Thursday 31 January 2013

Response to a Comment on Goulais River Service 31 Jan 2013

I received the following comment submitted under the blog "Goulais (Buttermilk) Canopy Service–22 Jul 11" As I stated in the reply on the blog, I came to the conclusion that the reply was worthy of a dedicated blog entry.

This is the text of the original comment. I took the liberty of applying some edits to make it easier to cross reference the response.

I also live in the Goulais River area and was told that the towers are becoming too congested and that there is simply not enough bandwidth to satisfy everyone, every person is only allowed so much bandwidth on days that the service is clear you will get your full bandwidth if the service ever clears. Ha-ha.

Now people close to the towers get what they call the umbrella and get fast speed all the time and they pay like 60$ for unlimited.

My buddy knows the guy that actually works on the towers for Tbaytel and said all that has to be done is to open up the bandwidth more. He said it's like a gate; the more they open the more you get. Problem is it costs them a lot to open it more. But apparently that's all it would take to fix the problem is for them to man up. Hopefully bell will come out with service soon

The author raised a number of issues. I will try to address them individually. Based on the last sentence in the comment, I assume the references are to the service provided over the Tbaytel infrastructure which is also used by Rogers for HSAP+ and by Bell for CDMA.

There are approximately 3800 people that have permanent residence in the "greater" Goulais River area. There are three main Tbaytel cell sites (Bellevue, Goulais and Batchawana) and two secondary sites (Heyden and Ryan) that provide service in the area. The Searchmont site does not service the area directly. By any standard, this would be considered sparse coverage and in no small way contributes to the problems experienced in Goulais.

A. Yes, all the towers/sites are showing signs of congestion i.e. in simple, though not 100% accurate terms, too many users chasing too little bandwidth. However, the amount of bandwidth available is not based simply on the number of users. It also factors in the type of service such as voice or data, burst or streaming applications, distance from the tower/site, frequency /channel and signal propagation effects are amongst the issues which may impact bandwidth available to an individual. Also, voice and other real-time uses will take precedence over routine data traffic. I other words, voice service may work long after data traffic ceases to work.

B. The Tbaytel towers/sites serving Goulais have a theoretical maximum speed of 7.2 Mbps download. Once overhead and management data is considered there is only around 5-6 Mbps left for the average user. In reality, anything over 3 Mbps on a regular basis is considered normal. The Bell sites and the pure Rogers sites have a 21 Mbps theoretical speed which puts the actual speeds in the 4- 8 Mbps range on a regular basis.

There are always users that claim speeds outside these ranges, both faster and slower. It is important to realize that speed measurement is a snapshot of one instant in time and is continually changing.

Published and advertised speed variance from actual speed experienced by users is one of the largest sources of complaints to the regulators, in many cases second only to dissatisfaction with three year contracts. This blog explains how you can make your views known to the regulators.

C. The term umbrella has recently taken on a second meaning when discussing cellular service. Umbrella effect traditionally described the area under a tower site that had no communication capability. It was usually explained by the streetlight in the fog analogy where the light standard or pole created a shadow around the base of the pole where there was no light. In the case of cell service, there are techniques used to reduce this null lobe effect and allow communications close to a tower.

Recently, umbrella has been used to describe small cell sites used to fill in gaps in overall service. They can cover an area as small as a single building to single city block and do away with the need for a large tower.

I am aware of people living near towers that get good data hub speeds most of the time but they pay the same flex rate for their data consumption as everyone else; it is not a free ride, unlimited or available for a maximum of $60 a month.

Most of these people are fortunate enough to live in an antenna sector area with very few users and therefore very little competition for service. (By way of explanation, there are two main type of antennas used at tower/cell sites. These are monopole stick or whip antennas that transmit in roughly a single 360 degree sector such as at Tbaytel Batchawana and sector antennas covering anywhere from 60° to 180° depending on design such as the 3 x 120° panels at Tbaytel Goulais.)

The only unlimited service available for around $60 is the Tbaytel Canopy service at speeds of 3.0 Mbps maximum.

D. I am not too sure what you the term "open up the bandwidth more" means. The current hardware configurations are maxed out. There are four conventional ways to increase bandwidth capacity, none of which are cheap, From least costly to most expensive they are: a. - add more radio frequency carriers (already done in Goulais); b. – add more transceiver radio chains; c. - add more and different frequencies on existing site such as 1900 MHz to the current 850 MHz; d. - split cells by adding more tower/sites. Of these, the latter is the most effective but also the most expensive.

E. Bell has limited HSPA+ service in the Goulais area.

The best chance for relief in the Goulais area rests with Bell and the Deferral Account programme. Unfortunately, that will not be available until August 2014 under the current schedule.


  1. Great explanation Wilf!

  2. Yea hermes that was my comment and yea i have a rogers rocket hub it just sucks getting 300kbps all the time and i have good signal strength and what is bell going to do in august can you explain more on it id be interested to hear

  3. You are not the only one complaining about the poor speeds obtained using the data hubs over the existing networks in the North Sault area.

    As an aside, while signal strength is important, a strong signal in and of itself will not guarantee faster speed. A laundry list of other factors can come into play such as the number of concurrent users or video streaming.

    Now to your question regarding what Bell is going to do in August. They will activate the Deferral Account project. The Deferral Account project is a concept proposed by Bell nearly 10 years ago to use Deferral Account funds to provide broadband (high-speed Internet) to more than 110 suburban and rural areas in Ontario and Quebec. The original plan called for DSL technology but a later submission changed this to HSPA+ wireless (cellular) technology. The name Deferral Account comes from funds set aside under CRTC supervision when the CRTC approved open competition in the landline market place.

    Very strong legal and procedural objections to Bell's use of Deferral Account funds, lead mainly by Rogers and Xplornet, wound their ways to the Supreme Court of Canada and the Governor-in-Council (Federal cabinet) before receiving final approval. This caused the long delay in the project from concept to implementation.

    The Deferral Account project has two major parts - the financial and the technology. Bell has not yet made a public announcement about the Deferral Account service in the Algoma District. The following information was extracted from various documents in the public realm submitted by Bell to various jurisdictions over the years.

    One of the conditions included in the CRTC approval was that the Deferral Account service should match the urban DSL service in terms of speed and price. While not identical, the proposal identified in this blog entry compares favourably with the basic Bell wireline offering.

    The hardware used to provide the Deferral Account connectivity is similar to the hardware used in existing Bell, Rogers, Tbaytel and Telus data hub installations. The Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) will consist of a data hub similar to this (although the exact model needs to be identified), external antenna (again similar to this) and necessary wiring. The CPE will be installed by Bell approved technicians as part of the initial installation.

    Bell installed up to six new towers and cell towers to service a single Deferral Account area. Unlike normal cell sites, the Deferral Account sites are optimized to provide broadband (high-speed Internet) service and as opposed to voice and text message services. These latter services are a side-benefit of the Deferral Account project. Most of the sites have been ready for a few months now and have been providing good service operating in the 1900 MHz band. (Bell does not have any 800 MHz band spectrum in the North Sault area. Also, cross border interference in the 800 MHz band is also a consideration.) It is not yet known what frequency band the Deferral Account will operate in but Bell does have spectrum in the 700 MHz band which is within the capabilities of the data hub linked to above.

    So the bottom line is that if everything goes according to plan, in August, you can expect more consistent speeds in the range of 4-6 Mbps and much cheaper rates.

    As a sidebar, Bell has an obligation under the Deferral Account project to provide wholesale priced access to their network by competitive service providers.