News, views and commentary from the telecoms sector across emerging markets and developing countries worldwide

Friday, 27 November 2009

Telecoms operators in developing countries are always owned by telcos from richer nations and never the other way round... right?

Bouygues Telecom: eyed by Egypt's Orascom

While the focus DevelopingTelecomsWatch is generally on communications sector businesses in emerging markets and developing countries, a battle between incumbent mobile operators and a proposed new entrant in Canada has been covered here of late.

While events in the vast North American country are clearly beyond the usual remit of this blog, two factors go some way towards justifying the interest of DTW in this particular story.

The first of these is possibly a bit frivolous - simply the observation that despite Canada's G8 membership and status as one of the world's most affluent countries, its mobile communications industry lags behind that of many far less wealthy countries in terms of market penetration. The second factor which justifies spending some time on this story is the fact that the wannabe new cellco in Canada has its roots in Egypt and is affiliated with that country's first multinational corporation. That Egyptian company, Orascom Telecom, has built a global business across a number of developing countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Algeria and Zimbabwe.

I remember sitting in the auditorium at the 3GSM World Congress in 2007 and smiling at the rather direct language used by Orascom Telecom supremo Naguib Sawiris. As Richard Wray of the Guardian also noted a the time, the opening speeches (including those from Orange's then-CEO Sanjiv Ajuha and Vodafone's then-CEO Arun Sarin) were somewhat in line with what conference veterans have come to expect - carefully prepared, lots of positive stuff about mobile communications enriching consumers' lives.

Sawiris eschewed this kind of talk altogether, preferring to announce that he was in the business for the money. While this element of the Egyptian tycoon's speech is what stood out for Richard Wray, it is another remark that interested me and which has informed my thinking about the telecoms sector. Sawiris smiled about three giant multinational mobile groups being represented on stage at the World Congress by two Indians and an Egyptian. The point, I think, was to illustrate the shift of this industry's centre of gravity southwards and eastwards from the developed economies of Europe and North America.

Having grown up with the comfortable notion of European and American countries building operations in developing countries and extracting profits therefrom, it has been interesting to watch Orascom Telecom working in the opposite direction. Weather Investments, an investment vehicle controlled by Sawiris, holds more than 50% of Orascom Telecom, and also owns Italy's Wind Telecomunicazioni and Wind Hellas of Greece.

The current attempt to shake up the telecoms sector of a highly developed economy like Canada is, then, not without precedent for Sawiris.

In Canada, however, as noted here before, however, there is fierce resistance to the arrival of Wind Mobile. For now, the prospect of a commercial launch has been stymied by a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruling that the company in breach of rules on foreign ownership and control.

Today, in response to this setback, Wind Mobile has launched a campaign "geared at letting Canadians know that when it comes to wireless service, they deserve more." The goal of the campaign, runs the company's press release, "is to raise awareness about the current state of Canada's wireless industry compared to the rest of the world, and to highlight why more choice is essential."

"The heart of the issue is that Canadians pay some of the highest rates for some of the most complained-about wireless service in the world," said Anthony Lacavera, Chairman of Wind Mobile. "This campaign is about focusing the conversation to the need for real wireless competition in Canada in order to lower prices, increase penetration and finally deliver the kind of customer service that has been sorely lacking for Canadians."

Others in Canada, however, have expressed the opinion that while Orascom Telecom has probably been treated unfairly, and while the country's rules on foreign investment urgently need changing, it would be a mistake to allow Wind Mobile to take part in the Canadian market because the other players in the market have to follow the current rules, so the Orascom Telecom-backed company should as well. This is the view outlined in an editorial piece in yesterday's Globe & Mail.

As stated the last time DTW visited this dispute, more twists and turns seem likely. We will continue to watch developments with interest.

In the meantime, Mr. Sawiris has expressed an interest in participating in the telecoms market of another developed economy. TeleGeography reports that the Orascom Telecom Chairman is eyeing France's Bouygues Telecom. A tie-up with the French operator would make sense the said an anonymous Orascom official, adding: "It would reinforce our presence in the Mediterranean, improve our roaming possibilities, there would be many synergies." Watch this space. Will Egypt's Sawiris continue to make inroads into Europe's highly developed and competitive telecoms markets?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

WiMAX set to drive broadband growth in Sri Lanka?

Sky Network: WiMAX offering set to shake up Sri Lanka's broadband market?

News items from Sri Lanka's mobile market have caught the eye of DevelopingTelecomsWatch a few times of late. Most recently, DTW asked whether the arrival of the UAE's Etisalat as a player on the island nation's cellular scene would cause price competition to become even fiercer. It was noted that a sustained price war has been eroding tariffs and weakening cellcos' profitability over the last four years. Since then, further worrying figures from the country's telecoms sector have been released.

On November 11th, for example, Reuters reported that market leading MNO Dialog Telkom posted a fifth straight quarterly net loss for Q3 2009, disappointing analysts who had predicted the company would break even. Reuters reports that the telco, a unit of Malaysia's Axiata lost 438.9 million Sri Lankan rupees (USD 3.83 million) in the quarter which ended on September 30th. As well as margins being squeezed by fierce competition, the Reuters piece traces a link between between this loss and profit remaining elusive at Dialog Telekom's broadband and direct-to-home satellite TV operations.

That's the latest from the Sri Lankan mobile market. What, though, of the country's incumbent wireline operator, Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT)?

SLT, which was part-privatised in 1997, hit the headlines this week for its efforts to improve the availability of its services in the country's Northern and Eastern provinces, the areas affected by the on-and-off conflict between government forces and the Tamil Tigers, which ended earlier this year after twenty-six long years.

Harshini Perera of Sri Lanka's Daily News writes that SLT has addressed the need to improve its services in these areas by expanding its copper and fibre access networks, installing new exchanges and the CDMA base stations.

With a view to improving its broadband offering across the whole island, Sky Network, a subsidiary of SLT, will, according to Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror, be providing the WiMAX services to parts of the country where ADSL services are not offered. The Daily Mirror reports that the venture will commence operations in March 2010 and will initially provide services to Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara Districts.

It will be interesting to watch for the impact this WiMAX offering has once launched. Australian telecoms research company BuddeComm's Sri Lanka Internet Market report indicates that Internet access and other forms of data services have lately been starting to take off in the country, but that coverage and accessibility remain limited, with user penetration estimated by the ITU to be at around 6% by the end of 2008. Buddecomm's report contends that early moves to offer broadband Internet in Sri Lanka have met with only limited success, albeit with some promising signs of growth in 2008-09. The report notes that early activity in the wireless broadband segment of the market has not yet translated into significant subscriber numbers.

2010 looks to the year during which it will become apparent whether wireless access technologies will contribute significantly to the growth of broadband services in Sri Lanka.


Wednesday, 25 November 2009

South Africa's Telkom: a fighting chance?

Telkom Direct stores: a vital channel to market as the company faces challenging times?

DevelopingTelecomsWatch is picking up lots of chatter today about Telkom, the incumbent wireline operator of South Africa. This started when this morning's daily roundup from TeleGeography included the news that the company is planning to re-enter the mobile space in 2010 after only a brief period with no cellular presence.

Until almost exactly one year ago, Telkom and Vodafone had each owned 50% of Vodacom, the pan-African mobile operator with 35 million customers in South Africa, Tanzania, Lesotho, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Earlier this year, the UK-headquartered mobile giant secured a controlling interest in Vodacom with the purchase of an additional 15% stake from Telkom. The remaining 35% owned by the South African incumbent was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and unbundled to the company's shareholders.

When plans for this transaction were first announced late last year, Lloyd Gedye of South Africa's Mail & Guardian
reported the stated rationale for Telkom's sale of its stake in Vodacom and noted that many analysts "had expressed skepticism at Telkom's ability to make a success of going it alone in the mobile space and have questioned how Telkom will survive without the Vodacom cash cow."

Back in November 2008, then, Gedye wrote that Telkom CEO Reuben
September was arguing that the deal would unlock significant value for the company's shareholders because its fixed-line business had "been undervalued while it clung on to its 50% stake in Vodacom".

How much validity is there in that notion of Telkom's wireline property being undervalued? The notion is, at the very least, open to question according to An Ovum note issued this week in response to Telkom's announced plans to roll out its own mobile services. Ovum examine the background to this strategy and observe that fixed-line penetration (currently under 9%) is continuing to fall in South Africa so "mobile is clearly the communication mode of choice, and this is where [Telkom] needs to be for its customers."

However, the note continues, establishing a new mobile operation in South Africa won't be easy, as mobile penetration is already above the 100% mark and because Telkom will be competing with two large, well-established players in Vodacom and

A third mobile operator, Cell C, has achieved a 15.57% share (according to WCIS) of the country's mobile market since its commercial launch in late 2001. For other mobile service providers, South Africa has offered a very challenging competitive environment. Back in March, in an article on the prospects for MVNOs in both Africa and India, DevelopingTelecomsWatch noted that Virgin Mobile South Africa had failed to capture even 1% of the country's mobile subscriptions by the end of 2008. The significance of the recently-launched CDMA mobile offering from Neotel, Telkom's principal challenger in the fixed-line arena, remains to be seen.

While Ovum's note politely points out the level of challenge facing Telkom's proposed new mobile offering, others have responded with far less restrained language. An article by Tiisetso Motsoeneng of Reuters today quotes one analyst who certainly pulls no punches.

"To be targeting the retail market in that industry, I think it will be suicide for Telkom," Jan Meintjes, an analyst at Gryphon Asset Management said. "I fail to see how a converged strategy of fixed and mobile is going to be earning significant margins," Meintjes said. "Unless they can show to the market that there's a specific niche that they're targeting and how they can exploit that in terms of earning margins on that business that will give them an accepted ROE on their capital expenditure, I don't see how that can be value enhancing."

The Ovum note, however, reminds us that in South Africa, Telkom claims not to be starting a mobile network operation from scratch. The note points out that the group already has fixed core network assets, which are used by both Vodacom and MTN for backhaul, and an established channel to market through over 134 Telkom Direct shops. Ovum contend that Telkom can choose to "develop a new brand and associated lifestyle concept to target some of the high-spending customers". Also, the Ovum note continues, Telkom could potentially have greater appeal to enterprise customers due to an ability to bundle services across fixed and mobile networks.

Lloyd Gedye's article late last year indicated that another use of the Telkom's Vodacom windfall might be to acquire a number of new mobile licences in numerous African countries. These would be in addition to the company's existing interest in Nigeria. According to Candice Jones of ITWeb, however, Multi-Links, the Nigerian telco in which Telkom has had a controlling interest since 2006, "is in dire straits, knocking Telkom's annual results set with a R1.7 billion net loss."

Let's see if this difficult experience discourages Telkom from further international expansion. My sense all this year is that African mobile markets are more likely to consolidate than they are to offer rich opportunities for new entrants.

While mobility in South Africa offers a new source of revenue for Telkom, Ovum argue that any new revenue streams from mobile - or from enhanced ICT services currently being developed - "are unlikely to significantly bolster its financials in the near term." Of more immediate concern, Ovum contend, is Telkom's rising cost base. Ovum's note expresses the belief that by implementing best-practice approaches in its own transformation, Telkom is giving itself a fighting chance in the challenging times ahead of it.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Unsurprising news of the week

India's Communications & IT Minister: summoned to explain falling revenues at BSNL

To my mind, the least surprising news item so far this week comes from Mansi Taneja of India's Business Standard, who reports that state-owned Indian state-owned telco BSNL is likely to exit a consortium that has been aiming to acquire a 46% in pan-MEA mobile group Zain. According to Taneja, MTNL, the other public sector operator party to the consortium, is also likely to exit since it had agreed to follow BSNL’s lead in the deal.

DevelopingTelecomsWatch has no axe to grind with regard to these two telecoms enterprises, but it won't have escaped the notice of regular readers that this blog has observed some pretty strong criticisms of their performance in their domestic market, most notably in an article written in August.

It was partly with these criticisms in mind that DTW was unsurprised when Etisalat rather than BSNL prevailed in the scramble to acquire the Sri Lankan mobile operator previously owned by Millicom International Cellular. It would, then, cause raised eyebrows at DTW HQ were MTNL to win what looks to be a hotly contested scramble to buy a controlling interested in Zambia's soon-to-be-privatised incumbent fixed line operator, Zamtel. As a recent Cellular News item points out, the list of other interested parties contains some formidable names including Orascom Telecom, Telkom of South Africa and Russia's pan-CIS cellco Vimpelcom, which has recently expanded its footprint into Southeast Asia.

Lest anyone feel that this blog returning quite regularly to the troubles of India's two major state-owned telecoms enterprises is somehow unwarranted, it is worth noting that concern about their prospects has been expressed in the highest circles in the south Asian country. Monday's Economic Times, for example, reported that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to meet the BSNL's management along with Communications and IT Minister A. Raja to look into the causes of the company's falling revenues and to find ways to improve its performance.

According to the Economic Times, BSNL says the loss in net profit and revenue is due to huge wage costs and customers deciding to terminate their fixed line subscriptions. The article states that the company has been struggling with the problem of landlines being surrendered for years now, due to a combination of the increasing popularity of mobile phone and its own service levels falling below customer expectations. In the past three years, the article reports, 6.3 million landline connections have been terminated.

This blog has also documented the company's struggles to capitalise on first-mover advantage in the 3G mobile services space or to take make much of a similar head start with WiMAX broadband services.

In light of all this, DTW remains wary of any claims that BSNL makes about ambitions to grow its business into unfamiliar overseas territories.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Orascom Telecom: continued resistance to Canadian market entry and changes at the top

Shaw Communications: joining the opposition to Orascom's Canadian market entry

A recent DevelopingTelecomsWatch article reported on the challenges faced by Orascom Telecom-backed nascent Canadian cellco Globalive Wireless as it seeks to intrude upon what its CEO has described as the "oligopoly" of incumbent players Rogers Wireless, Bell Mobility and Telus. We noted that the Wind-branded operator has fallen foul of foreign ownership despite Orascom Telecom supremo Naguib Sawiris having been, in the words of Terence Corcoran of the National Post, "led... into bidding for spectrum and a major role in the Canadian wireless market" only to have the carpet pulled out from under his company.

As debate rages about how poorly consumers might be served by keeping Globalive out of the country's wireless market, Telus, which is estimated by WCIS to account for around 29% of Canadian mobile subs, is urging Industry Minister Tony Clement not to overturn the CRTC ruling which has stymied the prospective new entrant's plans.

According to Steven Chase, writing today for the Globe and Mail, Telus is arguing that a relaxation of the foreign ownership rules would be unfair "because other companies stayed within existing ownership rules when bidding for frequencies in the 2008 wireless spectrum auction." Telus, which also offers wireline telephony, broadband and TV services, has joined forces with another telco headquartered in Western Canada, Shaw Communications, to publish an open appeal to Mr. Clement in the press.

Chase writes that the two operators are asking the Minister to ignore calls to reverse the October 29th decision by the CRTC. It would send "a very bad message to companies that complied with the Canadian ownership laws as they were required to do in the auction and spent over $4-billion bidding - that the rules can be changed at any time in the game," Michael Hennessy, Telus's SVP of Regulatory and Government Affairs, said in an interview.

The CEO of Rogers Communications, meanwhile, has made it clear how the wireless arm of his business would respond if the Orascom Telecom-backed startup is indeed unable to launch. The market-leading mobile operation would look to acquire the unused spectrum.

"Spectrum is a very valuable asset," Nadir Mohamed said last Friday after a speech to the Toronto Board of Trade. "It's the real estate of our business, so Rogers would be for sure interested in picking it up. I'm sure others would be."

I sense a few more twists in this tale before it becomes clear what is to become of Orascom Telecom's planned foray into North America. Meanwhile, the overall expansion strategy - of which entry into Canada's surprisingly under-penetrated mobile market was meant to be a part - will continue to be guided by Naguib Sawiris. Orascom Telecom recently announced changes to the management structure which will see Group COO Khaled Bichara promoted to the CEO role and Sawiris taking on the position of Executive Chairman.

"The telecommunication business is continuing to grow and evolve at a rapid pace, and we're reshaping OTH to be a leader in this transformation. Our strategy leverages our core strengths and capitalizes on vastly emerging trends to drive growth and profitability. Khaled is dynamic, energetic and will be able to draw on his... experience... to gear the Group into a more aggressive period of growth and transform OTH into a more innovative, integrated and agile global company," Sawiris said. "I will also remain involved in the businesses with more focus on steering the Group’s strategic growth while guiding and supporting the activities of the senior management team. I believe that the telecom market will see massive consolidation during the coming years, and with the new structure I will be able to devote more time and effort in this direction," he added.

With Sawiris now free to focus more sharply on growth opportunities, it will be interesting to see if the group will continue the taste for adventurous enterprises suggested by its decision to invest in North Korea. Koryolink is a W-CDMA operator in which Orascom Telecom holds a 75% stake. Having launched services in December last year, the company now has around 70,000 subscribers according to Cellular News.

For a glimpse inside the secretive and isolated country, this clip about the launch of the Orascom-backed MNO makes interesting viewing, even if the commentary is impenetrable to non-Koreans:


Saturday, 14 November 2009

Aptilo Networks positive about prospects for WiMAX in developing countries

Johan Terve, Aptilo Networks:
good opportunities for WiMAX in emerging markets

DevelopingTelecomsWatch was a proud media partner of this year's iteration of the annual Africa Com conference and exhibition held in Cape Town. The event concluded on Thursday this week, wrapping up two days of discussions and networking among the continent's telecoms operators and their business partners from the vendor and systems integrator communities.

One theme explored in some detail at the conference - via a special breakout session - was the question of to what extent WiMAX is gaining traction in Africa.

With this in mind, DTW spoke this week with Johan Terve, VP Marketing at Aptilo Networks, a supplier of pre-integrated management solutions for control of billing, user services and access in WiMAX and Wi-Fi networks. Aptilo Networks had a presence at Africa Com so we were keen to get a sense of whether this was indicative of an upbeat view of the scale of the WiMAX opportunity in Africa - and across developing countries and emerging markets more generally.

For proponents of WiMAX, the emerging markets opportunity may grow in importance - certainly if we are to believe bleak analyses of the technology's ongoing prospects in more developed economies. One such comes from Terry Norman of consulting and research firm Analysys Mason, who in August predicted a difficult time ahead for equipment makers.

Norman believes that "over the last two or three years, WiMAX has gained a strong foothold in developing countries in which there is a need for broadband, but the fixed infrastructure is poor." He feels, however, that these markets offer insufficient growth potential and size "to sustain continued investment from such heavyweights as Cisco Systems, Intel and Motorola without additional sales in the developed markets". Therein lies a problem, argues Norman, because "in the developed markets of Europe and the USA, we see some early signs of a difficult future for WiMAX."

One difficulty could be any reluctance on the part of of leading mobile operators to deploy the technology. Terry Norman writes that in developed European markets, operators are almost certainly upgrading their 3G technologies to 4G LTE in order to match the rising demand for data. Norman draws a connection between leading no leading MNOs hinting that they might adopt WiMAX and the idea that "LTE is imminent."

Johan Terve rejects the notion of that it being "too late" for WiMAX in developed markets. Terve feels that such language would suggest that "this is a race with a single winner". He believes the opposite to be true and that both WiMAX and LTE will co-exist just like xDSL and fiber do in the wired broadband world.

While Terry Norman of Analysys Mason was downbeat about the growth prospects for WiMAX in Europe and US but sounding somewhat positive about the case for the technology in emerging markets, some analysts are more cautious even about the latter opportunity.

A Cellular News article published last month asks whether there really is a big market for WiMAX in the developing countries. The article is built around opinions recently expressed by industry watchers Ovum, who find "that the confluence of several factors including technology cost, coverage, vendor support and service provider choices will limit WiMAX to only a niche technology in the emerging markets, forming part of established fixed and mobile operators' broader broadband access portfolios."

Johan Terve responded to this point by saying that "if they mean that WiMAX technology will be niche based on size, then there is an element of truth in that since in the end LTE will be bigger because of its massive support amongst mobile operators" and because "the industry expects LTE to be a replacement technology for 2G/3G mobile phones as well."

"The WiMAX market does not have the ambition to be a new mobile phone system", argues Terve. "In terms of pure mobile data technologies for portable laptops and mobile Internet devices," he continues, "the two markets will be more equal, and for the 'Wireless DSL' or CPE market WiMAX will probably be larger".

Last month's Cellular News article, however, contends that most emerging markets WiMAX operators currently have thousands, or tens of thousands of subscribers, rather than the hundreds of thousands of subscribers that they planned to have at this stage. DTW asked Johan Terve to what degree he is concerned by these modest numbers.

"We in the vendor community are always far more optimistic in growth projections than the reality," he answered. "The projections of rolled-out LTE networks and subscribers will most likely have to be revised down in the coming quarters. However, there is a big difference between LTE and WiMAX in that the tier 1 mobile operators already have a huge subscriber base just waiting for more bandwidth [and] disappointed with what the current 3G networks have been able to deliver. This will make the LTE ramp-up quicker than it has been for WiMAX having to deploy from scratch. Essentially all larger WiMAX operators are new to market, including Clearwire, PacketOne, Yota and UQ. None of them have the luxury of just adding WiMAX technology to existing cell towers. Are we concerned about WiMAX? No, we are seeing signs now within our customer and prospects base that things are really starting to move. One encouraging factor is, for instance, one of the largest operators in India that is currently deploying Aptilo’s solution. This type of operator tends to scale very quickly in terms of subscriber growth. As a company, we are continuing our multi-wireless support (currently Wi-Fi and WiMAX) and have added LTE to our roadmap to be able to cater to all the help operators need in managing their mobile data traffic."

Where, then, does Aptilo networks see some of the richest opportunities in Africa and in emerging markets more generally?

"We see the greatest opportunities with existing Internet Service Providers and new greenfield challengers in the first phase," says Johan Terve. "We also see a great opportunity with CDMA mobile operators that have hesitated to deploy EV-DO for broadband data services. Their strategy is to keep developing their voice offering in CDMA and then choose between LTE and WiMAX for data. For them LTE is a heavier fork-lift than for 3G operators and WiMAX has the benefit that it is here now, ready to deploy."

Could Terve point to any specific examples of this particular deployment scenario?

"We are currently working with one of our Caribbean CDMA mobile operator customers that will continue with their CDMA for voice and build their data broadband on WiMAX," he responded.

Aptilo Networks, then, is among those continuing to make positive noises about the value WiMAX may be able to add to the communications landscape of emerging markets and developing countries worldwide. It is likely this theme will be revisited when DTW reports on next year's Africa Com event, and it will be interesting to see how far this view has proven to be accurate by that time.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Canada's 'thirdworldish' policies to stifle wireless competition?

Naguib Sawiris: planning to shake up Canada's wireless market

DTW’s recent article on international ambitions of India’s two major state-owned telecoms operators mentioned that one opportunity they are considering is the acquisition of a controlling stake in Zamtel, the incumbent fixed-line operator in Zambia. It remains to be seen if this joint bid from BSNL and MTNL will succeed and it does look as though some formidable players are also interested.

According to a recent Cellular News article, other interested parties include Telecel Globe (a subsidiary of Orascom Telecom), Telkom (South Africa’s incumbent fixed-line operator) and Russia’s increasingly expansionist Vimpelcom, all of which, the article states, officially began due diligence this week.

Interest in Zamtel is by no means the biggest recent news item about Orascom Telecom and might well have escaped the notice of North American readers whose attention has probably been drawn more readily to the challenges the Egyptian firm is facing in Canada.

Globalive Communications Corp.
of Toronto was established in 1998, since which time it has offered competitive long distance plans. Ten years later, the company successfully made a purchase in Industry Canada's radio spectum auction, which paved the way for the creation of a challenger - Globalive Wireless - for the country's established mobile operators, including Telus Mobility, Rogers Wireless and Bell Mobility. The joint efforts of these three major carriers and regional players such as SaskTel have failed to drive national mobile penetration beyond 66.65% according to WCIS. This seems very low for a G8 country that ranks among the world's top ten trading nations. In an interview for Huawei's Communicate magazine earlier this year, Bell Mobility CTO Stephen Howe attributed this state of affairs to three factors: the relatively late licensing of digital wireless spectrum in Canada; Canada' s huge geographical area; the country's robust and unlimited-usage wireline networks.

Globalive Wireless, backed by Orascom Telecom and which had earlier this year announced its intention to launch services under the Wind brand familiar in Italy and Greece, has been led by CEO Ken Cambpell since October 2008. Cambell, whose former roles include a stint running the BITĖ Group, the Vodafone partner network in Lithuania and Latvia, would take issue with Stephen Howe's explanation for Canada's status as a wireless industry laggard. Speaking with Michael Bettiol of Boy Genius Report last month, Campbell lays the blame squarely with the country's wireless carriers:

"Here we’ve got a situation where we pay twice as much as they do in the US, our minutes of use are half of what they are in the US, and wireless penetration is at 65%. Clearly it is a market that is under-developed and where customers simply overpay. The other thing is that in Canada our customer saturation numbers are extremely low. We’ve got a very disenfranchised and very frustrated customer base that is really ripe and in need of competition. The other thing you should know is that this country is dominated by three carriers, but if you look regionally, it is typically two carriers that dominate regional markets. Canada is effectively an oligopoly and in many regions pretty much a duopoly. There is definitely an opportunity with consumers and the numbers speak for themselves."

If, as Michael Bettiol contests, Canadians have "long craved for a new wireless carrier to bust onto the scene and break up what is often described as the anti-competitive practices of [the] incumbents", there must surely be much excitement in the country about the market debut of Wind.

For now, however, any excitement must be deferred a while. Globalive Communications has been in a state of limbo since late last month, when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled that the company is effectively under the control of its Egyptian-based financial backer (Orascom Telecom) and is therefore in breach of rules on foreign ownership and control.

Terence Corcoran of the National Post despairs of the resulting "wireless mess":

"Globalive Wireless has just pumped more than half a billion dollars into the Canadian economy. That includes paying Ottawa $442-million last year for the right to new wireless spectrum, cash now already spent by the federal government stimulating road work in Saskatchewan and writing giant cheques to constituents in Nova Scotia," writes Corcoran, who also notes that "Globalive has also invested another hundred million or more preparing a new Canadian wireless network".

"Having taken Globalive's money", Corcoran continues, "Canada is now telling the company the deal is off."

Corcoran argues that the large spectrum auction fees collected by the Canadian Government would have been far more modest had the participation of Orascom Telecom supremo Naguib Sawiris not been authorised in the first place. Corcoran says that Sawiris has every right to feel mightily aggrieved:

"Whether or not it's possible to sue Ottawa over this thirdworldish policy switch and bureaucratic camel-trading, complete with secret meetings and rule-bending approval processes, it certainly looks like Globalive and its owner, Mr. Sawiris, have a case of some kind, politically and morally, if not legally. Ottawa led Globalive into bidding for spectrum and a major role in the Canadian wireless market, and then it pulled the carpet out from under the company.

This wrangle is a fascinating one for me. In the course of my work, I have spent considerable time networking with telecoms executives from Europe, North America and the Middle East who make their living running operations in less developed countries. I have lost count of the number of times I've heard (doubtless justified) complaints about the complexities and pitfalls of doing business in such markets - regulatory agencies that can be erratic and less than even-handed; taxation policies which stifle growth and innovation; foreign ownership rules which can prove limiting. It is with interest, then, that I read of a company rooted in Egypt encountering in Canada some of the problems I usually hear attributed to much less affluent and developed societies.