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Rural internet provider Xplornet Communications Inc. will launch wireless service in Manitoba later this month, starting its new business with 20,000 subscribers it acquired from BCE Inc.

Woodstock, N.B.-based Xplornet gained wireless airwaves and the subscribers for an undisclosed price as part of an agreement with the Competition Bureau related to BCE’s $3.1-billion acquisition of Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. in early 2017.

The competition watchdog was concerned that the takeover would reduce wireless competition and lead to higher prices in the province where the regional telephone company MTS provided a strong rival to dominant national wireless carriers BCE, Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp.

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In 2016, prior to the takeover, MTS had about 47 per cent of the wireless market in Manitoba, followed by Rogers at 38 per cent, BCE at 9 per cent and Telus at 7 per cent. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has not yet published market share data for 2017.

Now, about a year and a half after the MTS deal closed, Xplornet said Monday that it will launch Xplore Mobile on Nov. 14. To entice new customers, it says it will offer the option to roll over any unused mobile data at the end of one month into the next.

The company has begun the process of moving select subscribers over from BCE and said in a press release that it recognizes that “change, even when it’s for the better, can be stressful.” It has opened three retail locations in Winnipeg and Brandon, with plans for more, to help deal with customer questions.

“This chosen group of customers will be transitioned in phases onto a new, state-of-the-art, industry leading mobile network,” the company said. “Customers who have received a welcome letter from Xplore Mobile can expect their account and service to transition, based on their schedule. Xplore Mobile will have a focus on transition with appointments and extra staffing between November 2018 and March 2019.”

BCE was meant to move the subscribers over to Xplornet within a year of the deal closing, but the companies got approval from the Competition Bureau in January to delay that agreement. The deal also required BCE to help Xplornet with access to cell towers and roaming service as well as procurement of handsets.

When the Competition Bureau and federal government approved the MTS takeover in February, 2017, BCE also pledged not to increase MTS’s wireless prices for at least a year after the deal closed. BCE’s first price hikes in the province since then came in July of this year, when Xplornet was still not ready to launch its wireless brand.

Privately held Xplornet is Canada’s largest rural internet provider with more than 350,000 homes across the country served either with satellite or fixed wireless technology, which uses communications towers and wireless spectrum to deliver broadband signals to customers’ homes.

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