Monday 30 January 2012

Data Hub Data Prices Caps as of 30 Jan 12

Comments and e-mails have once again raised the issue of data hub charges. The chart shows a price comparison based on information from the vendors’ website as of 30 Jan 2012 supplemented in some cases by correspondence with the vendors. There were a number of changes in 2011.

This information is only provided as a  general outline for quick reference and does not supersede the actual vendor contracts.   Users are encouraged to read their contracts in detail and ask questions to ensure they understand the terms and conditions that are applicable.

These prices are subject to change without warning and should only be used as a guide.

  Bell  Rogers Tbaytel
Top Tier Cap 10 GB 15 GB 20 GB
Top Tier Costs $70 $103.86 $75
Cost per Additional GB* $15** $10*** $50
Maximum Overage Billing Cap  N/A $50 N/A
Maximum Total Cost Open Ended $153.86 Open Ended
Total GB for $150.00 15.3 GB 20 GB  21.5 GB
Cost of Additional GB after $150 $15 $0 $50

* Bell quote $.015  per MB and Tbaytel quotes $.05 per MB. I have converted the rate to GB for ease of comparison.

** Bell provides a warning once the user is near the cap and before applying the additional GB charges.

*** Based on my personal experience, Rogers charges for a full GB even if the overage is only a few MB.

Dropped Mobile Calls

“Jp” sent me the following comment:

“I have been having a problem just a week before Christmas my bell iPhone 3GS is constantly searching or dropping signal. I have called numerous times and was told to change my SIM card which did nothing. I thought my phone was to blame and a few other people I work with say they are having the same problem. One co-worker of mine told me he heard that bell had sold some of their towers to Rogers and that is why we have a weaker signal. Maybe bell is gearing up for 4g in the north so they sold some towers to finance the north project.”

I am not sure I can provide the definitive answer for this particular case but it raised a number of issues so I decided to address it as a separate blog. As a caveat, I do not represent Bell nor do I have any special access to individual call information.

Since the issue involves Bell hardware it is safe to assume the disconnect problems did not occur in the North Sault area.

The obvious solution is to continue to escalate the problem within the Bell customer service system. I know first-hand this can be a frustrating process at times but it does work with enough patience. Be sure to keep a record any exchanges showing date and time, general subject, and employee ID.

It might also be useful  to look at some of the causes for dropped calls.

The most common reasons for dropped call on a Mobile network are network congestion and poor handoff between cells. Vendors do not like to admit this and will try to assign the blame to some element under the user’s control. This is not to say there may well be other hardware or network problems that could cause dropped calls.

As noted in previous blogs, the main cause of network congestion is too many network demands chasing too few network resources. In other words, the number users trying to access a cell outnumbers the capacity of the cell. Each cell has a priority list on how it handles traffic. As congestion begins, the cell gracefully degrades service until it arrives at the ultimate solution which is a dropped call. (Gracefully degrade is “geek speak” for slowing individual data speed down so more people can use the limited bandwidth. This is one reason why some rural users get a better speed during the day and slow down drastically after school and in the evenings. The last data to be dropped is usually voice.)

If a particular locality is identified as a problem area, vendors have a number of options to address the problem. They include, inter alia; add more cell sites to create smaller coverage areas and therefore fewer users per cell; add additional carriers to a cell site which increases the number of calls it can handle; add a separate frequency chain. One or all of these solutions have been used in the Algoma District to varying degrees of success.

All vendors are continuously upgrading and adding to their networks. Unfortunately, vendors worldwide have generally underestimated the growth of Mobile data demands over the last few years and have been playing catch-up to get ahead of the growth curve. This Nielson chart indicates the growth trends by quarters where information is available.


Poor handoff is more likely to occur while the user is on the move. There have been some discussions in the cyber world about carriers deliberately dropping roaming calls but I have not seen or heard any conclusion of this accusation.

As to Bell selling towers to Rogers. I doubt there is much validity to this rumour. There may be confusion because federal regulations encourage the sharing of tower amongst all the carriers and there are numerous sites in the north where Bell and Rogers hardware is on Rogers’ towers and vice versa. Some sites are owned by a third party such as the Bellevue site owned by MTS Allstream.

Bell has more than enough financial resources to fund the North Sault expansion without selling assets in other locations. I doubt they would rob Peter to pay Paul, especially if it involved their principal competition.

Sunday 29 January 2012

What Mobile Speeds Really Mean

Note: In deference to more common international terminology, I have switched to using the term Mobile in general references to the 3G and greater cellular wireless systems.

The recent approval of the International Mobile Telecommunications-Advanced or IMT-Advanced technical standards by the ITU once again has raised the spectre of Mobile data transfer speeds and what they really mean. The new specification covers numerous aspects such as standard Internet Protocol (IP) packet switching, scalable channel bandwidth of between 5 and 20Mhz, with 40Mhz channels possible in MIMO (Multiple-In, Multiple-Out) mode. However it is the data rates that attract the most attention.

There are three ways to look at data transfer speeds to come up with a rate:

a. The theoretical maximum. This is the speed achieved under ideal conditions, usually in a test or laboratory situation. The chances of anything approaching these speeds will be achieved in the real, day-to-day world is slim to none. In my estimation, anything approaching 50% of these speeds on a somewhat regular basis would be outstanding.

b. The rates advertised by vendors. This is a very tricky one to get a grip on. The tendency is to over promise and under deliver. While the bold type may indicate an impressive speed, the fine print may well indicate this is under ideal conditions and may vary for each actual user. Another trick is to boldly state the maximum theoretical rate while explaining in the fine print this may be achievable for a supplemented service with an additional fee. A different approach is to quote a high speed with the note that this fantastic speed is only available in selected areas, usually large urban centres like Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver. The bottom line is that customers should treat any vendors’ quotes for speed with a healthy degree of scepticism.

c. The actual rate Mobile users receive. There are many network variables impact the speed received by the end users. Obviously, the user’s hardware must be compatible with and connected to the matching network hardware. While IMT-Advanced is meant to be backward compatible it is unlikely existing 3G/4G user hardware will be forward compatible. Another major impact is access node (cell site) congestion. Since the network uses shared bandwidth, the greater the number of users, the slower the rate per user. The accumulation of all the factors can be so severe that the speeds received becomes unusable. 

The IMT-Advanced theoretical rates expected are 1 GB for stationary or static situations and 100 Mbps when on the move at fast (highway?) speeds. That is about all that can be said at this time as there is no public information available in the area of advertised rates and actual rates.

However, we can examine the three ways mentioned above as they apply to Long Term Evolution or LTE networks currently operated by Bell and Rogers. A certain degree of caution needs to be exercised due to the restricted coverage area and limited customer base for the existing LTE networks.

The theoretical rates for LTE are 150 Mbps upload and 70 Mbps download.

Based on information on the vendors’ websites, the advertised LTE speeds are:

  1. Bell – currently up to 75Mbps with eventually speeds approaching 150 “as 4G LTE network and devices evolve” The fine print , - actually it is in normal print in this case – states average speeds are in the 12-25 Mbps range.
  2. Rogers – currently up to 75Mbps and later in the year approaching 100Mbps. The site notes that “Today, devices are capable of downloading up to 75 Mbps and Rogers LTE customers are experiencing typical download speeds ranging from 12 Mbps to 25 Mbps.”,
  3. Tbaytel – No information about LTE on the website.

Information about LTE’s actual users’ rates tend to be anecdotal. While I was able to find a few examples of users claiming speeds in excess of 40 Mbps, this appears to be the exception. The majority of users reported download speeds in the range from 8 to 30 Mbps with speeds in the low 20 Mbps being very common. This seemed similar across both LTE networks. Upload speeds tend to be about one third of the download speeds for any given test cycle.

When I extrapolate these results to what we can expect with IMT-Advanced. I draw the following conclusions:

  1. It is unlikely that real world IMT-Advanced speeds will approach the theoretical rates
  2. Average network download speeds will increase to a level that will provide near real time transfer of movie and other large data files
  3. Vendors are getting better at advertising speeds that users can expect and are doing so in a more open way. In turn, users are reporting actually receiving these advertised speeds.

This is a summary overview of the Mobile data speeds.


Theoretical/Advertised Speed

Expected Speed


7.2 Mbps (Standard)

3.5 -6 Mbps


21 Mbps (Premium)

3.5 – 8 Mbps


42 Mbps (Limited)

7 -24 Mbps


150 Mbps

12 -25 Mbps


1 Gbps (Static)

100 Mbps (Moving)


*Only service available in the Algoma District as of 29 Jan 2012

To find out where the various speeds are available, see the vendor websites for coverage maps: Bell - Rogers - Tbaytel

New Bell Coverage Map

As a follow-up to my post about Bell moving into the North Sault area. I noticed the Bell map now includes North Sault in future 4G HSPA+ coverage at 21 Mbps. I did not see a specific date for when the service would be available.


Thursday 19 January 2012

ITU Approves New Mobile (Cellular) Designation

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Radiocommunication Assembly meeting in Geneva Switzerland on 18 January 2012 approved the specifications for next-generation mobile (cellular) technologies to be known as International Mobile Telecommunications-Advanced (IMT-Advanced). The official press release is at the ITU site

The ITU is a United Nation sponsored agency responsible for setting the international standards for mobile (cellular) communications. They determined that that "LTE-Advanced" and "WirelessMAN-Advanced" should be accorded the official designation of IMT-Advanced.

We will have to wait and see how quickly the vendors jump on the bandwagon and start to refer to their systems as IMT-Advanced or 5G. It only took a matter of days after the last plenary session in 2010 that amended the definitions of 3G and 4G for the vendors to tout their network as 4G even though there was no change with the in-service technology.

I hope to post more about IMT-Advanced in the near future.

Friday 13 January 2012

Hornepayne Now Has HSPA Service

Hornepayne is the latest North Algoma community to get 3G/4G HSPA cellular service.

We are still awaiting information as to when the planned HSPA service for Dubreuilville and Chapleau will be launched. Once these sites are converted, all the Algoma communities identified as locales for HSPA service will be launched and on-line.

As to highway sites, the Tbaytel website shows the ones along Hwy 101 being converted to HSPA in 2012 but whether or not this is actually in the annual network work plan has not been confirmed.

Whether or not Tbaytel will close the gaps along Hwy 17 (Lake Superior Provincial Park area) and Hwy 101 (The Shoals Provincial Park area) without any type of cellular coverage is unknown.