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Bell’s new Solo plans look awfully familiar

In Canada on August 18, 2010 at 19:09

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 6:41 PM

Bell’s new Solo plans look awfully familiar

Iain Marlow

When Rogers launched its new discount brand, Chatr Wireless, one Rogers executive told me he was waiting for Bell and Telus to copy them.

“You see how often the other guys copy us,” John Boynton, Rogers’ chief marketing officer told Globe Tech HQ. “I fully expect in this area, that those who are brands in this space will try and copy us.”

Who knew he’d be proven right so quickly — even if it’s only Bell and if it’s a little disingenuous to claim a monopoly of sorts on offering cheap cell plans. (Now there’s a monopoly Canadians can stand behind!)

It appears — from this MobileSyrup blog post — that Bell will be launching its Solo Unlimited service within the next few days, with two plans that are nearly identical to the Chatr plans, as well as offerings from Wind Mobile and Mobilicity.

The new Solo plans are thus: a $35 unlimited talk plan with province-wide calling and 50 texts (with 10-cents-per-additional text and an extra $5 for voicemail, ouch!); and a $45 unlimited talk and text plan with voicemail included. Chatr already offers similar plans. So does Wind. So does Mobilicity. And these new Solo plans will be available in all the cities — Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Ottawa — that Chatr has launched in. And that Wind is also in. Are you getting this yet?

Of course, Bell CEO George Cope said a couple of weeks ago that the company would repurpose Solo into an unlimited discount service. He sounded pretty aggressive, sort of like he meant it. We all knew this was coming.

And we all knew it had the same purpose as Chatr — that is, to deflate the momentum of new entrants and hoover up any non-cellphone-carrying-Canadians who might be thinking of signing up with the likes of Wind, Mobilicity and Public Mobile.

But geez! If Telus — which said it’s holding a trigger finger when it comes to doing the same thing with Koodo — comes out with $35 and $45 unlimited plans, it’s going to look like the Big Three are deliberately targeting the new entrants or something. Wait.

Of course, the main point here is that neither Chatr nor Solo are undercutting the new wireless entrants on price. They are simply meeting them. That is key. When MobileSyrup released pics of Chatr pricing prior to its launch, Mobilicity chairman John Bitove called reporters down to his Bay Street office for 8 a.m. — at least he provided coffee — and said he was going to launch a Competition Bureau challenge and haul Rogers into court if they launched with those prices.

No one I spoke with in the industry took this threat seriously, but industry analysts did note that it could serve to inject a bit of caution into the wireless industry’s biggest players: Undercut us and we’ll see you in court. That could attract political attention.

And the incumbents hate political attention, because it could mean a regulatory bat-in-the-knees going into the next wireless spectrum license auction — and recall, by the way, that it was the last auction that politicians rigged to create new wireless competition.

The point of that rigging was to lower prices. And with Solo and Chatr, the incumbents seem to be doing exactly that. Even if they won’t let existing subscribers on plans downgrade to the new, cheaper cellphone plans.

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