The mobile and wireless services space is evolving rapidly. Just a few months ago, hundreds of bloggers and their commenters raged against the wireless data pricing situation in Canada. In July RIM joined the chorus publicly. Suddenly, there are signs of movement in the Canadian market, with Bell Mobility offering 1GB wireless data for $60/month or unlimited data for $75/month. Will Telus and Rogers/Fido follow suit?
In the United States, Apple’s iPhone has become the latest in a long string of must-have devices from the company that reinvented how we buy and listen to music. The total impact of the iPhone remains to be seen, but there is no question that it’s shaking up the wireless device industry with typically obsessive attention to user experience and hardware/software/services integration.
There is still no word on when Rogers/Fido will bring our iPhones to Canada. Gadget afficionados outside the U.S. are getting iPhones through grey market and not-so-grey-market channels and are now able to easily unlock the iPhone for use on the GSM network of their choice. Apple’s new iPod Touch, which is basically an iPhone without the phone, features WiFi, the best mobile browser yet seen and a WiFi iTunes music store, may indicate the trojan horse strategy underneath the hood of iPhone.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. the FCC is setting the rules for the 700 MHz spectrum auction to take place in January, 2008. This spectrum is being retired from the UHF broadcast television spectrum to be retired by 2009 as broadcast makes the final transition to digital and is ideal for wireless broadband services.
The emerging rules point towards some kind of open access provisions on a portion of that spectrum to allow any device or software on any network. Google caused a wave with a $4.6 billion commitment based on getting open access provisions into the auction rules. Now there are reports that Apple might join Google’s effort to pry open the U.S. wireless market, and we can also expect eBay (which owns Skype) to get into the action. The iPod Touch WiFi provides some hints about why Apple would want to enter this market despite the massive capital investment and the low-margin nature of the business.
In Canada, 2008 marks the Advanced Wireless Services (“AWS”) spectrum auction, with similar discussion about creating a more open and more competitive field for wireless service in Canada. This is not the same kind of spectrum as the 700 MHz auction in the U.S., which is still a couple of years off as Canada’s planned transition to digital television is mandated for August, 2011.
The 2008 Canadian AWS auction is for spectrum in the 2 GHz range for 3G cellular mobile networks and “other advanced technologies”. The two sides of the debate are represented by the incumbent members of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (“CWTA”) and the hopeful new market entrants of the Coalition for Wireless Competition (“3GCC”), led by Quebecor Media (Videotron) and MTS Allstream.
At the risk of oversimplifying, the 3GCC coalition is pushing for rules that give some kind of preference or encouragement to new market entrants including mechanisms for tower-sharing, while the CWTA is arguing that the “free market” should determine the outcome with an open auction and no such provisions. The rules haven’t yet been announced, but watch this space for updates.