Second time a charm for original Wind Mobile owners if they buy it back: analyst

MONTREAL – Cellphone customers should benefit if the original owners of Wind Mobile are able to buy it back from Dutch telecom owner VimpelCom, a telecom analyst says.

Wind Mobile founder Anthony Lacavera has made a formal bid for the small wireless carrier he launched in 2009 with original financial backer Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian telecom player.

“Second time a charm,” analyst Amit Kaminer of the SeaBoard Group said.

“This time they are already coming with wind at their backs. They are coming back with their eyes open: today, they know the market better, they know the competition better and they know the challenges ahead,” he said.

VimpelCom subsidiary Orascom, which already had a 65.1 per cent stake, acquired full control of Toronto-based Wind Mobile earlier this year under new foreign investment rules for small wireless companies.

However, VimpelCom has since put Wind Mobile, which was part of a wave of new wireless companies offering more cellphone competition, back up for sale.

Friday was the deadline for initial bids for Wind Mobile’s Canadian operations, a source familiar with the process told The Canadian Press.

The same source also confirmed Lacavera and Sawiris have made an offer.

VimpelCom wouldn’t comment on whether Wind Mobile’s Canadian operations were up for sale.

It was not clear if either new wireless player Mobilicity or Public Mobile would also be interested in acquiring Wind Mobile to increase their size.

“At this time Public Mobile is not publicly discussing its plans regarding new entrant consolidation in Canada,” spokeswoman Lisa Papas said.

Mobilicity couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday.

Lacavera also wouldn’t comment on buying back Wind Mobile with Sawiris.

Wind Mobile fought a two-year legal battle focused on whether it met the test for Canadian ownership and control when it entered the market. That argument was put to an end last spring by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission prevented Wind Mobile from initially entering the cellphone market.

The regulator had ruled that Wind wasn’t Canadian owned and controlled because most of its debt was held by Egyptian-based Orascom, later acquired by Amsterdam headquartered VimpelCom.

A federal cabinet order overturned the decision, allowing Wind Mobile to launch its business.

Wind Mobile said recently it has 600,000 subscribers with its network in Toronto and southern Ontario, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. The company had been aiming for 1.5 million subscribers after three years of operation.

Rogers, Bell and Telus, have more than 24 million wireless customers combined.