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Carrier Wrap: Canadian carriers play spectrum swap; iDEN on the ropes

Editor’s Note: Wireless operators are a busy bunch, and as such RCR Wireless News will attempt to gather some of the important announcements that may slip through the cracks from the world’s largest carriers in a weekly wrap-up. Enjoy!

–Canadian telecom operator Rogers announced a deal with regional carrier Videotron to pool resources across the provinces of Quebec and Ottawa to build out and operate a shared LTE network. Financial terms of the 20-year agreement call for Rogers to pay Videotron $93 million and for Videotron to pay Rogers $200 million over a 10 year period.

Both carriers will share the cost of deploying and operating the LTE network while maintaining independent business operations.

For Rogers, the deal will build upon its ongoing LTE rollout that already includes Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec City, as well as compete against nationwide rivals Bell Canada and Telus Mobility. Videotron, which also provides cable-based television and telecommunication services, currently operates its own network across portions of Quebec and Ontario. The carrier has a nationwide roaming agreement with Rogers.

In addition to the network sharing agreement, the two carriers also announced that beginning Jan. 1, 2014, Videotron will have the option to sell its unused 10-megahertz license in the 1.7/2.1 GHz spectrum band covering the Toronto area to Rogers for $180 million. Rogers had previously acquired a 20 megahertz license in that band during a government auction for $234.6 million. Videotron picked up a handful of licenses during that auction covering parts of Quebec, Toronto and southeast Ontario for $550 million.

The spectrum deal might run into regulatory hurdles as the Canadian government this week denied Telus Mobility’s attempt to acquire spectrum licenses in the 1.7/2.1 GHz band from Mobilicity citing the initial requirement of those licenses to be used by new entrants into the market. Telus announced last month plans to acquire Mobilicity for $370 million, and received court approval for the deal last week.

“Our government has been clear that spectrum set aside for new entrants was not intended to be transferred to incumbents. We will not waive this condition of license and will not approve this, or any other, transfer of set-aside spectrum to an incumbent ahead of the five-year limit,” said Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry. “Our government will continue to allow wireless providers access to the spectrum they need to compete and improve services to Canadians. We are seeing Canadian consumers benefit from our policies and we will not allow the sector to move backwards. I will not hesitate to use any and every tool at my disposal to support greater competition in the market.”

–Regional operator U.S. Cellular announced plans to launch a home phone service on June 7 that will take advantage of its mobile network. The service will run $20 per month for unlimited nationwide calling using a standard home phone, and provide voicemail, caller identification, call waiting, call forwarding and three-way calling.

Customers will need to purchase an in-home device that includes an antenna, wall charger and rechargeable battery pack. That device can support two corded phones or multiple cordless phones using two RJ11 ports. The device will cost consumers 1 cent, but require a two-year contract subject to a pro-rated $150 early termination fee and $35 activation fee.

–AT&T Mobility continues to rapidly expand its LTE footprint, announcing more than two-dozen market launches over the past week, pushing its coverage to 261 markets.
The new markets include: Dover, Del.; Ocean City and Leonardtown, Md.; Ashville and Goldsboro, N.C.; Roanoke and Culpeper, Va.; Longview, Shelton, Olympia, Spokane and Port Townsend-North Whidbey Island-Camano Island, Wash.; Salem, Ore.; Batesville, Texarkana, Blytheville and Forest City, Ark.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Clewiston, Fla.; Idaho Falls, Blackfoot, Pocatello and Rexburg, Idaho; Columbus, Fort Wayne and Seymour, Ind.; Muskegon, Mich.; Miami, Okla.; Farmington, N.M.; Wooster, Ohio; Vineland, N.J.; Williamsport, Pa.; Heber, Utah;

–AT&T also announced it will power a prepaid smart grid offering from PayGo that will allow for “near real-time processing of meter information for prepaid services.” The service will allow customers to pay their energy bills using smartphones, text messages, kiosks, the Internet or over the phone.

–Sprint Nextel reiterated its plans to shutter its iDEN network by the end of the month, saying it will begin the decommissioning process on June 30. At that time, iDEN devices running across both legacy Nextel and Boost Mobile services will no longer be able to make voice calls, send text messages, access data services or contact emergency services. The carrier announced that just over 1.3 million customers remained on the network at the end of the first quarter, with SVP of Networks Bob Azzi noting that he expects some iDEN customers will refuse to leave the network until it is literally shut down.

As part of the decommissioning, Sprint Nextel said it plans to recycle 100 million pounds of material from that network that it will not able to re-use, including cables, batteries and the concrete shelters that many iDEN cell sites occupy. Those sites that are collocated with CDMA or LTE network equipment will remain in place, just minus the iDEN equipment.

Sprint Nextel announced last year plans to shutter its iDEN network in a move to free up spectrum in the 800 MHz band to support CDMA and LTE services.

The carrier added that when complete, nearly 30,000 iDEN sites will be removed, with the recycling project set to run through early 2014.

PwC released a report last year looking at the decommissioning challenge facing network operators that are moving away from legacy equipment in favor of next-generation deployments. The report “Clearing the Way: The 2012 Outlook for Telecom Network Decommissioning,” found that this phase of decommissioning is set to kick off a wave of activity over the next five years as 90% of wireline and 60% of wireless carriers expect to tear out old equipment.

“The rollout of new communications technologies means that some older networks are becoming outdated and underutilized, and therefore more expensive to operate,” explained Dan Hays, U.S. wireless advisory leader at PwC, in the report.

Among wireless operators, the report noted that just 48% of those surveyed said they have strategies and plans in place to deal with legacy equipment. This compares with the 73% of wireline operators surveyed.

The report found that 75% of telecom operators plan to physically remove equipment from their network with plans to sell or dispose of that legacy equipment, while 25% said they expect to turn down the older equipment, but keep it in place.

Additional carrier news can be found on the RCR Wireless News “Carriers” page.

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