Saturday 31 December 2011

Vianet Services in North Sault

According to their website, Vianet is now offering fixed wireless broadband (high speed) Internet in the Algoma District using Tbaytel infrastructure. Full details are available on the Vianet Residential Wireless page and the associated links.

Note: The following information is provided for information purposes. All costs associated with the services discussed are paid out of my own pocket and I am not reimbursed in any manner.

I recently signed up for Vianet’s vTone service with a Sault Ste. Marie local number. I took the Vianet Linksys Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA) and my kitchen telephone with me on a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC. I was able to connect the ATA to Internet in my room using a Cat 5 Ethernet cable. Once connected, I had full phone service with a local Sault Ste. Marie phone number. My contacts were able to call my local vTone number in SSM and the phone would ring in Myrtle Beach, all without long distance charges. Likewise I was able to made local calls in the Sault Ste. Marie dialling area, again without toll charges. I also signed up for one of the Vianet long distance plans in case I wanted to use the feature. Sault Ste. Marie is the point of origin for the long distance cost calculations .

This technology may be useful to Snowbirds going south for the winter and wishing to keep in touch with the folks at home.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Xplornet Satellite Service Changes

Xplornet has revised its website and now includes information about the new 4G ViaSat1 satellite service plans.

The price matrix is competitive with HSPA data hub and Canopy fixed wireless offerings but is more costly than DSL or cable rates. Monthly bandwidth allowance is reasonable at the various price points and additional bandwidth costs vary from $3.50 to $2.00 per GB depending on the package. While there is no specific “fine print” information referenced, it appears the daily caps - one of the most annoying features of existing Xplornet satellite service - will no longer be applicable. Details of the various plan options can be found via this link.

Unfortunately, to take advantage of the service, you will have to move to Southern Ontario as the Algoma District is not included in the coverage area as shown on this map (Link no longer exists on Xplornet website.) It appears as if the greater part of Northern Ontario will not be covered by the new Xplornet coverage. Regrettably, the site does not contain any information as to whether or not any new or existing customers in the Algoma District will see any changes in their price or connectivity restrictions.

The site also has a video featuring the CEO of Xplornet, Mr. John Maduri. I’ll not comment on the presentation except to say it left me very confused and far less optimistic than Mr. Maduri.

A second High Throughput Satellite (HTS), codenamed Jupiter, will be launched by Hughes next year. One can only hope that it will provide coverage to the area not covered by ViaSat1. It is unclear if Xplornet will have access to this HTS.

Friday 9 December 2011

ViaSat1 Undergoes Successful Test

This is follow-up on my blog of 31 Oct 11 about the launch of the ViaSat 1 satellite.

ViaSat Inc announced on 07 Dec 11 the completion of a successful test of the ViaSat1 bird.

As stated in their press release, the company “…has transmitted the first data over the ViaSat-1 high-capacity satellite and the WildBlue high-speed data network. The initial transmissions and receptions were completed the evening of December 2 from a SurfBeam® 2 terminal at ViaSat's Carlsbad campus, through the ViaSat-1 satellite and a gateway located in Milford, Utah. The test included email, web surfing, and video streaming, proving the power of the integrated network. The satellite, designed and owned by ViaSat, is the highest capacity satellite in the world.”

The release goes on to state “The ViaSat-1 high-capacity Ka-band spot beam satellite includes coverage over North America and Hawaii, enabling a variety of new, high-speed broadband services for WildBlue in the U.S., Xplornet in Canada, and JetBlue Airways on its domestic U.S. fleet.”

It appears that first customer use may occur before the end of 2011 but none of the companies involved have released specific details.

The Canadian carrier Xplornet has been uncharacteristically silent on how it intends to use the new capability except to laud the “4G” capability the new hardware opens up.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Searchmont HSPA Upgrade Reported - Now Confirmed

This report is now confirmed by Tbaytel staff in Thunder Bay and the local SSM Tbaytel agent - The Brick

An Anonymous respondent submitted the following report on Tuesday, 29 Nov 11 under  the CRTC Broadband Report Issued blog.
Searchmont's HSPA upgrade is coming online today. The wireless canopy speed tests show an increase rates at my home today after the majority of the infrastructure was put in place yesterday.
I have not been able to receive independent confirmation but I do know that Tbaytel had a scheduled a work outage for an equipment upgrade on the Bellevue/Searchmont link on Monday, 28 Nov 11. Therefore, I believe the report to be accurate.

Thursday 24 November 2011

CRTC Broadband Report Issued

The CRTC issued its Broadband Report dated November 2011 The statistics cited are for the year 2010.

I think some of the cited statistics are going to make you cry or laugh or sit back in awe!

Wednesday 23 November 2011

HSPA Data Hub Survey and Speed Issues

I continue to receive reports about the large fluctuations in the data throughput speeds being experienced by users of HSPA data hubs. This appears to be occurring across all vendors and across all the various hardware equipment. In some cases, the Internet connectivity is so bad, the service becomes unusable.

In an attempt to shed some light on the issue I produced a short personal background paper explaining some of the issues and set up a short survey of users’ experiences.

I ask HSPA data hub users to respond to the survey as it might help to get a better understanding of the problem as viewed from a user perspective and perhaps identify potential problem areas in the Algoma District . The survey is completely anonymous. Please pass the information about the survey on to other data hub users you may know.
Click here to take survey

Friday 4 November 2011

Bell Mobility Moving Into North Sault?

It appears that the long rumoured moves by Bell Mobility into the North Sault area is preceding apace. A notice of Public Consult was published on 04 Nov 11 for a site near Heyden on the Beaumont Mobile Home Park property.
I have reports that there is new tower a few hundred metres to the east of the Tbaytel Goulais (Buttermilk) tower location that is reported also to be a Bell site.

Seasonal Data Hub Usage Information (Updated Information Added)

Addtional information added I am on a month-to-month plan with the Rogers data hub; I bought it outright without a contract.
I recently asked Rogers if they had some kind of plan for persons who only needed or wanted the data hub on a seasonal basis such as summer residents or snowbirds who went south for the winter. I received the following reply from Rogers: - “In regards to your recent inquiry, unfortunately we are unable to temporarily suspend wireless service.”
It appears the sole Rogers option if you own a data hub and want seasonal access only is to cancel the service and sign-up again when the service is required. It looks as if users on a Rogers’ contract are out of luck.
There is currently a $35.00 activation fee associated with the data hub. Although I have heard that this has been waived in some cases, I would factor it into my cost analysis. It seems one would be need to be away for at least two billing cycles (months) to make the trouble worthwhile.
While I can’t confirm it, I suspect the other two carriers serving the Algoma District have similar policies. If anyone has additional information, let me know and I will post it.
Addtional information added.It looks like a Tbaytel insider took me up on my offer to  post additional information; see comment below from Anonymous. He reports that the Tbaytel policy on seasonal service for month-to-month users is cost and hassle free. Sounds good for the North Sault and North Algoma seasonal residents. 

Monday 31 October 2011

ViaSat 1 Launch and Impact on Algoma District

Based on the public information available together with some insider leaks , I don’t anticipate the recently launched ViaSat1 will have a major impact on satellite service in the Algoma District although I do expect there will some reduction in congestion as the customer base using the current satellites shrinks.
I first discussed the new generation of satellites in July 2010. ViaSat1 was on the books as the first of the High Throughput Satellites (HTS) to serve North America. After about a six month delay due to a potential issue with the solar array used to provide the power in space, International Launch Services (ILS) lifted the ViaSat1 satellite into orbit on 19 Oct 11. A technology overview of the satellite operation can be found at this link.
The new satellite uses a newer version of the spot-beam concept used in the Canadian Anik F2 satellite. According to data released by ViaSat through various media resources, there are 72 spot-beams; 63 in the U.S. and nine over Canada. The spot-beams are “steerable” to a certain degree so the actual footprints are yet to be finalized. The maps below show the rough estimates of the ViaSat1 spot-beams covering parts of Canada as well coverage provided by the Anik F2 spot-beams 

Fig 1. ViaSat1 Canadian Spot Beams* Fig 2. AnikF2 Spot Beams
* The number of spot-beams shown is greater than nine as some US spot-beams project into Canada.
The Canadian spot-beams are owned by satellite operator Telesat and will be used by Xplornet Communications Inc to service to consumers in rural Canada. The satellite is designed to deliver service for 15 years or more.
The new satellite uses acceleration software called AcceleNet®. As explained on theNetworkProductssite, this software addresses some of the problems associated with satellite usage such as preservation of enterprise security policies—such as SSL VPN compatibility and acceleration of secure file transfers (signed SMB) and web applications (HTTPS)—and bandwidth management for VoIP calls.
Even with the new software, the issue of latency will remain and impact applications that require low ping times to run efficiently or indeed run at all. Gaming and video-conferencing could remain a problem. On the other, user should notice a marked improvement in the web surfing and message exchange experience.
The whole concept of ViaSat1 is that it will concentrate its beams in the areas of relatively high population density. As can be seen on this unofficial map, whole swathes of North America are left uncovered and will need to rely on existing space platforms to provide coverage which may be beefed up.

Xplornet has yet to publish details about how it will use the new capability of ViaSat1. From various sources it appears Xplornet will not use a ViaSat1 spot beam to cover the Algoma District. It seems the plan is to use the capacity freed up by the transfer of customers in other parts of the province and country to ViaSat1 to provide better service to the Algoma District users by reducing the congestion on the existing network.
There has been some discussion as to what the ViaSat1 based price structure could look like.
The following speculation appeared in an ITWorldCanada article: When ViaSat-1 comes online later this year, they’ll be able to pay $55 a month for” 1.5 Mbps downlink service “ the same speed (plus a $249 up front charge), which includes 10 Gb of data. More importantly, there will be packages with speeds of up to 10 Mbps, twice the maximum that some subscribers can get now.” Indications from other sources indicate additional GBs will cost around $2.50 per GB.
The exact impact on the pricing and service conditions for legacy users on the Hughes and Anik systems is unknown except that Xplornet insists the current users will notice a marked improvement in service quality as some of the new network control features, especially the terrestrial aspects, will be available to the existing network.
Another issue worthy of consideration is terminology and the oft misunderstood term 4G. I discussed the definition for a 4G telecommunications service as a moving target in this blog. Most of the publicity associated with the ViaSat1 launch and subsequent service calls it “4G”. This could easily be confused with the cellular networks’ “4G” service in terms of speed. In reality ViaSat1 4G usually refers to a fourth generation of communications satellites and associated electronics. The only similarity is that the cellular networks and the satellite networks are changing over to their respective generations coincidentally.
It has become part of the ICT culture to bad mouth satellite service with complaints about, speed, reliability, data cap limits, price and a myriad of other features. In many cases this is justified. On the other hand, satellites offer a substantial improvement in throughput over dial-up. They provide a needed access on a universal basis, where terrestrial systems are not available.
I used satellite service for over 7 years. It definitely filled a need.
Was I glad to be able to switch to a terrestrial based system when Rogers and Tbaytel introduced service in my area? Absolutely.
Would I recommend a satellite service as a viable option for use as a system of last resort? Absolutely.

Monday 24 October 2011

Rogers Data Hub Excessive Usage Price Cap

Update Notification:  The information in this entry was reviewed on 23 Nov 2012. There may have been changes to the amount and manner in which Rogers is now applying the price caps. Readers  should review the comment and reply section at the end of the main entry for details. Hermes

The information in this blog supplements information published in this blog concerning Flex Plan data rates costs.

The subject of whether or not the Rogers data hub Flex Rate Plan has a $50.00 excess usage price cap came up during a recent discussion.

The following is the exchange of correspondence between myself and Rogers that took place on 24 Oct 11.
I wrote to Rogers:
This is the cost of service as printed on my monthly bill: “Your services
include: Rocket Hub Internet Flex Rate Data Tiers $35 up to 3GB $45 up to 5GB $60 up to 10GB Data usage exceeding 10GB will be billed in increments of $10.00/GB. This additional charge will be added to the monthly fee.”

I have heard from other users that the maximum overage charge per month is $50.00 regardless of the number of GB’s. This link is often cited as the source of this information.

Can you please confirm whether or not the $50.00 maximum cited in the reference applies to the Rocket Hub data plan? If so, does this mean that in theory the maximum I would have to pay per month is $110.00 plus fees and taxes?
Thank you
Rogers Wireless Customer Service wrote in reply:

Dear Valued Customer,

Thank you for taking the time to write us, we strive to provide you with the highest level of customer support, and we appreciate your use of our online customer service.

I can certainly assist you with this; at this time we do have a $50 overage cap for the data flex rate plan. If you were to exceed the 10GB of usage you would be billed the $60 for the top tier of the data flex rate plan along with the $50 overage cap and applicable taxes.

Please note Rogers will monitor for excessive usage and you will be notified by a letter if your usage becomes excessive.

While this reply addresses my 3 tier plan , I assume the $50.00 cap would apply to the 4 tier plan as well.
If anyone has verifiable information as to whether Bell or Tbaytel have a similar price cap, please let me know so I can share the knowledge.

Thursday 13 October 2011

My Canopy Installation in Goulais River

This blob entry is a bit of a personal indulgent with maybe some lessons learned.

After seven plus years of satellite service, I finally had Canopy fixed wireless broadband (high speed) Internet installed on 06 Nov 11. It took four site visits; signal strength test on three different days spread over a 5 month period; a lot of extra work and determination by the installer and his assistant to make it work; creativity and initiative to get the antenna and head unit high enough in the air to get the required signal; and a lot of message exchanges and telephone calls with various Tbaytel personnel to get the necessary paper work issued.

I made the initial service request in Apr 2011 when I received mistaken information about the Goulais (buttermilk) site being operational, During site visits in Jun 2011 and Jul 2011, the installer was able to get a signal from both the Goulais (Buttermilk) and Heyden sites, although not at the minimum signal strength needed for installation. There was no signal from Bellevue and the Heyden signal was weaker than Goulais (Buttermilk).

After a technical adjustment by Tbaytel at the Goulais (Buttermilk) site, the installer conducted a third test in Sep 2011. After an initial failure, the installer’s assistance suggested another test with the head unit as high in the air as they could get. Once the head unit got above some nearby trees, the signal came booming in! The installer was confident the system would work but he needed a new installation order from Tbaytel to proceed. It took considerable effort to get Tbaytel to issue a new work order.

There was a classic case of the theory not agreeing with the reality. Apparently the theory, the formulae and the software being used in Thunder Bay did not correspond to the reality of the signal strength in Goulais. It seems a little local knowledge is considered a bad thing. In any case, persistence paid off and Tbaytel issued a new work order.

The problem the installer faced was getting the head unit high enough in the air. After discussing the cost of a few options, we went cheap and decided to use a couple of metal fence poles from Home Depot. Each pole cost $14.00.

As you may discern in the picture, an old Direcway satellite dish mount served as the bottom support and an old TV antenna pole mount stabilized the Canopy pole at the roof line. The Canopy head unit is at the top and a cellular 800 MHz Yagi is the antenna just above the roof peak. Since the installation there have been some strong winds in the area and the antenna has held rock steady.


It is obvious to me, that foliage has a far greater impact on the reception of the signal strength than anticipated.. The roof level Canopy signal coverage is not what was projected and there are a large number of users that cannot receive the signal. This is very unfortunate.

At one time, Tbaytel was offering a pop-up tower option which would have got the head unit above the tree line in a lot of areas. Unfortunately, this option is no longer available from Tbaytel. In my case I have a two storey house which gave me a bit of an advantage but I still needed an extension.

For those unable to get the Canopy service, the 3G HSPA data hub seems to have better signal distribution. I also have a NetComm Data Hub and am able to get a speed of 1.5 - 2.5 Mbps downloads using the built-in antenna with the unit sitting on my desk beside my router. When I use my cellular repeater to connect, the speed jumps to the 3.5 – 4.5 Mbps range. Since the data hub is a shared service, as is Canopy, the actual speeds obtained vary with the time of day and the number of users on the network at any one time.

This is a sample of my Canopy speed. It has remained very constant.  

Data Hub Information Updated 26 Oct 11

There has been a rash of recent activity affecting the deployment, operations and cost of using a 3G HSPA data hub in the Algoma District.  
Tbaytel confirmed that their hub can only be used when connected to a Tbaytel cell site. They recently corrected a software glitch that allowed their unit to connect to Rogers sites as well. This is no longer possible.  I understand that Tbaytel is allowing persons who acquired the units for use in non-Tbaytel service to return the units for no or minimal cost.  It is best to check with agent where you purchased the unit.  As of this date, Roger data hubs can still connect to Tbaytel cell sites as well as the parent Rogers sites. 
There appears to be an associated issue with the data hub in the North Sault and East Algoma areas due to the proximity of US carriers. The current model of data hubs used by Rogers and Tbaytel can operate in the 2G GSM mode as well as the 3G HSPA. This means they connect to a 2G cell site either directly or as a fall-back if the 3G HSPA site fails.  There are reports that under some limited circumstances in the immediate border areas the hubs are locking on to AT&T 2G sites from the Michigan Upper Peninsula. This has been reported from the south-west  part of St. Joseph Island and the west shore of the Goulais Peninsula  Not only does this drastically reduce the data speed but there is a chance that the user may incur  huge roaming charges. 
The NetComm 3G10WVR2 (Black) has a separate indicator light for 3G and 2G.  The  NetComm  3G10WR (White) and the Ericsson W35 have a single light that changes its display to indicate either 3G or 2G connectivity.  Users in the identified areas may want to monitor the indicators to see what mode they are using. If the 2G indicator activates than they should check the units status on the software interface to see what network they are connected  to and if it is a the US AT&T network than they should disconnect.  I have heard reports that there were  similar situations along the border in the Fort Frances area.
The Bell NetGear and Ericsson data hub specifications do not identify the capability to operate in the 2G mode and I have not heard of any problems with their hubs in this regard. That does not mean there may not be a problem, just that I have not heard reports. Some users reported problems when the new site at Echo Bay came on line as the antenna on the Laird site needed to be adjusted.  This was partially due to the potential of interference from the US sites.  I believe most of these issues have now been resolved. In an associated issue, Bell is adding 1900MHz capability to existing 800MHZ capability on the HSPA only Desbarats site this week.  This should provide some relief to the congestion problem at this site.
As noted in this blog entry, Tbaytel introduced a 4th tier of Flex Data Plan pricing. Rogers has now added a tier but they have also increased their rates to match Bell’s equivalent rates.  As of today’s date, there is no indication of a 4th tier on the Bell site nor have I heard anything from other sources . Here a summary of prices as of 13  Oct 11
Data Cap Bell  Rogers Tbaytel
Flex Rate Per GB Flex Rate Per GB Flex Rate  Per GB 
3 GB
5 GB
$ 55.00
10 GB 
15 GB


20 GB 


See this link  for additional information on a price cap for Rogers service.   

Friday 30 September 2011

Bell Deferral Account Update 30 Sep 11

The saga of the Bell Deferral Account program continues.

In March 2011, Bell Canada submitted an Application for Judicial Review to the Federal Court of Canada in the matter of the Rogers appeal to the Governor-in-Council (Federal Cabinet). Rogers appealed the decision of the CRTC to allow Bell Canada to draw down the Deferral Account to offset some costs for the implementation of the HSPA as the technology to provide broadband (high speed) Internet in underserved areas.

Subsequently, Bell filed a request for judicial review with the Federal Court. I am not a lawyer but my understanding is that Bell was questioning the right of Rogers to appeal to the Governor-in-Council.

The Bell application was heard in Federal Court in Ottawa on 12 Sep 11 and the Court rendered its decision on 29 Sep 11. This is an extract from the Court’s website (highlight added).  The court number is T-514-11:

Reasons for Judgment and Judgment dated 29-SEP-2011 rendered by The Honourable Mr. Justice Russell Matter considered with personal appearance The Court's decision is with regard to Judicial Review (s.18) Result: dismissed THE COURT'S JUDGMENT is that: 1. The application is dismissed. 2. Rogers and the Minister shall have their costs in this matter. Filed on 29-SEP-2011 certified copies sent to parties Final Decision Certificate of Judgment entered in J. & O. Book, volume 1135 page(s) 366 - 367

There is still no report on the any decision yet by the Governor-in-Council on the Rogers question.

It is my understanding that meanwhile Bell continues to plan implementation of the Deferral Account coverage in accordance with the published schedule.

Monday 26 September 2011

New Tbaytel Hub Data Flex Plan – 26 Sep 11 (updated)

According to their website page, Tbaytel has added a fourth tier with a 20 GB cap to its variable Hub Data Flex Plan. 

Under the new plans, the rates are:
Tbaytel Hub Data Flex Plan:
3 GB - $35.00
5 GB - $45.00
10 GB - $60.00
20 GB - $75.00
Overage .05/MB
The extra 10 GB for an additional $15.00 is a marked improvement. Under the old plan, this additional 10 GB would have cost $500.00!  The new 20 GB cap is about 25% greater than the average monthly usage as reported by the CRTC.

I am disappointed that the Overage rate of .05/MB was maintained. A rate comparable with the Rogers $10 per GB rate, while still high, is a little better. Under the Tbaytel plan $10.00 only buys an additional 200 MB of data transfer.

It will be interesting to see if Rogers announces any changes to their plan to meet the new Tbaytel rate plan.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Batchawana 3G/4G HSPA Site Activated

The Batchawana 3G/4G HSPA site is now active. That means 2/2.5 G CDMA (Bell compatible) , 3G/4G HSPA (Rogers compatible) and Canopy fixed wireless broadband are now available through the site.

More information about the services can be found on the Tbaytel website.

I expect the Searchmont site will be activated later in September.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Public Consultation for a SSM- Airport Cell Site

Author's Update: I believe that in response to public feedback Bell is moving the proposed Nokomis Beach Road tower location to the area of the Pointe de ChĂȘnes campground. (26 Oct 11)
This is a follow-up to my blog of 14 Aug under the heading Is SSM-Airport Deferral Account a Go? concerning the public consultation for Bell Mobility (Bell) cell tower sites in the Sault Ste Marie area.
I attended the meeting held at the Water Tower Inn in the Sault on 24 Aug 11. Unlike the sparse attendance at the Bell public consultation for the Carpin Beach Rd site, nearly two dozen people were in attendance. The audience was a cross section of interested citizens and what I would refer to as resource personnel representatives such as a City Councillor, City Planning staff, Airport Management/Tech staff and personnel from the aviation sector.
Bell had three potential sites on the agenda for discussion – Algoma University Parking Lot, Old Garden River Road and Nokomis Beach Road.
No one in attendance expressed concerns about the first two sites. All of the open discussion centred on the Nokomis Beach site.
While the speakers declared a desire to obtain cellular and broadband (high speed) Internet service, they expressed concern about the actual site of the tower. I noted the following principal concerns as summarized below:
  1. A desire for more details about the site selection process, the consultation process and the timelines involved.
  2. An “industrial” structure located in a residential area and the potential for adverse impact on the aesthetics of the semi-rural residential area and the possible negative impact on real estate values;
  3. The possibility of light pollution if beacon lighting (White strobe or flashing red) became a requirement for the tower;
  4. The creation of another potential hazard to aviation in the area.
The Bell representative explained the rationale as to how and why the particular site was selected. Computer modelling and on the ground survey indicated the site offered the optimum location for area coverage and the prevention of spill over of the radio signal across the international border. He stated that Bell was no longer deploying wireline (DSL or Fibre to the Home) broadband (high speed) Internet service outside high density, major urban areas.
Some attendees suggested a number of alternate locations near the site area that they deemed to be more acceptable. Most involved the use of airport property either at ground level in the areas of the Nokomis Beach/Pointe de ChĂȘnes Road or use of the airport water tower as a support structure.
The Bell representative made arrangements to meet with the airport management to discuss possible airport locations later in the week before he returned to his office in Mississauga .
The Bell representative indicated his report to management will identify the concerns raised by the attendees. He will also meet with the network engineering staff to review the impact of using alternate locations identified as a result of his consultations . He indicated that at times the site selection and subsequent consultations becomes reiterative so the possibility of further meetings in still on the table.
No firm plans or dates for follow-up discussions were set.
The impact this need to reassess the site location will have on the roll-out of Deferral Account broadband (high speed) Internet in the SSM –Airport area is unknown at this time. The Bell representative did indicate that research for an another site to cover the Pointe Louise and the Pointe aux Pins areas was on going.
Readers interested in finding out more about the tower siting process regulations  and the public consultation process are referred to the Spectrum Branch of Industry Canada site .

Saturday 20 August 2011

COWs Move to Martha’s Vineyard

It seems that the residents of Red Rock and selected areas of St. Joseph Island are not the only people who do not have full time cellular coverage. The good folks of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, USA usually have limited or no cell service either.

However, according to an article in the NY Times, this all changes in July and August each year when Verizon installs a couple of COWs – Cell On Wheels (1) – to coincide with President Obama’s holiday on the island.


AT&T hardware does not work on the technically incompatible Verizon network provided by the COWs. Not everyone is happy with the difference in hardware. (At one time AT&T was the sole source for cell enabled Apple iPhones and many legacy users remain.)  This is the similar to the challenge faced by Bell customers trying to access the Tbaytel HSPA network along the Hwy 17 north corridor .

As one might expect, many island residents do not want or appreciate the cell service while others welcome the convenience

Come September, the COWs will head back to the barn and Martha Vineyard will revert to its normal bucolic self.

(1) Cell on Wheels Often referred to as a COW, it is a portable base station, usually a large truck or a van that is used to provide temporary wireless network capacity. COWs are typically used during special events where a larger number of people will converge on one area, or in disaster areas if the base station has been damaged. The COW vehicle will consist of a cellular tower and all the support equipment  needed to provide mobile wireless communications.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Tbaytel RIF Project for Algoma Complete

The Algoma District portion of the 4 year Tbaytel Regional In-Fill (RIF) project is now complete. Tbaytel activated the final Canopy fixed wireless equipment at the Goulais (Buttermilk) site on August 15, 2011.

Within the Algoma District, the RIF project resulted in the installation of new cell sites at Sanigra Lake, Michipicoten, Goulais River and Heyden as well as the installation of Canopy fixed wireless broadband (high speed Internet) hardware on the cell sites at Hawke Junction, Batchawana, Goulais River, Bellevue, Heyden and Searchmont.

The RIF project is a separate entity from the agreement between Tbaytel and Rogers to build a 3G/4G HSPA network overlay using the existing Tbaytel CDMA facilities including the new RIF sites. This project remains ongoing with number of sites still scheduled for upgrade.


The RIF project started on May 11, 2007 when the North West Ontario Innovation Centre (NWOIC) issued a public Request for Expression of Interest (EOI). ADnet championed the Algoma District interests throughout the project’s duration. The EOI conformed to the NOHFC guidelines for cellular coverage in effect at the time which stated King’s Highways in the area were the targeted coverage area.

The EOI asked interested vendors to submit outline proposals to provide increased cellular coverage along the Hwy 17 corridor from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie and broadband (high speed Internet) with a minimum of 1.5 mbps download[1] capability at designated locales[2] along the same corridor.

After a due diligence review which included input from ADnet, the NWOIC selected Tbaytel as the vendor of choice and submitted funding proposals to NOHFC and FedNor for financial backing to offset some of the project’s total $6.3 million cost.

NOFHC came on board the project on September 04, 2007 when they announced funding in the amount of $3.4 million conditional upon a Tbaytel contribution of $2.4 million and a FedNor contribution of $500 thousand. FedNor finally joined the project in the summer of 2008. The project total of $6.3 million broke down into $5.2 million for cellular and $1.1 million for broadband (high speed Internet).

[1] This was the speed the CRTC/FedNor/NOHFC used at the time to define broadband (high speed) Internet. It is now generally accepted that the target speed should be 4 Mbps download. The systems installed under the RIF have this capability.

[2] The principal criteria were population density and broadband (high speed) Internet alternatives.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Is SSM-Airport Deferral Account a Go?

As first reported in my 20 May 11 blog, Bell is moving ahead with building new towers and associated cell sites in the SSM -Airport Deferral Account area. This timeline conforms to the schedule previous published which shows construction start in 2011 for operation in 2012.
As required by federal regulations for new tower construction, Bell Mobility posted a notice of public consultation in the 13 Aug 11 edition of the Sault Star for a tower in the Nokomis Beach area of SSM .
The new Nokomis Beach location, like the previously reviewed Carpin Beach Rd. location, is clearly within the SSM-Airport Deferral Account area. Bell appears to be going ahead with the projects in spite of fact the appeal by Rogers to the Governor-in-Council is still pending and the counter legal appeal by Bell is not scheduled to be heard until mid-September 2011.

As a reminder,  the Deferral Account program is 3G/4G HSPA based. While the original Bell submission to and approved by the CRTC  had a special tariff provision, it is unknown if the appeal process will impact on the special tariff plans.

Bell also announced two other towers in the SSM area in the same edition of the Sault Star.  These are not Deferral Account sites.
SSM Cell Sites

Friday 12 August 2011

Goulais (Buttermilk) Canopy Site Update as of 12 Aug 11

I received written confirmation that the Goulais (Buttermilk) Canopy service will be launched on Monday, 15 Aug 11.

This means all three components of the site – 2/2.5 CDMA, 3G/4G HSPA, and Canopy fixed wireless broadband – will be operational.

Friday 5 August 2011

Speed Test Sites and Results – 05 Aug 11

Speed Test Sites

A number of people have asked about how to test the speed of their broadband (high speed) Internet connection. The following lists are a few sites that offer a speed test service.

Bell Speed Check -
Cogeco Speed Test (Burlington, ON) -
Ontera Speed Test -
Primus Speed Test(Etobioke, ON) -
Rogers Speed Test - Website link is here
SaskTel Internet Speed Test (Regina, SK) -
Shaw Speed Test (Sooke, BC) -
Speed Test Net -
Tbaytel Sped Test -
Test My Net -
Vianet Speed Test -
Videotron Internet Speed Test (Montreal, PQ) -

Multi-Speed Test Sites Test

It is important to remember that the results of the speed test only indicate the statistics at the time of the test. It is highly unlikely that the results will be the same the next. To illustrate this point I conducted tests between 11:30 and 12:10 AM on Thursday, 04 Aug 11.

I used a Toshiba laptop with a wireless connection to a Rogers data hub which was receiving a signal by means of an all house antenna connected through a 50 dB amp to an external Yagi aimed at the Bellevue tower. I did three tests as quickly as possible at each test site. Notice the wide range of results both at each site and amongst the sites. You should also note the theoretical best speed for my connection is 7 Mbps download.

Test Site

Ping in ms

Download in Mbps

Upload in Mbps







































































Speed Test Net




















Test My Net






























* Site does not provide ping times
**Stopped Working

Single Speed Test Site Multi-location

Speed Test Net allows you to pick a specific server for each test. Using this option I tested a few Canadian and US locations. Again there was a large range of results.


Ping in ms

Download in Mbps

Upload in Mbps

Clifton, ON




Kitchener, ON




Kanata, ON




Montreal, PQ




Halifax, NS




Winnipeg, MB




St. Johns, NL




Saskatoon, SK








Houston, TX




Houghton, MI




North Sault Tbaytel Outlet Situation Clarified – 05 Aug 11

The circumstance surrounding a local Sault Ste Marie Tbaytel outlet is now clarified. 
For business reasons, the authorized Tbaytel dealer in Wawa – The Brick – must be the agent of record for all Tbaytel transactions for service in the North Sault area.
However, the Wawa outlet can use The Brick associate store in Sault Ste. Marie as a “pick-up” point.  This means a user may either contact the Wawa store directly and the items can be picked up in the Sault Ste Marie outlet, or a user may go the local The Brick outlet to place an order or pick-up hardware. The Sault store keeps a number of data hubs available for immediate pick-up and can have handsets, except Apple iPhones, available within 24 hours.
The authorized Wawa agency and consequently the Sault Ste Marie “pick-up” point can only provide hardware that will be “homed” to the Tbaytel network. Therefore the user must have a home or service address that indicates the primary connection to the network will be through a Tbaytel tower.  For all practical purposes, this means the user must live or have business address north of the Sixth Line/ Hwy 17 intersection in the Sault.
All financial aspects will be in accordance with the Tbaytel pricing plans and policies. Details are available at the general Tbaytel website or the 3G/4G HSPA page.
The above does not impact on the ability of Tbaytel hardware to have full access to the Rogers network when the user is away from the primary address.
Sault Ste. Marie
(705) 759-5083 
WAWA, Ontario P0S 1K0
(705) 856-4252
1-(800) 270-9365
A complete list of Tbaytel agents can be seen here.

Thursday 4 August 2011

CRTC Annual Telecommunications Monitoring Report Covering 2010

The CRTC issued their annual Telecommunications Monitoring Report for 2010 in July 2011. The following extract from the executive summary is published without comment. The full summary is available at this link and the download of the whole report is available at this link.


Growth in the telecommunications industry was driven by newer services, including broadband Internet services and wireless services.

Broadband Internet

The CRTC’s report found that 77% of the 13.4 million households in Canada had an Internet subscription, with many subscribers preferring higher download speeds. The percentage of households with an Internet connection featuring download speeds of at least 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) jumped from 62% to 70% in one year. Additionally, subscriptions to Internet download speeds of at least 5 Mbps rose from 44% to 52%.

A broadband Internet connection allows users to stream and download high-quality audiovisual content, and access online government, health and educational services. With an average of 5.5 Mbps, Canada ranked second only to Japan in an international comparison of Internet download speeds.

During 2010, the average residential broadband user downloaded 14.8 gigabytes per month, which is the equivalent of viewing more than 20 movies.

Wireless services

In 2010, advanced wireless networks that support smartphones and other devices that connect to the Internet extended to 97% of the Canadian population. Adoption of wireless services continued to grow as the number of subscribers increased by 8.5% to 25.8 million. This contrasts with the number of subscribers to home telephone services, which decreased by 0.9% to 12.6 million.

New competitors began making inroads in the major Canadian markets, capturing 25% of new subscribers. Although they offered mostly prepaid subscriptions, their competitive presence contributed to a reduction in the average revenue per user from $58.81 to $57.86 per month.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Local North Sault Tbaytel Agency Placed on Hold – 02 Aug 11

Due to unforeseen circumstances, it became necessary to remove the information about The Brick outlet in Sault Ste. Marie selling the Tbaytel Rocket Hub immediately and handsets in September.

We are hopeful there will be a quick and favourable resolution to the problem.

In the meantime, The Brick outlet in Wawa remains a Tbaytel hardware outlet for both the Rocket Hubs and handsets.

WAWA, Ontario P0S1K0
(705) 856-4252

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Echo Bay/Hwy 638 Cell Site Active 26 Jul 11

The new Bell 3G/4G  HSPA became active on the afternoon of 26 Jul 11.
Details about what equipment will work with the site is at the previous blog about the tower.

Friday 22 July 2011

Goulais (Buttermilk) Canopy Service–22 Jul 11

See this entry for updated information.

Tbaytel continues to experience problems with the Goulais (Buttermilk) Canopy fixed wireless site. At the moment an antenna problem is not allowing the site to transmit or receive the wireless signal at the necessary strength. This problem does not affect the either of the cellular sites – the CDMA (Tbaytel/Bell) or the HSPA (Tbaytel/Rogers). They continue to operate normally.
Unfortunately, due to a clerical error the local Canopy installer was informed the site was operational. On a few occasions, including at my residence, he was unable to receive a strong enough signal and thus could not install the service. I am working with Tbaytel to determine if some user sites require a re-rest. 
For the technically inclined, the receive signal has to be stronger than -80 dBm and preferably in the -75 dBm range.
Tbaytel anticipates it will be 2-3 weeks before they resolve the problem.

Lack of Bell HSPA Coverage in North Algoma

As most readers are aware, the technology used to provide cellular telephone and cellular based broadband (high speed) Internet in the North Sault/North Algoma  area and the whole SSM to TB highway corridor in general is a bit of a mess to say the least with Rogers HSPA only (No GSM) available and Bell CDMA only (no HSPA) available.

I recently wrote to my mid-level management contacts at Bell Canada expressing on behalf of the people of the North Sault area our grave concern with the lack of Bell HSPA coverage in the North Algoma District. [Editorial Comment: Experience has taught me it is often better to discuss problems with middle management personnel who can actually do something than to try and get through the firewall of assistants that usually surround the CEO.]

While Bell acts to improve the coverage in the East Algoma and West Sault areas, as explained in the linked blogs, the north seems to be a bit of a forgotten area in terms of overt activity to improve the service with the sole exception of the Deferral Account roll-out in Goulais River scheduled for 2013.

From other sources, I do know Bell management is looking at the situation in considerable detail and I am optimistic that some form of corrective activity may be in place before the aforementioned Deferral Account program.

Friday 15 July 2011

Goulais (Buttermilk) Canopy Update 15 Jul 11

According to a report from Tbaytel today, they have not yet activated the Canopy fixed wireless site at Goulais (Buttermilk) and it is not available for customer service. There are unspecified "technical issues" involved with the site. Tbaytel did not provide a date as to when the site would go operational.

There has been a little confusion over the site as some of the local installers may have received misinformation about the site being available. In addition, the site is emanating a very weak signal that can give the false impression the site is working.

I will provide more information as it becomes available.

Only Batchawana and Searchmont Left for HSPA

With the activation and launch of the Ryan site this month, only the sites at Batchawana and Searchmont are left to receive the HSPA overlay. I have no dates at this time for when this will occur.
This map extract from the Rogers Coverage map shows the approximate coverage area (without Ryan) in red that has 3G/4G HSPA coverage. The major 3G/4G HSPA coverage gap between SSM and Sudbury will be filled by the project previously announced in this East Algoma new site blog.

Friday 8 July 2011

East Algoma Cell Site Echo Bay/Hwy 638

This entry provides an update on the previous blog concerning funding for the new Bell cell site at Echo Bay Hwy 638. As can be seen in this photo  taken 05 Jul 2011, the construction phase is progressing quite well. There is no change in the previously announced in-service date of fall 2011.
Original photo provided by Morry Brown
I remind users that this is a Bell 3G/4G HSPA only site. Older 2/2.5G CDMA phone technology will not be able to access the site. Telus 3G/4G HSPA hardware will work with the site. Users wishing to take advantage of the site need to ensure their hardware is 3G/4G HSAP compatible. The site will work with Smartphones and HSPA data hubs.
Rogers hardware will not work with this new Bell site.