MVNO Sugar Mobile has been given 50 days to stop tapping into a 3G roaming agreement from its parent company accessing Rogers’ wireless network.
Canadian regulators struck down a creative move by mobile virtual network operator Sugar Mobile that took advantage of roaming agreements to offer nationwide cellular and 3G data services.
Sugar Mobile, which is a division of regional carrier Ice Wireless, noted a decision late last week by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission gave the carrier 50 days to stop tapping into cellular roaming services from Rogers Communications in offering Sugar customers cellular services while outside of its home network or not connected to Wi-Fi.
The MVNO, which is said to serve around 5,500 customers, touts its Wi-Fi connectivity, but also provides cellular service on Ice Wireless’ network across portions of Northern Canada and has tapped into the country’s mandatory roaming agreements to access Rogers’ wireless network across the rest of the country.
In the case of Sugar Mobile, customers are initially tied to accessing services via a Wi-Fi connection to handle their voice and data traffic. In addition to an unlocked device and Sugar Mobile’s SIM card, customers also need to download an Android application
“We’re currently exploring alternative options for non-Wi-Fi access that will ensure our customers have access to data despite this decision,” noted Sugar CEO Samer Bishay, in a statement.
According to local reports, the CRTC noted in its ruling that Sugar was illegally taking advantage of Ice Wireless’ roaming deals with Rogers.
“Ice Wireless has improperly allowed the end-users of its mobile virtual network operator Sugar Mobile Inc. to obtain permanent, rather than incidental, access to [Rogers’] cellular network,” the CRTC explained. “Should Ice Wireless continue to allow Sugar Mobile end-users to make unauthorized use of [Rogers’] cellular network, [Rogers] may cease providing wholesale mobile wireless roaming service to Ice Wireless, as described in this decision. … In order to provide a stable business environment for wireless providers, the CRTC must ensure that the regulatory policies it establishes are implemented fairly in the market and that all parties abide by the rules.”
Rogers, which along with Telus and Bell Canada dominate the country’ mobile telecom market, was receptive to the CRTC ruling.
“We’re pleased the CRTC made the right call,” said David Watt, SVP of regulatory affairs at Rogers, in a statement to CBC News. “We believe in innovation and a fair, competitive market — this was about violating a roaming agreement, plain and simple.”
Such mandatory reciprocal roaming agreements are seen as allowing new entrants into a market by requiring established players to offer access to basic cellular service so customers of the new entrant can continue using services when traveling outside of their home market.
Cellular competition is a hot topic in Canada as past reports have pegged the country as being one of the more expensive in terms of pricing plans for consumers. The government has attempted a number of creative ways to increase competition, including specific spectrum auction rules to encourage new entrants. There has been some limited success, but in general Canadian consumers are dependent on wireless services from the country’s three big carriers.
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