BCE, Rogers, Telus Signal Plans for Canada Spectrum Sale

BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. -- Canada’s three largest phone businesses -- are among those that signaled their intent to bid in a wireless spectrum auction, with no indication of interest from major foreign companies.

Others that applied to participate in the auction include smaller existing wireless firms such as Wind Mobile, Manitoba Telecom Services Inc. and Quebecor Inc., and investment companies Birch Hill Equity Partners Management Inc. and Catalyst Group Inc., according to a list posted on Industry Canada’s website today.

The Canadian government has been trying to boost competition in the country’s mobile-phone industry and says it will limit how much spectrum BCE, Telus and Rogers can buy in the Jan. 14 auction. The list of applicants doesn’t appear to include major foreign players.

It’s “good for incumbents,” Greg MacDonald, an analyst in Toronto at Macquarie Capital Markets, said in an e-mail, referring to the three largest companies.

BCE shares climbed 1.3 percent to C$44.51 in Toronto, gaining for a sixth straight day. Rogers gained 1.2 percent to C$45.35 and Telus advanced 2.5 percent.

Companies like BCE and Rogers say they need the airwaves to feed data-hungry smartphones and tablets. The spectrum being sold is in the 700-megahertz band and is coveted by wireless providers because devices using that frequency are better able to receive signals inside buildings and in rural areas.

Wouldn’t Enter

Verizon Communications Inc. said Sept. 3 it wouldn’t enter the Canadian market after saying earlier in the summer that it was exploring the idea.

Companies had to submit a refundable deposit of C$8 million ($7.8 million) by Sept. 17 to apply to bid on a license to operate across the country. The remaining 95 percent of the C$159 million pre-auction deposit is due Oct. 29. The final list of qualified bidders will be published Nov. 8.

Industry Minister James Moore said the government will continue pursuing the interest of consumers, according to a statement posted on the ministry website.

“Prices have come down, the number of jobs in the wireless sector has increased and consumers have more choices,” Moore said in the statement. “This trend will continue as a result of January’s auction.”

The lack of foreign interest “sets the stage for a positive rally” in wireless sector bonds, RBC Capital Markets credit analyst Andrew Calder said in a research note. “The market will consider the risk posed by financial sponsors and prospective spectrum acquirers to be modest.”

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