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Telus to invest $130M in Manitoba

Manitoba will benefit from the big spending spree Vancouver-based Telus Corp. is in the midst of, and it may yet provide some real competition in a market dominated by MTS and Rogers.

A week after dropping its bid to acquire Mobilicity, Telus said Wednesday it will invest $130 million in Manitoba to build out its wireless network here.

Right now, the company -- that now has more wireless customers across the country than Bell -- has high-speed 4G LTE wireless network coverage in Winnipeg and Brandon only.

A company official said the $130 million it intends to spend over the next 21/2 years will extend the reach of that 4G LTE network, installing dozens of new wireless sites between Winnipeg and Brandon, north to Gimli and south of both Winnipeg and Brandon.

Michael Sangster, vice-president of government relations for Telus, said, "We think this is a significant investment. We are very focused on Manitoba as another growth market for us. We are going to continue to invest in building our network in Winnipeg and Brandon and along the highway and into rural Canada."

Although Telus has been competing in Manitoba since 2000, it is believed to have little more than 10 per cent of the market.

The $130 million over two-plus years it's going to spend in Manitoba is a fraction of the $600 million Telus just committed to spending in Ontario over the next two years as well as $500 million this year.

As a comparison, MTS invests about $200 million per year in its Manitoba operations, much of that on its wireless network.

Sangster said Telus wants to be a significant competitor in Manitoba, and this new investment will help make that happen.

As it stands, recent industry consensus is MTS has more than 50 per cent of the wireless market, Rogers has 30 per cent, Telus more than 10 per cent and Bell about five per cent.

MTS and Rogers are partners in the 4G LTE network they operate in Manitoba.

"We are focused on ensuring that we are a national player and a strong regional player in every market in Canada," Sangster said.

"There is no market in the country we are not prepared to go in and fight and compete in. Manitoba is just one."

Eamon Hoey, a telecommunications-industry consultant in Toronto, said he believes Telus will one day be the No. 1 wireless carrier in the country. (Rogers is the largest with 9.5 million subscribers; Telus has 7.81 million to Bell's 7.78 million.)

"Telus's stepping up in Manitoba does not surprise me," Hoey said. "Absolutely, it will be a more competitive environment."

The move is also not surprising to Kelvin Shepherd. The president of MTS's Manitoba operations said his company understands it's a competitive market,

"It is only logical (for Telus to invest in Manitoba)," Shepherd said. "They have a wireless network here. It makes sense to invest in it. Wireless is where the business is."

Shepherd said MTS is confident it's got the strongest coverage in Manitoba.

"We are in a good position to continue to compete and provide great service to customers," he said.

MTS's 4G LTE network covers about 97 per cent of the population, and MTS intends to connect 50 more locations this year. Telus covers 60 per cent.

Iain Grant, a consultant with the Seaboard Group, said the Telus investment will pose a competitive challenge to the incumbents in Manitoba.

"Remember, too, that the effect is multiplied somewhat by the infrastructure-sharing agreement between Telus and Bell," he said.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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