AT&T Skipped Canada Because “Not Enough Room” for Four Carriers

The deadline passed today at noon EDT for spectrum bidders to place their 5% deposits to participate in Canada’s 700MHz spectrum auction coming in January of 2014.
Screen Shot 2013 09 17 at 3 38 26 PMCanadians will find out the identities of bidders next Monday, which could include some foreign players. But one of them won’t be AT&T, as according to a report by BNN (a property owned by Bell Media), the US carrier decided by as late as mid-July it was no longer interested in expanding into Canada (AT&T was rumoured to buy WIND Mobile back in March).

The reason? According to a source, AT&T didn’t believe Canada would be able to support four wireless telcos:

AT&T indicated as late as mid-July that it was not interested in expanding into Canada, according to a source who attended a banking conference where the issue was discussed.

The U.S. telecom sent a “very open message to Canadian debt and equity investors—they are not coming to Canada”, citing “not enough room for four players in Canada.”

In a confidential memo obtained by BNN, the highly-placed telecom industry source wrote that AT&T had looked at Wind Mobile and Mobilicity “in detail” and passed.

BNN previously reported AT&T was amongst three foreign wireless carriers interested in participating in 700MHz spectrum bidding, along with Vodafone and Norway’s Telenor. According to BNN, a third source claims an overseas foreign telco inquired about Canada’s 700MHz auction was but told to not bother.

This all sounds too familiar as back in July, Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed told analysts he doubted “how a four-player market can work in a country like Canada,” citing our vast “geographic expanse.”

Just yesterday Canada’s Big 3 met with other wireless players along with the federal Liberal Party to essentially send a message to Ottawa to ditch its plans for a fourth national wireless player. Meanwhile, yesterday WIND Mobile publicly declared its intent to bid in the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction, touted as ‘beachfront property’ due to its high penetration rate for buildings, enabling better and farther wireless coverage.

With AT&T and Verizon out of the wireless spectrum bidding picture, which potential foreign bidders could remain? Stay tuned as we’ll find out on Monday who they’ll be.