Sugar Mobile ‘WiFi First’ Network in Canada Will Bring ‘Guaranteed Lowest Prices’


Sugar Mobile isn’t giving up just yet, as the wireless subsidiary of Ice Wireless in Northern Canada, has announced it plans to continue to offer a WiFi First network for Canadians, with “guaranteed lowest prices and the best value”.

Sugar mobile

CEO Samer Bishay wrote in a company blog post yesterday:

We’re proud and eager to continue working hard to bring a WiFi First network to Canadians. Together, we’ll lead the transformation of how regulators view the market and how Canadians consume mobile.

Bishay says Sugar Mobile brings “possible disruption” in the Canadian wireless market, which is why incumbents wanted them shutdown, backed by a CRTC ruling in March.

However, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains ordered the CRTC “rethink its decision and reconsider the WiFi first model” back in June, giving Sugar Mobile a lifeline, with a review to be completed by March 31, 2018.

A WiFi First network provides mobile devices with Wi-Fi access first, only to have gaps filled in with cellular service, provided by roaming off incumbent wireless partners.

Sugar Mobile’s original WiFi First model leeched off the cellular roaming agreement its parent company, Ice Wireless, had with Rogers. Obviously, Rogers said this was a violation of the terms setup with Ice and complained to the CRTC to shut it down.

Bishay teases the company plans to let Canadians “pay for the data that you need and not a byte more. Everything else is free.” On top of “guaranteed lowest prices”, Sugar Mobile will also offer the best value.

Sugar Mobile has high hopes on the CRTC report set to come out in a few months, which may decide in their favour. But if it doesn’t, it’s just more struggling for mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) to launch in Canada.


  • Bill___A

    “But if it doesn’t, it’s just more struggling for mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) to launch in Canada.” An MVNO is an operator that is paying money to someone to use their network, not trying to call someone else’s wi-fi network their “network” and then roaming on mobile towers when that doesn’t work, which is going to be very often. Let’s not confuse this deception with what an MVNO really is, of which there are many around the world. This Sugar mobile exercise is merely a sharade trying to exploit favourable roaming agreements and profiting from it. I hope the CRTC does not approve.

  • Joe Kerr

    Would someone mind explaining how this works? What does WiFi first even mean?

    Can’t I just turn off the cellular data toggle for my non-Sugar Mobile phone, keep the WiFi toggle on, and use “WiFi first” that way instead paying them?

    I’m confused. Is their definition of WiFi something else besides the stuff I connect to at my house or a Starbucks?

  • Bill___A

    No, they are using the wi-fi issue as a ploy to get to use the mobile networks of the incumbents at “roaming” rates which something tells me, are cheaper than what they would pay if they were an MVNO on a physical mobile network. They are not, to my knowledge, putting up a wi-fi or any other network themselves, other than what their parent company already owns in the North.

  • Joe

    Nothing wrong with allowing more competition. If they want to innovate, let them try. Although it’s probably going to take a lot more than that to break up this rigged monopoly system we have in Canada.

  • Bill___A

    I don’t see this as “innovation”.

  • Brian

    This simply means that they will provide you voice phone service and SMS (text messages) through your phone’s WiFi connection if your phone is connected to WiFi. If your phone is not connected to WiFi, they will use the data service of one of the incumbent mobile providers at prescribed “roaming” rates.

    So when you are at home, or work (assuming your phone connects to WiFi at work), or Starbucks, etc., when somebody phones you or texts you, that will actually come over your WiFi connection, not your mobile connection. When away from WiFi, phone calls and texts will come from the mobile network of the provider they are paying for roaming. So for most of us, most of the time, we’d actually be using the WiFi network.

    This is not “unfair” to the incumbent mobile carriers as some will have you believe.

    The “roaming” rates are set such that the money they charge to providers like Sugar is still profitable. Sure, they are not the many orders of magnitude as profitable as they are when the providers are all gouging us, not competing and charging the same sky-high rates that they do. But that’s got to end.

    But make no mistake, even the money the mobile providers would earn from WiFi first providers like Sugar mobile’s use of their network at “roaming” rates is still profitable.

  • Brian

    Can I have three guesses who you work for?

  • Bill___A

    I don’t know why you would think I even work in the mobile industry, I don’t. I have an opinion, and I don’t like bottom feeders like sugar mobile coming in and using other people’s networks that cost billions of dollars to build, without making any significant investment themselves. That’s sort of like having Telus build a fiber network for a billion dollars and saying shaw can use it just for a “rental” fee. What is the net result of that? Telus has no incentive to build. I think that although it might be appealing to consumers for lower rates, it in the end is an impairment to building out the networks. Although our mobile rates are still too high, they are a LOT lower than what they used to be. One of the first plans was 30 daytime minutes a MONTH and charging long distance whenever you strayed very far from your home area. It is now considerably cheaper than that. People compare our rates to the UK (which has many more people and much smaller land area – and much poorer service, particularly in the areas where there is ONLY 2G) – and the USA, which despite improving a lot, has ten times our population and in many areas, far poorer coverage…as I was able to confirm last month when I was there.

    I like to take the longer term view of things and look at the underlying effects

    If you were to think about why sugar mobile would be able to undercut the rates, I’m sure you would realize it is because they can buy minimal equipment, likely piggybacking on Ice Mobile’s, and just “pay as you go”. Looking at why “Wind” mobile was cheaper, from what I understand, they largely put stubby little towers up and continually frustrated people with the lower level of service associated with that. Apparently they had to go through less regulatory efforts to build shorter towers, from what I understand.

    There’s nothing wrong with allowing more “fair” competition. Everyone who disagrees with people who want “free” mobile service does not work for a carrier. I’m actually not all that happy with one of them right now….but that doesn’t mean it changes my opinion about the Sugar Mobile issue.

  • Brian

    Well, “bottom feeders” (to use your term, not mine) would not be necessary if the facilities based providers were not coordinating (if not outright colluding on) their plans and prices and operating in an effective monopoly market.

    And nobody is “renting” anything. The facilities owners are still making a profit at wholesaling their facilities. It’s just not the absurdly greedy orders of magnitude more than their cost that they are currently making by coordinating their pricing.

    Profits and wholesale rates are still profits and still provide incentives to continue to invest.

    Prices being lower now that what they used to be is a complete strawman argument. Prices are lower than they used to be all over the world. The real comparison is in how much Canadians pay vs. how much other western-world (or even global) consumers pay. We pay some of the highest prices in the world. That’s the truly meaningful argument.

    Sugar Mobile’s lower prices will not be because whomever they are buying roaming from is losing money on that roaming contract. On the contrary, those facilities based carriers will still be making profit on those wholesale/roaming minutes. Sugar Mobile’s prices will be lower because they will not be participating in the coordinated marketing and pricing racket and charging many many more times actual cost.

  • Bill___A

    Not saying I am right or wrong, I just took the trouble to explain where my logic came from. My opinion is sometimes changed on issues where other people have pointed out something I’ve missed or something I should think about differently but as it stands, I don’t wish to see the Sugar mobile proposition approved. As far as profit making, I suspect Sugar mobile would be the ones making a lot of profit, but I don’t have access to the numbers, so I don’t know. My mobiles are on Wi-Fi networks a lot of the time. Rogers chooses to prefer wi-fi calling, and Telus chooses to not…..

    I used to be out of town a lot, and I can tell you the prices for things now are significantly cheaper than they used to be for this……being able to talk at an unlimited amount for a flat rate versus 50 cents a minute for airtime and up to $1.09 a minute for long distance, and the same rate for dial up slow internet… it is difficult to compare anything that’s changed so dramatically.

  • Mich

    WOW, meaning wow and wall of words. I get the feeling you are working the spectrum as well as working at ROBELLUS!

  • Brian

    By definition Sugar can’t make as much profit as the carrier they are buying roaming from since Sugar’s “cost” will be higher than the carrier’s cost by the difference of how much profit is built into the wholesale (roaming) rate. And then, even getting close to the same profit assumes they are willing to charge as much as the big three in their coordinated pricing racket which they clearly are not.

    WiFi calling is actually a good demonstrator of how badly the incumbents are treating us. At least one of them charges you the same per minute rate when calling on WiFi as they do when you call on their mobile network!!! That’s complete gouging. In the cost breakdown of completing a mobile call, the mobile airtime is by far and away the largest cost to completing that call and they are still charging the same rate when you don’t use their mobile network.

    Sugar mobile gives you unlimited minutes and texts on WiFi in recognition that it’s not costing them any mobile airtime to complete those.

    > it is difficult to compare anything that’s changed so dramatically.

    As I said before, this is a strawman argument. Nobody is arguing that (most) everything is cheaper now. But that’s entirely not the point. The point is that comparatively around the world, we pay some of the highest prices for mobile and the companies providing it are always reporting record-breaking profits. And they all charge the same amounts for the same plans. As much as there is no “proof” that collusion is happening, it’s quite plainly obvious.

  • Bill___A

    Well, I guess you’re wrong. I don’t. I’m not asking anyone to agree with me, I just stated my opinion. I presented several logical reasonings, which although no one is required to agree with, I don’t think they are out of line. Everyone that disagrees with Sugar Mobile doesn’t need to be branded as a “Robellus” employee. I’ve never worked for any of them.

  • Bill___A

    Can you think of another way to fix this “Robellus” pricing problem other than the “Sugar Mobile” solution? I have unlimited calling on my plans, so I am not going to be affected by whether or not they charge minutes for Wi-Fi calling.

  • Brian

    I don’t know of any other (practical) way of fixing the Robellus problem, no, which is why I am very much in favour of WiFi-first MVNOs. There seems to be some belief in the industry that a fourth carrier is a solution and the few locations (which have become fewer now that Bell was allowed to buy MTS) in the country that have that magical fourth carrier do show significantly lower prices, but we will all die of old age before there is a fourth carrier with as much national coverage and service levels as Robellus. So waiting for that is not a practical solution. And there is no guarantee that once they get there, they won’t just fall in line and we will have Sharobellus.

    Not everyone has the budget to buy unlimited calling plans and so many people will be affected by an ability to make calls on WiFi at no charge and pay lower prices for that.

    But I disagree with your assessment that you won’t be affected by WiFi calling. You are affected by user volume and congestion no matter what plan you have. There is only so much wireless capacity to go around. Once that capacity is saturated, your provider will be at their maximum ability to spread the cost of running that network amongst the users. There is no more opportunities to make it cheaper by adding more users. If the provider can start offloading some of that congestion onto WiFi, it once again increases their ability to add more customers, driving the per-customer cost down more. In a functional market, you will see those cost savings.

    Additionally WiFi calling makes it possible to make calls where mobile signal is poor or non-existent.

    It also has the potential to increase the quality of calls since the bandwidth of WiFi is so much more plentiful than mobile airwaves. WiFi calls could be given more bandwidth, increasing call quality.

  • Bill___A

    I meant I was unaffected financially by wi-fi calling. I do like to have it, but it is frustrating that Telus doesn’t allow it outside Canada. I would also like us to have unlimited data plans in some sort of workable way.

  • Brian

    How does Telus prevent you from using WiFi calling outside of Canada? Are they geo-blocking IP addresses outside of Canada?

    Regardless if they are or not, it’s pretty rude to block WiFi calling anywhere and all the more reason we need WiFi-first MVNOs to show Robellus how to properly deliver an affordable service that Canadians want.

    @Bill___A:disqus Since you seem to be against WiFi-first MVNOs, what is your solution to very oppressive and expensive services that we can only get from Robellus?

  • Bill___A

    Brian, I don’t have access to the numbers in order to answer your question. You seem to be in favour of knocking down Robellus at any cost, including a “wi fi first” carrier. I am in favour of knocking down their rates, but not to the extent of having a carrier which will operate like Sugar mobile. I would like to know what makes MVNO’s flourish in some countries and fail in others. We have flanker brands, but not MVNO’s to any extent.
    As to Telus not allowing Wi Fi calling, outside of Canada, I didn’t look into how they do it. Rogers allows it, Telus doesn’t. There are actually quite a few subtleties between the carriers if one would take a look. Telus has easy roam in dozens more countries than Rogers.

    There are no easy answers and differing opinions on how to do it or how not to do it. Maybe Shaw’s entry with Freedom mobile will do the trick, the “fourth carrier”.

  • Brian

    I think with Shaw as that magical “fourth carrier” pipedream, the reality is still too far away to be useful. I hope the CRTC sees that also.

    But even with Shaw as that magical “fourth carrier” they only seem to be competing at the higher end offering bucket loads (more than Robellus) of service for the higher prices which is great for people who actually need 10GB of data a month.

    But that’s still completely ignoring the lower end market segment where people don’t need bucket loads of data and minutes and texts and so don’t want to pay huge sums of money for something they don’t need.

    That lower end seems to be the market segment that MVNOs are filling well in the US for example.