While the wireless market in Manitoba is on the verge of consolidation, fiercely independent Atlantic Canada cable operator Eastlink will soon offer a new option for cellular service in parts of Northern Ontario.
Halifax-based Eastlink, a subsidiary of Bragg Communications Inc., said Thursday that it will begin offering full wireless service in the Timmins area on June 1 and will launch in Sudbury on June 9.
In addition to the Big Three carriers – BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. – Wind Mobile Corp. operates in Ontario, but only in larger urban centres.
Tbaytel offers wireless service in Thunder Bay and surrounding areas.
"Eastlink is bringing more choice and competition to customers in Northern Ontario," the company said in a statement Thursday.
Eastlink sells cable television, Internet and home-phone services in Atlantic Canada, Northern Ontario and parts of Alberta and British Columbia.
It launched LTE (long-term evolution, or fourth-generation) cellular service in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in 2013.
In January, 2015, it launched partial wireless service – with mobile data that allowed customers to access the Internet on their devices as well as send texts – in six cities in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Northern Ontario.
The new service it is launching in the Ontario cities will now offer full LTE service, including voice calls using Voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology.
The company will also employ a marketing tactic it first introduced in the Maritimes last year, offering to buy out the balance that new customers owe for device subsidies on existing contracts with rival wireless carriers (limited to $200 a device and up to five phones a household).
Lee Bragg, chief executive officer of Eastlink, likes to keep the specifics of his wireless business – including the number of customers and details of new service locations – under wraps, noting that because the company is private it has the luxury of keeping "its cards close to its chest."
But he has long said Eastlink is committed to serving customers in smaller communities and rural areas.
In a December interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Bragg said the company was "growing the network out in Northern Ontario, Newfoundland and New Brunswick."
He said the company has acquired licences for spectrum – the airwaves used to build wireless networks – in all of the Atlantic provinces as well as parts of Northern Ontario, Southwestern Ontario and northwestern Alberta.
"Our target is to try to launch [wireless service] in those areas where we have the most wire-line customers – cable, Internet, land-line telephone – it makes sense because we have a relationship with a lot of those customers and we can provide bundling opportunities," Mr. Bragg said.
Eastlink is one of few remaining players to offer wireless services on a regional basis and provide an alternative to the Big Three.
In early May, BCE announced plans to acquire Manitoba Telecom Services Inc., that province's incumbent telephone company.
The deal requires government and regulatory approval and is not expected to close until late this year or early 2017.
Quebecor Inc.'s Videotron Ltd. competes with the Big Three in Quebec and crown corporation SaskTel offers an alternative in Saskatchewan.
Shaw Communications Inc. acquired Wind Mobile, which operates in urban areas in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, in a deal that closed earlier this year.
Two other new entrant wireless carriers – Public Mobile and Mobilicity – were acquired by Telus and Rogers, respectively.
As for Eastlink – which is owned and operated by the Bragg family, who built their original business empire on blueberries – Mr. Bragg has no plans to sell.
"We have no desire to do that, no desire to sell the business – it's not even something that we talk about," he said in December.