With the country’s small mobile players in disarray and consumers frustrated with the big telecom companies, Loblaws sees an opportunity to establish itself as one of Canada's major providers of wireless services.
The supermarket chain that’s also a bank and, since 2005, a provider of pre-paid cellphone plans, has now begun selling cellphone service contracts, announcing on Wednesday three new monthly mobile plans, available on 18- and 30-month terms.
PC Mobile, Loblaws’ wireless brand, operates on Telus' wireless infrastructure. Its wireless plans will have “unique features that provide cost certainty to guard against huge unexpected bills or roaming charges," the company said in a statement.
Subscribers will be notified when they approach their monthly voice or data limits. They will then have the choice whether to cut off that service for the rest of the billing period or add more time or data to their plans.
PC Mobile is offering three different monthly plans:
Combo 35: $35 monthly fee; includes 400 Canada-wide Anytime Minutes and 200 MB data (in Canada)
Combo 50: $50 monthly fee; includes 1000 Canada-wide Anytime Minutes and 1 GB data (in Canada)
Combo 65: $65 monthly fee; includes unlimited Canada-wide Anytime Minutes and 2 GB data (in Canada)
PC Mobile’s move comes at a time of upheaval in Canada’s wireless industry. All three of the small wireless players are reportedly up for sale. The U.S. mobile giant Verizon has expressed interest in buying Wind Mobile. (Plans for VimpelCom to buy Wind Mobile through its subsidiary Orascom fell through this week, and there is a possibility the company's plans may have been scuttled by national security concerns.)
Telus recently put in a bid to buy Mobilicity, another small player. But Industry Minister Christian Paradis rejected the plan, saying the government did not want to see the wireless spectrum controlled by the small players end up in the hands of the large companies.
PC Mobile has been offering pre-paid plans since 2005, and Loblaws locations have featured The Mobile Shop retail outlets since 2011. Tech blogs reported earlier this year the company was interested in launching a post-paid service and offering smartphones.
And indeed, smartphones have arrived along with the post-paid plans. The company says it will offer BlackBerry and Samsung phones. According to an internal document obtained by MobileSyrup, PC Mobile will also offer Nokia and LG phones. (No mention of an iPhone.)
PC Mobile says it’s offering “some of the shortest contract terms currently available in the Canadian market.” Yes and no: Its 30-month contract is shorter than the three-year contracts offered at all of the major wireless companies, but its shortest plan, at 18 months, is longer than the one-year plans some mobile companies offer.
The CRTC recently changed wireless rules, allowing consumers to opt out of three-year contracts after two years as part of the regulator’s new wireless code of conduct. Market observers say this will likely shake up wireless providers’ pricing and contract plans.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that PC Mobile launched in 2011. In fact, it launched in 2005, with Loblaws launching The Mobile Shop retail outlets in 2011.
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