Videotron looking to sell unused spectrum or partner with Wind instead of going solo on national wireless rollout


Videotron’s national wireless ambitions may be drawing to a close, according to the company’s vice president, Jean-François Pruneau.

At a CIBC investor conference in Montreal today, he said that the company will continue to build a strong LTE network in its home province of Quebec and parts of Eastern Ontario, and maintain its partnership with Rogers, but will not expand its network nationally, at least not on its own.

This comes after speculation that Quebecor, Videotron’s parent company, was waiting for Canada’s telecom regulator to cap the prices of wholesale wireless access sold to smaller carriers from incumbents like Rogers, Bell and Telus.

While Videotron never committed to national expansion, its executive team continually hinted at the possibility, going as far as to spend around $300 million between the 700Mhz and 2500Mhz auctions in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

According to Pruneau, Videotron is now looking to transfer that spectrum to incumbents, should the CRTC approve the decision, or partner with a small carrier like Wind to lessen some of the capital burden. The company could bring “value to Wind’s operations,” he told the crowd, opting to sell Videotron’s assets, spectrum and infrastructure to the company entirely, or providing Wind the leverage and buying power to make deals with companies like Apple.

He noted that the iPhone has single-handedly boosted ARPU (average revenue per user) by 14 to 15 percent, a product Wind desperately needs to add to its lineup. Wind says it is working on building out an LTE network with the spectrum it inherited from Rogers’ purchase of Mobilicity, but that may not come until mid-2016. But Wind’s existing spectrum holdings is limited to high-frequency AWS-1 and AWS-3, the latter of which is not supported by any in-market handsets. Wind would greatly benefit from an influx of 700Mhz airwaves, ample amounts of which Videotron owns in Southern Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta — markets where Wind is struggling to grow.

Pruneau noted that in lieu of a Wind partnership, Rogers’ acquisition of Mobilicity has “changed the landscape,” since it appears that Industry Canada has softened its stance on spectrum transfer to incumbents as long as it avoids “undue concentration,” a term that appears to have a fluid definition within the Canadian mobile landscape.