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AWS-3 wireless spectrum auction results to be released Friday

03/06/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 05/05/2015 05:59 EDT
The federal government is about to unveil the results of the latest spectrum auction, which saw 10 cellular service carriers bid for the rights to use chunks of Canada's digital airwaves.

Industry Minister James Moore will announce the results of the auction at an event this morning at 8:30 a.m. ET in Toronto.

Earlier this week, 10 companies were on a list of qualified bidders vying for the right to use blocks of wireless spectrum — the wireless infrastructure over which cellular networks transmit voice and data to customers.

The last time Ottawa had a spectrum auction, wireless firms lined up to pay more than $5.3 billion for the rights to blocks of 700 MHz spectrum, which allows them to transmit wireless data over great distances.

This week's auction is for so-called AWS-3 spectrum which — at 1,700-MHz and above — is better at transmitting data faster in dense urban environments and lets companies roll out LTE service.

This week's auction is the first of two major spectrum auctions on deck for this year. Another auction of BRS spectrum in the 2500-MHz band is set for later this year.

Tailored to new entrants

The bidders this week include major telecommunications names like Rogers, Bell and Telus, who are eager to have access to the airwaves to meet their customers' growing demand to transmit data.

But smaller rivals like Wind, Videotron, Mobilicity, SaskTel and MTS are also in the running. And since the Big 3 own more than 90 per cent of the wireless market in Canada, Ottawa has tailored the bidding process in favour of those smaller names, in a bid to spur competition.

In this auction, 60 per cent of the spectrum up for grabs is being set aside for new entrants. That makes it unlike previous auctions, where the big three carriers dominated and bought up the vast plurality of spectrum — some of which they've yet to use, years later.

The way the auction rules were set up, new entrants are only allowed to bid on spectrum in regions where they already operate. 

Wind and Mobilicity were the only two qualified new-entrant bidders in British Columbia, Alberta and Southern Ontario — and reports this week suggest that Mobilicity was unable to come up with funding in time, which means Wind may have secured large chunks of high-quality spectrum in those areas for the minimum bid price of $56 million.

What's not known yet is who got how much of which block, and what they paid for it. We'll get answers to some of those questions when Moore's new conference begins at 8:30 a.m. ET.

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