Wind Mobile chief upbeat about firm’s future

Wind Mobile CEO Ken Campbell believes his new wireless company is ushering Canadian mobile users into a new era.

Wind Mobile, he says, will thrive because it is meeting some critical needs of mobile consumers.

Just five weeks following its entry into the Canadian market, Wind Mobile “became the number one company Canadians said they wanted to switch to,” Campbell noted.

He was addressing members of the Canadian Club of Toronto, Monday. His luncheon presentation was titled The WIND Mobile Story: Creating a new national brand in Canada in a highly competitive environment.

The Wind Mobile CEO said his company’s success is based on its ability, in a relatively short time period, to connect with Canadian mobile consumers, to relate and respond to their needs.

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Within two months of launch, he noted, Wind Mobile’s online marketing campaign and level of engagement matched and exceeded that of the Big Three incumbents – Bell, Rogers and Telus.

He said his firm’s Web site registered more than three million visits, while its Twitter account generated 6,100 followers, and more than 20,000 online community members were involved in online discussions with Wind Mobile.

Campbell dubbed this multi-channel interaction his company’s “conversation campaign” with users, and said it offered people an opportunity to really talk about their needs, challenges and frustrations.

 

Sites such as WirelessSoapbox.com and Windmobile.ca, he said, provide a forum for them to air their gripes against service, pricing and wireless packages offered by the Big Three. “We tapped into the very heart of customer frustration.”

And by listening in attentively on the conversation, he said, Wind was able to create offerings to suit the consumers’ needs.

“We found the key to motivate those unhappy customers to make a switch.”

Foreign capital infusion

Campbell lauded federal Industry Minister Tony Clement’s proposal to do away with foreign ownership limits for wireless companies with a relatively small market share.

Such a move, the Wind Mobile chief said, would propel fledgling mobile providers, such as Toronto-based Globalive, which provides voice, text and data services to Canadians under the Wind Mobile brand name.

Last week, Clement announced the feds were considering three options to open the telecommunications sector to foreign investors.

They included: removing ownership limits for large incumbent telcos such as BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications; doing away with foreign ownership limits for companies with less than 10 per cent market share; and raising the foreign ownership cap from 47 per cent to 49 per cent.

Option number two favours new wireless firms, such as Globalive, which hold a very small market share. Currently Bell, Rogers and Telus which together corner around 95 per cent of the Canadian wireless market.

Globalive is being financially backed by Egyptian multinational firm Orascom Telecom Holding SAE. Orascom has invested more than $700 in Globalive and has a 65 per cent equity stake in the firm and also controls about one-third of its voting shares.

  “We believe more liberal access to foreign capital will make our company and this industry stronger,” said the Wind Mobile CEO.

The federal government’s consultation with the wireless industry and public sector will last until July 30.

The goal — Clement has indicated – is to encourage “investment, innovation and competition” in the wireless sector, and move towards  liberalizing the $40 billion wireless industry.  

Mixed reactions

Meanwhile, despite Campbell’s sanguine message about the future of Wind Mobile, industry observers say the new brand hasn’t got off to to that great a start.

In March of this year, the SeaBoard Group, a Toronto-based market research firm reported that Wind Mobile only signed up roughly 30,000 customers between Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.

SeaBoard also said there were complaints about the service, ranging from network to billing problems.

Just three months after entering the Canadian market, Wind’s chief customer officer Chris Robbins announced he was leaving the company. Robbins cited “internal shifts” as the reason for his departure.

“This is never a good sign, of course, but barring a full-on defection by the entire executive team, it would be irresponsible to conclude from this one personnel change that Wind Mobile is drowning,” according to Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst based in London, Ont.

Hiccups happen, especially in a business as tumultuous as the wireless industry but what matters more than the fact that Wind Mobile lost its second-in-command leader so early in the game is how it moves on from this setback, said Levy.

He, however, commended Wind Mobile in pushing its new service. “Beyond subscriber numbers and top and bottom line revenue results, it’s clear that Wind Mobile has succeeded in breaking into the public’s conscience as a real alternative to Rogers, Bell and Telus.”

The company wasn’t ready for its launch (in December 2009), according to SeaBoard Group managing director, Iain Grant.

For instance, he said, Wind Mobile offered only four handset choices and failed to provide a device that costs less than $100.

Still Grant said Wind Mobile’s misstep does not constitute a fall. “For the other new entrants, the early Wind chapter should be looked at as a cautionary tale.”

And while dissatisfaction with the  incumbents is very strong among Canadian mobile users, this by itself isn’t sufficient to catapult the new wireless firms to success.

Although Wind Mobile is clearly the leader among the new wireless players, it most closely aligns with Mobilicity in terms of geographic coverage. Still, the greatest threat to Wind Mobile, however, lies in the incumbents themselves, Levy noted.

“The key to success for any new entrant is the ability to carve out a niche in the market segments not served by the incumbents,”  according to tech analyst Levy

He said offering the same services or competing on price alone “is a strategy that will lead nowhere.”   

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