Public Mobile opens doors – offers free Canadian long distance

Public Mobile has become the second new entrant to open stores serving Canada’s wireless market, even if its network won’t be online until the middle of May.

The company is targeting Canadians who either don’t yet have a cell phone or use pre-paid plans. Its main selling point is a $40 plan for unlimited local calling and text messaging. With no plans to provide data services or smartphones in sight, Public Mobile is all but leaving the business market to the competition.

The fact its network is not yet ready to launch is no reason to wait, said Alek Krstajic, CEO of Public Mobile yesterday from a Toronto store. The company opened 15 stores in Toronto yesterday, and 10 in Montreal.

“If we turned it on today, we’d have a customer experience not dissimilar from Wind’s,” Krstajic said – referring to Globalive Communications Corp.’s challenges as the first new entrant on the Canadian scene. “You’d have a hole here and a hole there, and it won’t work everywhere. That, we think is unacceptable.”

To incent customers to sign up before a service exists, Public Mobile is offering unlimited Canadian long distance as long as a customer keeps paying their bills. Krstajic referred to it as a “pioneer offer” that could be cut off if it proves too popular.

“If you stay a customer in good standing, which means you never miss more than two payments in a row, then this offer will continue,” he said.

Despite Public Mobile’s stated intent not to pursue the business market, the company may get some attention from mom-and-pop businesses that have between one and five employees, says Roberta Fox, senior partner at Newmarket, Ont.-based Fox Consulting. These businesses are keeping pre-paid handsets for safety and security purposes.

“They may inadvertently get business customers without knowing it,” she says. “The carrier might not even know they’re a small business, they just see them as a consumer customer.”

Unlimited texts beats paying 15 cents per message, Fox adds. For small businesses that haven’t adopted BlackBerrys to send e-mail while on the go, text messaging can be a good alternative.

Public Mobile is the second new wireless entrant to open its doors in Canada since Industry Canada held a wireless spectrum auction in 2008. It bought $55 million of PCS spectrum covering Quebec and southern Ontario. The auction was intended to provide more competition to Canada’s incumbent carriers Rogers Wireless, Bell Canada, and Telus Mobility.

Wind Mobile was the first on the scene when it launched its network at the end of last year after jumping regulatory hurdles. Krstajic took several jabs at Wind Mobile during his press conference. The newcomer launched too soon and is too similar to incumbent carriers to win over new customers, he suggested.

But Wind Mobile CEO Ken Campbell doesn’t seem worried.

“Our proposition and our offering is a little different from that of Public,” he says. “One of the more important things we have is national coverage… we have a more extensive network.”

Wind Mobile’s network is also HSPA and on the path to a faster, 4G LTE network, Campbell adds. Public Mobile is a CDMA network that would be harder to upgrade to LTE.

Wind Mobile issued a press release in response to Public Mobile’s launch. The statement further emphasizes the reduced coverage area of Public Mobile’s network and inability to charge. It also mocks the unlimited long distance for early subscribers, saying all Wind Mobile subscribers on a $45 monthly plan get unlimited long distance calling in Canada.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has been conducting a closed-door review of Public Mobile’s ownership structure since December. That review must finish before Public Mobile is given the green light to launch its network.

“We have to have an in-person meeting with the Commissioner on March 22nd and you should see a notice posted on their Web site shortly thereafter,” Krstajic says. “But the process is finished.”

Public Mobile also won’t be offering roaming service at its launch. Though Krstajic he is working on deals with other carriers to allow roaming.

That would be key to winning business customers, Fox says. “Being able to compete will be all about the coverage it can offer.”

The carrier’s coverage area includes the Greater Toronto Area and Montreal at launch. By the end of the year, it plans to extend that to surrounding towns, and across the Golden Horseshoe by 2011. Eventually it plans to stretch along the entire 401 Highway corridor from Windsor to Quebec.

Public Mobile plans to have 200 stores in operation by year’s end, some corporate-owned and some independently operated.

Public Mobile plan details

–          $40 per month for unlimited local calling, unlimited Canadian and U.S. text messaging, call waiting, call forwarding and 3-way calling.

–          $5 per month for voicemail and call display

–          $5 per month for unlimited Canadian long distance

–          $10 per month for unlimited Canadian and U.S. long distance

Public Mobile handsets

There are four cell phones on sale at Public Mobile stores as of yesterday:

–          ZTE C78: 2” screen, battery with 220 minutes, 0.3 MP camera, Bluetooth, speakerphone, candybar style form factor.

–          Kyocera Tomo: 1.8” main screen, external time and phone status screen, 200 minutes battery life for talk time, Bluetooth, speakerphone, small flip phone form factor.

–          Samsung R312: 1.9” main screen, 1” external screen, talk time of 240 minutes, 0.3 MP camera, Bluetooth, speakerphone, voice dial, flip phone form factor.

–          Kyocera G2GO: 2.4” screen, 250 minutes talk time battery life, 1.3 MP camera, Bluetooth, speakerphone, mp3 player, expandable up with 8 GB memory with microSD card, QWERTY slider form factor.

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