on approval by both Xplore Mobile and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, the federal department tasked with overseeing management of spectrum, a scarce and valuable public resource. The airwaves, which are found on the electromagnetic spectrum, are used to deliver critical wireless services, such as connecting cellphone calls and giving users access to mobile data.
Representatives of Xplore Mobile did not respond to requests for comment on the Globalive offer.
Globalive is no stranger to the Canadian wireless industry. In 2008, it launched wireless carrier Wind Mobile, which it sold to Shaw Communications Inc. for $1.6-billion eight years later. Shaw subsequently renamed the carrier Freedom Mobile and grew it to roughly 1.7 million customers, who are spread across Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
Last year, Globalive entered into an unsuccessful public battle to buy back Freedom, which was up for grabs as part of Rogers Communications Inc.’s proposed $20-billion takeover of Shaw. Rogers and Shaw agreed to divest Freedom in order to prevent the elimination of Canada’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, striking a deal to sell it to Quebecor Inc.’s Videotron Ltd. for $2.85-billion. That price is roughly $900-million less than what Globalive had offered.
Rogers and Shaw are set to face off against the Competition Bureau at the Federal Court of Appeal on Tuesday over the Competition Tribunal’s decision to permit the proposed deal between the telecoms. The transfer of Shaw’s wireless licences to Videotron still requires approval from federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne. Rogers and Shaw are aiming to close their deal by Jan. 31.
Globalive said it is also in talks with telecom giant Telus Corp. about expanding their tentative network- and spectrum-sharing deal to include Manitoba. That deal, which was announced in May of last year, was originally contingent on Globalive being the successful bidder for Freedom.
Richard Gilhooley, a spokesperson for Telus, confirmed that talks with Globalive are under way but declined to comment further.
Since selling Wind, Globalive has been focused on making investments, including in early-stage technology companies as well as in the telecommunications sector, through its subsidiary, Globalive Capital.
If Globalive’s bid for the Xplore Mobile’s wireless licences is successful, an arrangement with Telus could give Mr. Lacavera’s company access to Telus’s cellphone towers, while allowing Telus to use wireless airwaves that it was unsuccessful in procuring on its own.
Last September, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada rejected an application by Telus to acquire the Xplore Mobile spectrum. The federal department said that transferring the wireless licences to the Vancouver-based telecom giant ran counter to its policy objective of fostering greater competition in the wireless market.
“The proposed transfer raised substantial concerns that the resulting concentration of spectrum would impede the ability of future mobile competitors to provide wireless services and effectively compete in Manitoba,” the department said in its decision at the time.
Xplore Mobile was launched in 2018 after BCE Inc. spun off some wireless assets to address competitive concerns stemming from its $3.9-billion takeover of Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. However, consumer advocates and researchers have said that the carrier’s creation did little to stimulate competition in Manitoba’s mobile market.
Although it started with 24,700 wireless customers, a handful of wireless licences and six retail stores, by the time it was shut down, Xplore Mobile had fewer than 7,000 customers – less than a third of the number of accounts it acquired from BCE.
The carrier said in August that regulatory delays had left it financially unviable. Specifically, the company said it could not overcome the “cloud of uncertainty” caused by delays to the implementation of a new wireless framework by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that gives regional carriers mandated access to the wireless networks of BCE, Telus, Rogers Communications and SaskTel.
Mr. Lacavera has long touted the need for a wireless-only competitor, citing the success of T-Mobile in the United States.
“It’s clear by looking at truly competitive markets outside of Canada that these results are only possible by introducing a national pure-play wireless carrier with no legacy, fixed-line business,” he said in a statement.