Telus overtakes Bell as 2nd-largest wireless provider

Telus has overtaken the country's oldest telecommunications company, Bell, in number of wireless subscribers for the second financial quarter in a row.

Bloomberg news agency was the first to point out Friday that with its quarterly results this week, the company that has long been the country's third carrier after Rogers and BCE, solidified its place in the No. 2 spot.

The fourth quarter of 2013 was the second consecutive quarter that Telus's wireless subscriber base exceeded that of Bell Mobility, the wireless unit of media empire BCE.

The Vancouver-based company had 7.807 million wireless subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2013 (not including customers of Public Mobile, which Telus acquired in November) to BCE's 7.778 million. In the third quarter, it had 7.810 million to BCE's 7.805 million.

Telus's subscriber base has grown 1.8 per cent in 2013 while Bell's was up 1.3 per cent in the same period. Rogers, by comparison, which had 9.503 million subscribers by the end of 2013, grew its wireless customer base by 0.7 per cent.

Both BCE and Rogers remain significantly larger, more diversified media companies than Telus, which is the youngest of the three, having been founded in 1990. BCE and Rogers date their origins to the 19th century and 1960, respectively.

Telus added fewer new post-paid wireless subscribers -— meaning those who are on monthly billing cycles rather than pre-paid plans — than Bell in the three months ending Dec. 31 (113,000 versus 119,520) but more than Rogers (34,000). Telus's wireless revenue growth in the fourth quarter was the strongest of the Big Three.

Revenues from its wireless operations were up 4.1 per cent to $1.43 billion compared to the same period last year. BCE's wireless revenues stood at $1.51 billion, up 3.2 per cent, while a shift to lower pricing plans pushed Rogers's revenue from its wireless network (excluding equipment sales) down two per cent to $1.67 billion.

All three telcos are looking to acquire more wireless spectrum for their operations and currently bidding in the auction of spectrum in the 700 MHz band that began last month.

Telus chief financial officer John Gossling also told Bloomberg on Friday that the company is still interested in buying Mobilicity. The company's attempted purchase of the financially struggling wireless company was stymied  last year when the government said it would not approve of the transfer of spectrum that had been set aside for new entrants in the first auction of wireless spectrum in 2008 to incumbents.

Telus shares were up 1.55 per cent, trading at $37.91 late afternoon Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange. BCE shares were up 0.04 per cent to $47.05 and Rogers was up 0.42 per cent to $43.22.

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