September 19, 2004

Rogers Buys Microcell…Telus Wins

If anyone can track down Telus CEO Darren Entwistle, don't be surprised if he looks like the cat who swallowed the canary. With Rogers Communications boldly stepping up to the plate to acquire Microcell Telecommunications for $1.4-billion, Telus gets what it really wanted: consolidation within the wireless industry without more debt on its balance sheet. It's really the best of both worlds for Telus, which has slowly been winning back investor confidence for the past four years since spending nearly $7-billion to purchase Clearnet Communications. While Telus may feign disappointment in seeing its $29-a-share bid trumped by Rogers' $35 offer, you have to wonder if Telus forced Rogers into the arms of Microcell by making what could easily described as a half-hearted offer for Microcell. The obvious question is whether Telus really wanted Microcell? After all, Telus would have been forced to take on more debt; the cultural/corporate integration challenges would have been enormous; and the technical issues (Telus uses CDMA, Microcell uses GSM) would have be expensive and a complex headache. Entwistle can look at what happened today as a minor victory. With only three national players, the pricing environment should – in theory – improve, allowing each carrier to improve average revenue per user (ARPU). The wildcard could be Virgin Canada, the joint venture between Richard Branson's Virgin Mobile and Bell Canada. If Rogers moves Microcell out of the pre-paid market or struggles to integrate its operations, the huge window of opportunity could open for Virgin. Of course, this is something that will happen down the road. In the meantime, I suspect champagne is being toasted in Toronto (Rogers), Montreal (Microcell) and Vancouver (Telus).

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