On May 5, 2015, the CRTC established a new regulatory framework for wholesale mobile wireless services (Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-177). In this decision, the headline elements focus on wholesale roaming and caps on rates for roaming. The most important component of this being the new requirement that there be cost-based tariffs for wholesale roaming.

As part of “other matters”, the Commission took a couple of steps to crack open the door to development of Full MVNOs in Canada.

Note that a “Full” mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) means a service provider that operates its own network, including branding, devices, core network and back office, but does not own the radio access. A Full MVNO leases radio access capacity from a mobile network operator (MNO).

While falling short of mandating access to MNO radio access networks, the Commission determined that access to the networks of the three largest MNOs – Bell, Rogers and TELUS – is an “essential” input for competitors. This important component of an MVNO business plan was thus not subject to regulatory fiat, but prospective Full MVNOs can benefit from two other aspects of the CRTC’s rulings:

  • A Full MVNO will be able to acquire a mobile network code (MNC), which will give it status as a network operator for traffic routing and interconnection, and will allow it to deploy its own SIM cards to customers, and,
  • As a condition of offering wholesale roaming, Bell, Rogers and TELUS will now be required to support roaming by the subscribers of MVNOs that operate on their wholesale roaming partners’ networks.

These two seemingly modest changes to regulations in fact represent a significant start on enabling development of Full MVNOs in Canada, for example by supporting smaller players and regional operators that will be able to expand their scope in products and geography.

Full MNVOs bring an added dynamic to the mobile industry by enabling new service providers and bring differentiated niche products to stimulate the market.

Accessing the MNO radio network, clearly something which is essential for operation as a Full MVNO, will come through negotiation and/or future regulatory processes, as will interconnection arrangements and co-location services, similar to those available to CLECs, WSPs, and VoIP providers.

The door has been cracked open but there remains a lot left to do.

And we will have more to follow on other important aspects of the CRTC’s decision.