Bell on 700Mhz spectrum auction: “Open auction ensures roll-out of rural and urban LTE”

George Cope, President and CEO of Bell, wants the upcoming 700Mhz wireless spectrum auction to be completely open with no set-asides for the new entrants. Rogers agrees with this viewpoint as they stated the same earlier this week during the Canadian Telecom Summit. However, new wireless carriers like Videotron, Wind and Mobilicity are urging the government to restrict or cap the amount of spectrum the Big 3 could actually purchase – saying Rogers, Bell and TELUS are all spectrum “hoarders” and buy it to simply stifle competition.

The 2008 spectrum auction brought new players into the market and generated over $4 billion. The government plans to auction the sought after 700 Mhz airwaves late 2012 and it’s important for several reasons: it’s great in cities for getting high speed data into buildings and underground, cheaper to deploy in rural areas and a pathway to the build-out LTE (Long Term Evolution).

At his keynote presentation at the Canadian Telecom Summit today Cope stated that depending how the government structures the upcoming 700Mhz auction will either put Canadian wireless in a leadership role or have us lag behind other countries. “The 700Mhz level, it’s a different game than the last auction. It’s really important everybody understands that there’s 50% less spectrum available this time then the last time. And, this concept of set aside that we had last time was to allow the new competitors to come into the market. So if we have a set aside who are the new competitors actually going to compete against in the auction, there is really no other new entrants. And more importantly, if we have a set aside one of the 3 national wireless carriers will not get the spectrum required to evolve to the next level of technology. Now they may not get it anyway if there is an open auction, but there should be an open auction to determine that.”

Rogers, Bell and TELUS will all be launching their LTE networks shortly. Rogers will be going live this year in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa, Bell will launch “in certain Canadian markets in 2011”. Meanwhile TELUS will go live sometime in 2012.

Cope stated that “LTE as you’ve heard will be launched nationally. One of the big files we had a couple years ago was the ‘digital divide”; How are we going to get these high speeds into the rural communities? HSPA+ dealt with that. We will do the same with LTE and cover the country with 95% of the population… if you separate that spectrum in this auction you really do run the risk… of a rural divide again. So to me it’s pretty straight forward, pretty simple. If we’re going to have an auction for spectrum and LTE is the next level of technology why would we ever put a structure in place that might prevent one of the incumbent carriers from actually being able to participate successfully in that auction. That would make no sense… LTE does truly hinge on the spectrum rules.”

(Apologies for the horrible video quality)