06/06/2013 07:54 EDT | Updated 08/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Public Mobile Sold To Private Equity Firms


Public Mobile has backing from a private equity firm with ties to Canada's wealthiest family and a desire to become Canada's fourth-largest carrier for cellphone customers, Public Mobile's chief executive said Thursday.

Alek Krstajic wouldn't say how much money will be available from Toronto's Thomvest Seed Capital Inc., owned by a member of the Thomson family, or from New York's Cartesian Capital.

Both of the private equity firms have invested in Public Mobile since 2009 and the three companies issued a joint statement Thursday saying Thomvest and Cartesian had bought the small regional wireless company.

Few details were released but the said Thomvest has become the controlling shareholder of Public Mobile.

Krstajic said he would like Public Mobile to buy struggling Mobilicity as well as Wind Mobile in order to create a bigger rival to the three industry leaders: Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), Telus (TSX:T) and Bell (TSX:BCE).

"The odds are in our favour now because we actually have the backing and we want to be the consolidator," Krstajic said.

"These firms have agreed to fund us until we're cash-flow positive," he said, adding that's expected to be at the end of 2014 or early 2015.

Thomvest is the investment arm of Peter Thomson, 48, who is a co-chairman of Woodbridge Co. Ltd., the Thomson family investment company which has controlling stakes in Thomson Reuters and The Globe and Mail. The Thomson family, headed by Peter's older brother David, is Canada's wealthiest family.

Public Mobile made the announcement just days after Ottawa blocked the sale of Mobilicity's spectrum to Telus Corp. (TSX:T) and said it wants to ensure there are at least four wireless carriers in each region of Canada.

Public Mobile has more than 250,000 subscribers and operates in the greater Toronto area, swaths of southern Ontario and in the greater Montreal area.

But new wireless player Wind Mobile also sees itself with the potential to be Canada's No. 4 carrier and would like to buy financially struggling Mobilicity. Wind Mobile, though, is up for sale by its Dutch owner VimpelCom.

Unlike Mobilicity or Wind Mobile, Public Mobile had no restrictions on when it could be sold because of its type of spectrum, radio waves over which cellphone networks operate.

Krstajic said Public Mobile will bid on 700 megahertz spectrum next year to build out a faster, next generation network.

He noted that it will be critical for Public Mobile to buy more spectrum in Quebec to be national player and "we have to pay whatever it takes."

Krstajic isn't in any rush but he said the only way to create a fourth national carrier is through consolidation.

"We would love to buy Mobilicity but it's very unclear right now what's going to happen there. We're probably going to take a wait-and-see approach on those guys," he said.

"We would love to acquire Wind and we've tried to acquire Wind in the past."

But telecom analyst Eamon Hoey said there's no need to have a fourth big carrier in Canada.

"What's more realistic is a fourth carrier by region," said Hoey, of Toronto-based Hoey Associates Management Consultants Inc.

He used the examples of Maritime-based Eastlink, Quebec-based Videotron and Public Mobile as viable regional wireless carriers.

Regional carriers could make deals with each other to provide continuous network coverage, he said.

Hoey described Thomvest is an investor who "stays around."

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