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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian wireless operators led by Telus Corp (T.TO) paid C$2.11 billion ($1.68 billion) in a government auction of airwaves this week, with small operators paying far less than established players under a plan to spur competition.
In announcing the results on Friday, Industry Minister James Moore said the country's biggest wireless operator, Rogers Communications Inc (RCIb.TO), did not win any spectrum. Small new-entrant Wind Mobile paid the minimum C$56.4 million for spectrum in populous British Columbia, Alberta and southern Ontario after its struggling rival Mobilicity did not bid.
Wind said its haul of airwaves will allow it to update its network to a level comparable to that of the Canadian industry's three dominant players: Telus, Rogers, and BCE Inc (BCE.TO).
A U.S. auction of similar airwaves raised a record $44.9 billion in January.
Most of the airwaves, a finite resource that phone companies rely on, were offered in single regional blocks that the government had marked off-limits to the three big companies.
Those set-aside blocks - 60 percent of the total in each region - were not taken up in the Western provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and in the country's northern territories.
Telus paid C$1.51 billion for airwaves across Canada's most populous provinces, while its network-sharing partner, BCE's Bell, picked up the spectrum in Atlantic Canada, in the north, and some in southern Ontario for just under C$500 million.
Regional operator Quebecor Inc (QBRb.TO), which has said it would consider national expansion, paid C$31.8 million for airwaves in eastern Ontario and in its home base in French-speaking Quebec.
The Conservative government plans to make even more spectrum available for auction this year. It is eager to balance its budget ahead of a general election due in October, while also trumpeting consumer-friendly moves to increase wireless competition. It raised C$5.27 billion in a 700 MHz auction in February 2014.
The AWS-3 spectrum that was won on Friday is considered important for the deployment of the latest wireless technology, known as Long Term Evolution, or LTE.
AWS-3 frequencies abut similar AWS-1 spectrum Canada auctioned in 2008, when the government first introduced the set-aside policy that allowed Wind and Mobilicity to enter the market.
AWS-3 runs from 1755 to 1780 MHz and from 2155 to 2180 MHz.
Additional reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Peter Galloway