Backgrounder Article from  Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Archived - Technical Glossary Wholesale Wireless Decision

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Wholesale agreements

To provide wireless services to their retail customers, wireless service providers enter into a wide variety of wholesale arrangements that address commercial and technical matters such as roaming, and tower and site sharing.  The rates, terms and conditions under which wireless service providers are able to obtain these wholesale services are critical to their ability to offer competitive retail services.


Roaming provides the customers of a wireless carrier (home carrier) incidental access automatically to voice, text, and data services of another wireless carrier’s network when they travel outside their home carrier’s network footprint.  A wireless carrier may or may not charge the customer an extra charge for roaming. Wholesale roaming arrangements set out the rates, terms and conditions between wireless carriers that allow customers to roam on another carrier’s networks.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs)

Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) are telecommunications service providers that do not own wireless network infrastructure, such as a radio access network (RAN) or licensed spectrum. RAN includes equipment such as towers and antennas.  MVNOs rely on some or all components of a wireless carrier’s network, including the RAN, to provide retail mobile wireless services to consumers. Wholesale MVNO arrangements provide an MVNO’s customers with permanent access to a wireless network.

Tower and site-sharing

Tower and site-sharing wholesale arrangements allow a wireless carrier to install wireless equipment - such as mobile wireless antennas and/or microwave antennas - on other wireless carriers’ towers or sites in areas where it holds spectrum licences. These arrangements may also include space at the tower or site location where the wireless carrier wishes to install equipment, such as electronics and connections. These arrangements enable the wireless carrier to deploy its network in a cost-effective and efficient manner, and minimize the number of towers in communities.

Essential Services Test

The essential services test, along with policy considerations, informs the CRTC’s decision whether to mandate a particular wholesale service.

To be essential, a facility, function, or service must satisfy all of the following conditions:

  • it is required as an input by competitors to provide telecommunications services in a relevant downstream (i.e. retail) market;
  • it is controlled by a firm that possesses upstream (i.e. wholesale) market power such that withdrawing mandated access, or denying access to the facility would likely result in substantial lessening or prevention of competition in the downstream (retail) market; and
  • it is not practical of feasible to duplicate the functionality of the facility.

Legislated wholesale roaming caps

In February 2014, an amendment to the Telecommunications Act (the Act) was introduced in Parliament to cap domestic wholesale mobile wireless roaming rates. This amendment (section 27.1), which came into effect in June 2014, establishes caps to prevent Canadian wireless carriers from charging other Canadian wireless carriers more than they charge their own retail customers for voice, text, and data services.  The cap applies to all wireless carriers who provide wholesale roaming services.

Wireless network technologies (CDMA-based vs. GSM-based)

Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) are technologies used for wireless networks. Wireless carriers are continually upgrading their networks to support higher- speed data and new services. Currently, these networks are evolving to a single long-term network standard commonly referred to as long-term evolution (LTE).

Historically CDMA-based systems were deployed in Canada, the US and regions of Asia, while GSM-based systems were deployed in the rest of the world. The availability of devices such as smartphones that are compatible with GSM-based networks (including LTE), as well as economies of scale for GSM-based network equipment has led many wireless carriers in North America to adopt GSM-based networks and decommission their legacy CDMA-based networks.

Associated Link

CRTC fosters sustainable competition, innovation and investment in the wireless services market

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