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Bell locks horns with Vidéotron on wireless

A worker assembles a Bell Canada billboard

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/ The Globe and Mail

BCE Inc. has moved quickly to protect its market share in Quebec after rival Vidéotron Ltée launched an advanced wireless network in the province two weeks ago.

Vidéotron has offered big discounts for wireless service to its existing Internet, home phone and TV subscribers and pitched Quebeckers on parent Quebecor Inc.'s large cache of French-language programming from TVA Group Inc., which is being made available on Vidéotron's smart phones.

But on Thursday, Bell struck back: It announced a Quebec-only unlimited local and long-distance calling plan on its flagship wireless brand, Bell Mobility, if customers bundled the service with existing Bell products. The move, though not exactly surprising, is a clear sign Bell has no intention of ceding wireless market share the way it did with home phone customers, which Vidéotron has stolen in considerable numbers over the past few years.

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It is also a clear message from Bell to its chief rival in Quebec, that the country's largest telecommunications company will match its brash opponent on both price and offers, an effort it likely hopes will curtail what some analysts have said could be the beginnings of a price war.

"This is something they had to do, it's not of their choosing," said Maher Yaghi, a telecom analyst with Desjardins Securities in Montreal. "The reaction was quick. And it's meant to send a strong message to Vidéotron that Bell is going to not let anything pass by, they're going to compete head to head, and they're not going to give them too much space."

Bell has, already, repurposed its Solo Mobile discount brand to be an unlimited service in urban areas outside Quebec, but is so far not wielding that weapon against Vidéotron. It is, instead, introducing a fixed-rate, unlimited calling option on its premium brand, an unprecedented act for an established telco in Canada. The so-called "all-you-can-eat" plans are more common to startups, such as Wind Mobile or Mobilicity, or relegated to discount "flanker" brands, with specific urban zones and high roaming rates, such as Rogers Communications Inc.'s Chatr Wireless brand.

Since Quebecor's telecom division is using a bundling strategy by targeting its existing customers, it makes sense for Bell to fight on the same terms. But even if Bell's premium unlimited plan is being introduced at the relatively high cost of $50 a month, without several features, and is being unfurled within the safety of a bundle, it is still a bold move for an established telco and a sign that Canada's telecom industry remains in a period of intense flux.



Canadian BlackBerry fans will have to wait at least a few more days before getting their hands on Research In Motion Ltd.'s latest smart phone. Canadian carriers were supposed to launch the BlackBerry Torch touch-screen phone as early as Friday, but Rogers Communications Inc. announced Thursday it will hold off until Sept. 30 to launch the device. Other carriers have also backed off the original Sept. 24 launch date. Both Telus Corp. and BCE Inc.'s Bell Mobility have not confirmed a launch date for the Torch, although Bell had once said it would offer it on Oct. 1. Virgin Mobile, one of Bell's discount brands, is also expected to sell the phone on Oct. 1. Rogers did not give a reason for the delay.

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Omar El Akkad

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