CRTC decision on MVNO access sets rules between regional players, incumbents

The lenghty decision covers several topics, including spectrum holding requirements, access to 5G, and more

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) says it’s one step closer to enabling the deployment of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in Canada.

The Commission published a lengthy decision on October 19th covering the terms and conditions related to MVNO service and measures to govern relationships between regional providers and incumbents like Bell, Rogers, Telus and Sasktel.

MVNOs operate on top of existing networks to offer service (similar to how independent ISPs use existing broadband infrastructure to offer internet services to Canadians, but for mobile networks). The CRTC mandates the national wireless providers (Bell, Rogers, and Telus) — as well as SaskTel in Saskatchewan — provide network access to regional carriers.

As a quick refresher, the CRTC chose to pursue a facilities-based MVNO model in April of 2021. The decision came as a disappointment to many since it required regional providers to have invested in network infrastructure and spectrum to gain MVNO access. Critics said that requirement would limit who could launch MVNO services in Canada.

While the October 19th decision maintains that requirement, it also establishes several other details of MVNO access. You can access the entire decision here, but we’ll tackle some of the standouts below.

First, the CRTC denied various provisions restricting MVNO eligibility based on minimum spectrum holdings and other spectrum-related issues. However, regional wireless carriers seeking MVNO eligibility must still register as a wireless carrier with the Commission, have a home public mobile network somewhere in Canada, and actively offer mobile wireless services to retail customers. Moreover, the CRTC expanded eligibility to regional wireless carriers that hold local telephone spectrum licences.

The CRTC also decided that the MVNO access service should be considered an extension of a regional carrier’s home network. Aside from reducing complexity, this would make the home network and MVNO access available to all end users and eliminate the need to distinguish between home network and MVNO access users.

The Commission also determined that MVNO access would include all available GSM-based networks. That means 3G, 4G/LTE, 5G and beyond will be available to regional carriers. It also determined that MVNO access should support seamless hand-off to avoid dropped calls or service disruptions when users transition between networks.

Other decisions include denying provisions to restrict the resale of MVNO access service and to require regional carriers to compensate incumbents for inaccurate traffic forecasts. It also determined that MVNO access rates be open to renegotiation at least every two years, although parties can agree to different time frames if they choose.

The full decision is available here.