Globalive chairman eyes wireless spectrum
Tony Lacavera aims to use Manitoba as base to start independent national wireless carrier
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When Xplore Mobile announced it was exiting the Manitoba wireless market last summer — it had received a small beach head in Manitoba as a result of the Bell acquisition of MTS — industry types were wondering what would happen to its wireless spectrum.
The answer is… Tony Lacavera to the rescue.
Lacavera, the founder and chairman of Globalive, is looking to acquire that spectrum and use Manitoba as the base from which to start an independent national wireless carrier.
It will be his second go at the Canadian wireless market for Lacavera and Globalive, which ran Wind Mobile from 2008-to-2015 until it was forced to sell to Shaw after a long battle with federal regulators over Wind’s foreign ownership share.
Shaw changed the name to Freedom Mobile and it is currently in the process of selling that to Videotron as part of the potential merger between Shaw and Rogers which has been experiencing intense review by federal regulators.
While neither Wind, nor Freedom operated in Manitoba, Lacavera told the Free Press that it was always his intention to do so.
“We’re excited about taking this first step back into the Canadian wireless market,” Lacavera said. “The intention is to start in Manitoba. When we had Wind Mobile we had acquired frequencies in Manitoba in that era but before I got a chance to start in Manitoba unfortunately I was put in a position where I was forced to sell Wind to Shaw then they never moved forward with it (operating in Manitoba).”
Lacavera continues to believe the Canadian wireless market has room for an independent competitor.
He claims that Wind’s presence in the marketplace in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta helped bring wireless prices down by as much as 20 per cent.
“But when we sold to Shaw prices quickly went back up, unfortunately for Canadians,” he said.
A Finnish independent research firm, called Rewheel, recently noted that “the Canadian wireless market… was again ranked as the most expensive market among 50 European, American, Asia Pacific, Middle East and African countries.”
“We see a great opportunity because of how prices are in Canada,” Lacavera said. “We also think it is a good moment form a market standpoint with all the consolidation that is underway.”
Xplore Mobile was originally part of Xplornet, a company that provides provides Internet service in rural Canada. Xplornet Communications Inc was acquired by a New York private equity firm in 2020, but the mobile unit was not part of the deal.
Xplore Mobile started out with 25,000 subscribers as part of the regulators conditions for Bell’s $3.9 billion acquisition of MTS in 2017. But its subscriber base actually fell to about 7,000.
At the time, Xplore Mobile said it “could not overcome the cloud of uncertainty created by regulatory delays.”
Ben Klass, A PhD student at Carleton University and a senior research associate with the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, said it makes sense that Globalive wants to get back into the Canadian wireless market.
“It is tough to break into this market. There are a lot of regulatory barriers,” Klass said. “But Globalive has experience.”
Klass said that in addition to the spectrum that Xplore Mobile holds, it also has an operating licences.
“So what Globalive is doing is, in addition to the spectrum, it is buying the right to operate,” Klass said. “And that license includes a number of privileges including access to the networks of the existing mobile companies to provide coverage.”
Lacavera said the acquisition is subject to government approvals, but he said the intention is to be active in Industry Canada’s next spectrum auction this fall.
“This for us is the starting point to re-engage and re-establish our relationship with government and participate in upcoming auctions,” he said. “Our plan will be to finish the work we started with Wind and build a national independent wireless carrier.”
He said there will be no issue with Globalive’s foreign ownership this time.
“There is no way I’m going to step into that hornets nest again,” he said. “That was one of the most painful experiences of my career. It stopped me from continuing my business. It was a disaster.”
Lacavera and Globalive offered to buy Freedom back when it went up for sale as part of Roger Communications Inc.’s plan to appease competition concerns raised by its deal to buy Shaw, however they lost out to Videotron, owned by Quebecor Inc.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.