Wind Mobile launches with contract-free, unlimited plans

Wind Mobile is now live and offering contract-free, unlimited voice and data plans after jumping regulatory hurdles to compete in Canada’s wireless industry.

The new national cell phone brand from Globalive Wireless Management Corp. opened up 18 retail locations across Toronto yesterday and will open more stores in Calgary tomorrow. Wind Mobile will sell phones out of its own stores and in Blockbuster video stores.

Globalive’s launch plans were brought to a halt Oct. 29 when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) revoked its licence to operate a national network. The regulatory body was concerned with foreign ownership by Cairo-based Orascom Telecom.

But Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement overturned that ruling and gave Wind Mobile the go-ahead to launch just before Christmas.

It wasn’t a moment too soon, says Ken Campbell, CEO of Wind Mobile.

Related Story: Globalive gets green light to launch Wind Mobile immediately

“Now we’re over the speed bump and are ploughing ahead,” he says. “Our total head count should rise beyond 1,000 this year. We’re at just under 800 right now.”

Globalive plans to hire hundreds of new workers to fill customer support and network engineering jobs. It could have as many as 2,000 employees by next year.

Campbell and Anthony Lacavera, chair of Globalive, addressed a crowd of media and Wind Mobile employees outside of a flagship Toronto store in sub-zero temperatures. Before unveiling a 20-foot-tall, sunglasses-wearing statue with a cell phone in hand, the pair explained that plan pricing structure was based on conversations with potential customers.

“We’re the first wireless company in Canada to actually ask Canadians about the good, the bad, and the ugly of their wireless experiences,” Lacavera says. “We listened to that feedback and acted on it.”

The plans target some of the most disliked apsects of incumbent Canadian telecom carriers’ billing practices.

Wind Mobile charges no system access fees or 911 charges, no fees for incoming text messages or incoming long distance calls. There are no penalties for cancelling a plan or changing a plan. In fact, there are no contracts at all.

Wind Mobile is betting consumers will pay more up front for cell phones in order to stay contract free. Other carriers subsidize phones to woo customers into multi-year contracts with expensive termination fees.

The plans show Wind Mobile will be serious competition for Rogers Wireless, Telus Mobility and Bell Canada, says Lawrence Surtees, vice-president of communications research at Toronto-based IDC Canada.

“They’re definitely in it for the long haul,” he says. “Scrapping all of those charges — that basically puts money in your pocket.”

Clement made the right decision in over-turning the CRTC and allowing the company to launch, Surtees says. The original ruling effectively changed foreign ownership restrictions in Canada and couldn’t be allowed to stand.

“It was one of the strangest and most confusing decisions I’ve ever seen,” he says. “They already spent $400 million and hired 800 people. In a downturn economy, we’re going to make them go out of business before they even start?”

Wind Mobile is launching with four handsets, including the BlackBerry Bold 9700 ($450) and HTC Maple ($300). There are 12 to 15 more devices on the road map for next year, the company says.

Customers lined up outside the store awaiting the doors to open. Leif Madsen, a VoIP consultant, was among them. He describes his current wireless provider as “evil.”

Showing off a bill from Rogers Wireless that appeared to charge $93 for four minutes of talk time and 3 MB of data usage, he says he is tired of unclear billing practices and restrictive contracts.

“I’ve been waiting for any phone company that will give me a reasonable plan and not lock me into certain things,” he says.

Plans are based around designated “home zones” and “away zones” mapped out by Wind Mobile. The unlimited features are enjoyed while a user stays within the boundaries on their home zone. In Toronto that currently ranges from near Hamilton in the west to Oshawa in the east and will grow larger next year. But when users are outside of their zone, they pay flat rates for minutes, data and text messages.

Wind Mobile’s target market is the consumer for now. But businesses may still find the plans appealing, Campbell says.

“We’ve already got incredible interest from small, medium and even large business,” he says.

Mobile workers and small business owners will realize several benefits and savings opportunities from the new wireless entrant, Surtees says.

Selling wireless services to the business sector will be a growing market over the next few years.

 

“The big enchilada over the next five years is there’s still a whole lot of growth in wireless for the business market,” he says.

Wind Mobile runs on a HSPA+ network similar to the networks operated by Rogers, Bell and Telus. The company doesn’t lock handsets and will activate any compatible handset a consumer brings to them. Currently, this doesn’t include Apple’s iPhone, which operates on a different spectrum frequency.

But it will likely include Google’ forthcoming Nexus One smartphone.

Wind Mobile’ voice and text plans:

  • Chat – $15 per month gets you unlimited incoming text and Wind to Wind calling, 100 “home zone” minutes and province-wide local calling. Outgoing text messages are 50 cents.
  • Always Talk – $35 per month gets you unlimited province-wide calling from any Wind home zone, unlimited incoming text, and unlimited Wind to Wind calling. Outgoing text messages are 50 cents.
  • Always Shout – $45 per month for unlimited Canada-wide calling from any Wind home zone, unlimited incoming and outgoing text messages, unlimited Wind to Wind calling, and voicemail.
  • All plans include: caller ID, missed call alerts, call forwarding, call conferencing, call waiting, call hold.

Wind Mobile’ data plans:

  • Social BlackBerry – $10 per month for unlimited Instant Messaging, Facebook and MySpace for BlackBerry.
  • Infinite BlackBerry – $35 per month for unlimited Internet data for BlackBerry.
  • Infinite Mobile – $35 per month for unlimited Internet data for other phones.
  • Infinite Laptop – $55 per month for unlimited Internet data for USB data sticks.
  • Data plans can be added with any voice plan. If users exceed  5 GB of data usage in a month, Wind may slow your speed down.

Wind Mobile is currently offering four different phones:

  • BlackBerry Bold 9700 for $450
  • HTC Maple for $300
  • Samsung Gravity 2 for $150
  • Huawei U7519 for $130

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