CRTC sides with Rogers Mobile, orders Sugar Mobile to stop accessing its network within 50 days.

Canada’s Sugar Mobile faces closure after the country’s telco regulator sided with Rogers Mobile in a dispute over network access, but the low-cost, WiFi-based operator has vowed to fight on, accusing the watchdog of blocking fair competition in the market.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on Wednesday issued a decision in favour of Rogers Mobile, which accuses Sugar Mobile parent Ice Wireless of "improperly" allowing its end users to access its network.

Essentially, Rogers Mobile claimed that Sugar Mobile customers were using its network on a permanent basis, rather than in an incidental way as implied by their roaming agreement. Sugar Mobile offers a WiFi-first service that roams onto Rogers Mobile’s 3G network when WiFi is unavailable.

Sugar Mobile acts as an MVNO on Ice Wireless’ network, an arrangement that has permitted the former’s customers to gain permanent access to Rogers’ network. This could prove detrimental to the market, the regulator ruled.

"While wholesale roaming provides a wireless carrier’s end-users with incidental access to a host network when they are outside their home carrier’s network footprint, wholesale MVNO access provides an MVNO’s end-users with permanent access to the host network," the CRTC explained.

"In the wholesale wireless framework, the Commission concluded that it would not be appropriate to mandate wholesale MVNO access because doing so would, among other things, likely discourage investment by wireless carriers in their own network infrastructure," it said.

In addition, the CRTC rejected Ice Wireless’ assertion that Sugar Mobile customers primarily use WiFi, therefore their presence on Rogers’ network should be considered incidental.

"It would be unreasonable and inconsistent with the Commission’s facilities-based policy approach to include public WiFi in the definition of a wireless carrier’s home network for the purpose of mandated wholesale roaming," the CRTC said.

The regulator has ordered Ice Wireless to stop allowing Sugar Mobile customers to make unauthorised use of Rogers’ network within 50 days. Should it fail to hit that 20 April deadline, Rogers may cease providing a wholesale roaming service to Ice Wireless from 1 May.

Naturally, Sugar Mobile opposes the decision, which could ultimately prevent the continuation of its operations, and has hit out at the regulator for once again backing one of Canada’s major mobile operators over a market newcomer.

"This decision is a big win for Rogers, and the big three in general, one that blocks fair competition and innovation in an attempt to keep wireless prices among the highest in the world," said Sugar Mobile CEO Samer Bishay.

"But it’s not over yet," he insisted. "We’ll continue to fight for Canadian consumers and thank you for your ongoing support," Bishay said, in a statement addressed to his customers.

The telco is "exploring alternative options" for non-WiFi access, he said.