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Rural Canadian cell phone users won't get faster networks soon

Fri, 03/16/2012 - 3:15pm
The Canadian Press

Canadians living in rural areas will have better cell phone reception once a federal auction of radio waves takes place, but telecom analysts say it could take years before the improved service is launched.

Analyst Brahm Eiley said coverage of rural Canada should expand over time.

"Is this going to happen tomorrow? Chances are – no," said Eiley, of the Convergence Consulting Group in Toronto.

"But over time, chances are yes because it's part of the mandate," he said.

Ottawa has moved to level the wireless playing field by placing limits on the coming wireless spectrum auction and lifting foreign-investment limits on small telecom firms in an effort to boost competition.

Companies that are using two blocks of spectrum – radio waves over which cell phone networks travel – will have to provide wireless services to 90 percent of their coverage areas within five years, and to 97 percent of their coverage areas within seven years.

Antenna tower-sharing and roaming policies will also be changed, and a certain portion of the spectrum will also be set aside for public safety services such as firefighters and police.

The caps will limit how much spectrum each company can bid for. The changes to the auction rules will let at least four companies obtain spectrum in each of Canada's 14 license areas.

Eiley said it's difficult to predict what prices rural Canadians will pay for faster, next-generation networks.

SeaBoard Group analyst Iain Grant said he believes rural Canadians could end up paying more.

"They're the ones who are going to pay for this network expansion," Grant said.

"Cell phone bills for urban Canadians have already gone down. They've got more options. Even if you've got a contract, you're existing company is paying more attention to you," Grant said. "So all of those wonderful benefits of competition have come already to urban Canada. Rural Canada hasn't seen any of that."

Grant said he doesn't expect next-generation networks in rural Canada to come on stream until around 2015.

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