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Canadian Mobile Carriers: Who Owns Who?

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The Canadian mobile carriers scene has always been somewhat of a mystery – new carriers popping up, old carriers getting bought out, gas stations offering mobile plans, and prices changing province to province. With over 2 dozen brands across the nation, navigating through this maze can definitely be a challenge. While the majority of wireless spectrum is owned by a few dominant mobile carriers, why are there so many brands with all sorts of offerings and who are they?

Who Owns Wireless Spectrum in Canada?

First off, you might be wondering what ‘wireless spectrum’ means. Essentially, all of our wireless communications travel over what is called spectrum or radio frequency. These frequencies were initially owned and controlled by the government and sold to cell phone carriers. Carriers build out network towers to have the signal reach all corners of our nation. Owning wireless spectrum is therefore essentially like owning the pipes to connect cell phones to the rest of the world. Let’s start with the major players, those that actually own the towers and send the waves across the nation to keep our devices running with strong signal and LTE data no matter where we go. While there has been a lot of controversy on the topic and the never-ending conversation of Canada’s mobile carrier space being an oligopoly, the top 3 mobile carriers (including subsidiary brands) in Canada hold close to 90% market share. Yes, that’s A LOT of market share! The following table outlines key carriers. We would refer to these carriers as full-service.

Carrier Geographic Focus Rank Based on Subscribers Owner
Rogers Wireless Nationwide Canada’s largest carrier Rogers Communications
Bell Mobility Nationwide Canada’s second-largest carrier BCE Inc.
Telus Mobility Nationwide Canada’s third largest carrier Telus Corporation
Freedom Mobile Nationwide however LTE coverage is not strong in many areas Canada’s fourth largest carrier Shaw Communications
Vidéotron Mobile Quebec and Ottawa Canada’s fifth largest carrier Vidéotron
Sasktel Mobility Saskatchewan Canada’s sixth largest carrier Sasktel – Owned by the provincial government

 

Who owns all of these subsidiary brands?

So you’re probably thinking great, all these large carriers are owned by even larger corporations with tons of resources at their disposal. But what about brands like Koodo, Public Mobile, Virgin, Fido, Chatr and Lucky Mobile – who owns them? What’s the need for them?

Subsidiary brands like the above mentioned can exist for a variety of reasons such as:

  • The ability to differentiate service offerings – For example, Koodo is owned by Telus but unlike it’s parent, it does not require you to sign a contract, in fact contracts don’t even exist at Koodo
  • The ability to reach different demographics or segments of the market – For example, Lucky Mobile is owned by Bell however it’s only a prepaid service
  • Through acquisitions – Mobilicity was purchased by Rogers and subscribers were rolled into their Chatr brand

These subsidiary brands all rely on the power of their parent company’s network and use its resources to deliver their services. Therefore, in some instances below, you can expect the same network strength and coverage area as the parent company.

Brand Owner Tier
Fido Rogers Communications Mid-Level
Chatr Rogers Communications Entry-Level/Discount
Virgin Mobile BCE Inc. (Bell) Mid-Level
Lucky Mobile BCE Inc. (Bell) Entry-Level/Discount
Bell MTS BCE Inc. (Bell) Full-Service
Koodo Telus Mobility Mid-Level
Public Mobile Telus Mobility Entry-Level/Discount

 

What is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator?

So hopefully the mobile carrier scene is starting to get a little clearer. But what about those random brands we see in the gas station and grocery stores like Petro Canada Mobility, PC Mobile, 7-Eleven SpeakOut – who owns them if it’s not the big brands? This takes us to our next tier of mobile carriers known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators or in short, MVNOs. These cell phone carriers do not own any wireless spectrum; instead, they usually enter into lease agreements with the large carriers to run their services on those networks. While these brands still require all of the business functions to run an independently branded carrier, they can either set up their own business and support infrastructure or use a company to come in and enable them, which we’ll discuss below.

Brand Owner Network it operates on
7-Eleven SpeakOut Wireless Ztar Mobile Rogers Wireless
Cityfone Rogers Communications Rogers Wireless
PC Mobile Loblaws Bell Mobility
Petro Canada Mobility Ztar Mobile Rogers Wireless
Zoomer Wireless Zoomer Wireless Rogers Wireless

What about Mobile Virtual Network Enablers?

As alluded to above, an MVNO can be as simple as a brand, with all network capabilities leased from those that own the spectrum. They can also bring in an MVNE such as Ztar Mobile to provide administrative functions, business support functions and operations support to complete the business model.

Acquisitions

While Mobilicity and Public Mobile had both acquired their own wireless spectrum through the government auction process as part of the government’s attempt to increase competition in the Canadian mobile carriers space, that didn’t last very long with both being sold to one of the larger carriers.

Brand New Owner Sold In
Fido Rogers Communications 2014
Mobilicity Rogers Communications 2015
Cityfone Rogers Communications 2010
MTS Mobility Bell Mobility 2016
Public Mobile Telus Mobility 2014
Wind Mobile Shaw Communications & rebranded to Freedom Mobile 2015

While we haven’t covered every single mobile carrier that operates in Canada, we hope the above gives you a good general overview of the Canadian mobile carriers landscape and helps you understand who owns who!

Keep in mind that you can transfer your number to any carrier, so if you decide to switch carriers, be sure to advise them early on in the process that you want to bring your old number with you. You will also need to make sure your cell phone is unlocked if you plan to use your current cell phone with the new carrier.

For some further reading on how the Canadian Wireless Spectrum Auction works including license ownership and geographical coverage, there is a great, recent study on the CRTC website which you can find here.

 

Trusted Mobile Carriers

 

Koodo

Koodo has been rated as one of the best customer service companies in Canada. If you need assistance with your phone or account, Koodo is definitely a company you can trust. So be at ease that you’re getting the best, and not the worst customer service, which is what we often do get with others.

Chatr

Chatr offers fast data speeds, reaching up to 3G speeds. This makes Chatr a great choice for anyone looking for a fast and reliable connection. Whether you’re browsing the internet, streaming music or videos, or just need to stay connected with friends and family, Chatr has you covered.

Public Mobile

Public Mobile is Canada’s newest wireless carrier, and it’s also the cheapest.  Public Mobile’s 3G speed is only 3mbps which may not sound very fast, but it’s still fast enough for most people to stream high-quality audio without any problems. Public Mobile isn’t as well-known as some major carriers, but with low prices, it’s sure to attract many new customers.

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile Canada is a good cell phone service provider which offer a variety of plans that include talk, text, and data. Virgin Mobile also have a good selection of phones to choose from. They use the Sprint network, which is one of the largest in the country. This means that you should get good coverage pretty much anywhere.

Lucky Mobile

Lucky Mobile is a subsidiary of Bell Canada and operates on the Bell network. Lucky Mobile is good in Canada because it has low rates, good coverage, and the ability to bring your own phone. Lucky Mobile is a prepaid service, so there are no contracts and no surprises. You can buy a Lucky Mobile SIM card at most convenience stores or order one online.

Freedom Mobile

Since Freedom Mobile is a new entrant into the space and competing with the Big 3 Carriers is no easy task, it seems like they are using lower price points as a tactic to help increase the number of subscribers. The lower price does not relate to the quality of the network by any means, as Freedom Mobile is heavily investing in bettering its network.

 

FAQs

Which mobile network is best in Canada?

There are a few mobile networks in Canada, and it can be tough to decide which one is best for you. Rogers, Bell, and Telus are the three largest networks in Canada, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Rogers is known for having the best coverage in rural areas, while Bell is known for having the best coverage in cities. If you’re looking for a good network coverage that will work well in both rural and urban areas, Rogers may be the best option for you.

Telus is a good choice if you’re looking for a cheap cell phone plan – their cell phone plans tend to be cheaper than Rogers or Bell. However, their network isn’t as good as Rogers or Bell’s in terms of coverage.

Ultimately, the best mobile network in Canada depends on your needs and preferences.

Who is the largest mobile carrier in Canada?

There are three main mobile carriers in Canada: Bell, Rogers, and Telus. All three have a wide range of coverage across the country. Of these three, Bell is the largest with over 27 million subscribers. Rogers is second with around 25 million, and Telus is third with just over 21 million.

Who is better Bell or Rogers?

Bell is a Canadian telecommunications and media company headquartered in Toronto, Ontario. It is the largest telecom company in Canada. Bell provides wireless, wireline, internet, and television services to businesses and consumers across Canada.

Rogers Communications Inc. is a Canadian communications and media company headquartered in Toronto, Ontario. It is the largest cable television provider in Canada. Rogers provides wireless, cable television, telephone, and internet services to businesses and consumers in Canada.

There are many factors to consider when deciding who is better Bell or Rogers. Some people may prefer Bell because they offer more wireless options while others may prefer Rogers because they have a larger cable TV selection. Others may find that Bell’s internet service is more reliable than Rogers’. And finally, some people may simply prefer one company over the other based on personal preference.

Why Canada doesn’t have unlimited data plans?

Canada does not have unlimited wireless data plans because the market for wireless services is much smaller than in the United States. This means that cell phone providers have to be more careful about how they allocate their resources and what Canadian cell phone plans they offer to consumers.

Another reason why Canada doesn’t have unlimited high speed wireless data plans is that the infrastructure for delivering wireless services is more expensive to build and maintain in Canada than in the United States. This is partly due to the fact that there are more rural areas in Canada where it is not economically feasible to build cell towers.

Finally, Canadian regional providers have to contend with a lot of government regulations when it comes to wireless services.

Who has the most cell towers in Canada?

When it comes to sheer numbers of cell phone towers, Rogers Communications Inc. is the clear leader in Canada. The company has more than 12,000 cell towers across the country – about 40% of the total number in Canada. Bell Mobility and Telus Corp are distant seconds, with about 5,000 and 4,500 towers respectively. These three cell phone companies control more than 90% of the cell tower market in Canada. This lack of competition has led to a high monthly fee and little innovation in the sector.