Wednesday 22 February 2012

Deferral Account Update 22 Feb 12

The legal challenges to the Bell Deferral Account project appear to have come to an end. The procedure under which Rogers appealed the CRTC’s concerning Bell’s use of HSPA+ technology to provided broadband (high speed) Internet service using Deferral Account funds allowed the Governor-in-Council (GiC) a “silence” procedure. This meant that the GIC had a 12 month window from the date of the original CRTC decision under appeal to act. If the GiC did nothing, it effectively denied the Rogers petition. The GiC did nothing. This “pocket veto” in effect killed the appeal.

In a report to the CRTC, Bell indicated they were proceeding with the implementation of the Deferral Account project. Bell has completed 3 localities and plans on deploying the broadband services to the remaining 109 approved communities using the HSPA+ technology over the 2012 to 2014 timeframe.

Bell Canada expects to roll out broadband services to 25 communities in 2012, 41 communities in 2013, and to the remaining 43 in 2014. The company has started the construction work associated with 18 of these areas already.

Not surprisingly, the annual totals vary from the original 2008 submissions. Their last report did not include a list of locality crossed referenced to the year. Bell stated they expect to be able to provide more detail on their rollout plan in this year’s annual report which is due on 31 Mar 12. Bell already completed public consultations for sites in the SSM-Airport Deferral Account area and on the fringe of the Goulais Deferral Account area. There are also a few towers showing up in the North Sault area which I cannot cross reference to a public consultation. I am not aware of any overt activity in the Echo Bay and St. Joseph Island areas.

Bell provided the three localities identified as Deferral Account areas completed to date – Nakina (Greenstone) and Pass Lake in Ontario and Bury in Quebec – with DSL service. The remaining 109 will get the HSPA+ service. CRTC Decision 2010-805 approved a pricing plan that allows for 65 GB of data transfer for less than $50.00. This places the HSPA+ service at a price competitive with the DSL.

The bigger question is the technology. As HSPA+ is rolled out as part of the vendors’ regular broadband (high-speed) Internet package by Bell, Rogers and Tbaytel, network congestion and the resultant speed slow down have become major issues. One can hope that the Bell Deferral Account design which is based on a smaller cell density will overcome these network problems.

Another outstanding question is the procedure for users to gain access to the Deferral Account service at the rates quoted by Bell and approved in principle by the CRTC. It is clear from the Bell submissions, that a user must reside within the designated Deferral Account area to receive the preferred Deferral Account rate. What is less clear, is how the source of the signal received by the user, affects the rates. Radio waves are not restrained by the artificial Distribution Serving Area (DSA) boundaries that define the Deferral Account areas. There are ready users living within the defined Deferral Account DSAs using Bell data hubs but are not receiving the Deferral Account rates. Repeated enquires to Bell on this matter have been met with silence. At the moment I am not aware of any cell sites actually located within a Deferral Account DSA boundary. Based the public consultations held 2011 this situation will change early in 2012.

In a related matter, I cannot find any reference on the CRTC website pertaining to a Bell request for a drawdown of Deferral Account funds to support the broadband (high speed) Internet roll-out. Other vendors such as Telus, MTS and SaskTel have made submissions. When Bell does act, it will have to identify the sites supported by Deferral Account funds; logically user with these DSA areas will eligible for the Deferral Account rates. The proposed cell site locations which generated the SSM–Airport and Carpin Beach Rd public consultations were clearly defined as Deferral Account sites.

Thursday 16 February 2012

Alternate Information and Telecommunications (ICT) Service Providers

I expect many Algoma District residents would be surprised to learn that one site claims there are over 120 Internet Service Providers (ISP) doing business in Ontario. Another claims there are over 35 Mobile (cell) service providers in Canada.


On the terrestrial side, most residents are familiar with the major primary vendors that provide broadband (high speed) Internet using DSL, cable, Mobile, fixed wireless or satellite service.

However, there is another whole category of ISP called Alternate Broadband Service Providers (ABSP) or Third Party Internet Access (TPIA) that acquire network and last mile infrastructure from the major primary vendors and offer various ISP services. The terms and conditions of the relationship between the primary vendors and the third parties ISP are regulated by the CRTC. In addition, any ISP services funded or partially funded by public funds have a third party access clause in the agreement.

If there is DSL, cable or fixed wireless access available in your area, there is a good chance one of the third party vendors can provide service.

These are the primary vendors providing terrestrial (landline) service in all or parts of the Algoma District to varying degrees.

Bell – DSL

Eastlink - Cable

Ontera – Dedicated Cable

Shaw – Cable

I have confirmation that the following ABSP or TPIA have customers in the Algoma District. If anyone is dealing with another ABSP or TPIA let me known by using the comment box below so the list can be kept current. These vendors offer some attractive service options for the people fortunate enough to be living in the areas served by DSL or cable.






As of this writing the only vendors I am aware of offering fixed wireless service are Tbaytel and Vianet. Check their websites for coverage areas.


The situation with the Mobile vendors is a bit of a dog’s breakfast with a combination of incumbent Mobile vendors, Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) vendors and Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO). The incumbents and the AWS are often called Mobile Network Operators (MNO).  

This is the list of incumbent Mobile vendors providing service in all or parts of the Algoma District. They are the only vendors offering the full array of Mobile data hub, data stick and smartphone data service.

*Telus coverage is identical to Bell for 3G and 4G coverage. Note: The Incumbent Mobile vendors also have the low costs options called “flanker plans”. Bell offers Solo. Rogers offers chatr and Fido. Telus offers Koodo.

The next tier of service providers are the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) vendors which came into being as a result of the 2008 spectrum auction.

None of the AWS own frequencies in the Algoma District and so do not have their own cell site. They all have roaming agreements with one of the primary MNOs that allow the AWS to roam on a MNO network so the AWS coverage area is the same as their roaming partner’s. Except for Public Mobility, they all offer data sticks as well as smartphones for Internet connectivity. They may be a viable alternative for some people.

The final tier is the MVNO.  These are companies that lease capacity from the MNOs. As noted, one study listed over 30 MVNOs in Canada. Fifteen were associated with Rogers, twelve associated with Bell and two associated with Telus. Sometimes the flanker brands identified above are classified as MVNOs.

Many specialize in Pay-As-You-G0 (PAYG) service and my have restrictions on where the can be used. Users need to carefully analysis their usage patterns when  selecting a MVNO. They mainly rely on smartphones as their Internet connectivity method. The chart shows the ones which are common in the Algoma District.

It is very unfortunate that the majority of these terrestrial options are not available to residents of the truly rural areas. Indeed, there are areas within municipalities as large as Sault Ste. Marie and as small as Algoma Mills that are not covered with terrestrial based broadband (high speed) Internet. These areas can only get somewhat decent broadband (high speed) Internet coverage by means of incumbent Mobile vendors or older technology satellite both of which leave a lot to be desired in terms of speed, data caps and cost.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Potential High Cost for Data Hub Usage

I advise all readers and in particular data hub users to look at the comment on my blog entitled New Tbaytel Hub Data Flex Plan – 26 Sep 11 (updated).

An anonymous respondent is reporting a bill of over $1400.00 for a single month data hub usage including the overage charges.

While I have not seen the actual bill, this amount seems to be what one might expect based on the usage pattern described in a previous comment by Anonymous. By reverse calculations, I estimate a total of around 47 GB was used. Readers can use the table in my blog of 30 Jan 12 to calculate the cost of 47 GB by each of the major data hub vendors serving the Algoma District.

I do not buy into the buyer beware approach. A bill of this size gives rise to enough culpability for all concerned:

a. The user should have read and ensured full understanding of the details of the applicable rate plan.

b. The sales staff should have explained the details and ensured the user understood the concept of data caps and the data consumption rate of typical applications.

c. The vendors should have issued warnings as the user approached the data caps and at set intervals when the user exceeded the normal cap limits.

The cost comparison between normal Mobile data hub costs and terrestrial (Cable or DSL) costs are striking. The cost of the same 47 GB data by terrestrial vendors in Algoma District is:

a. Bell – Fibe 16 - $49.00

b. Eastlink – High Speed Ultimate- $55.00

c. Shaw – Hi-speed 10 - $45.00

Note 1: Costs are based on website information and is used for comparison only. Most vendors offer various specials and bundles that vary the actual costs to the user. Users need to contact the vendors for more details. 

Note 2: There are a number of third party vendors such as Ontera, TekSavvy and Vianet which also offer terrestrial based services in the Algoma District.

Finally, if the Governor-in-Council, through Industry Canada ever resolves the Deferral Account issues, the cost of the 47 GB under the Deferral Account tariff would be around $50.00.

Friday 3 February 2012

Understanding Some Frequency Auction Terms

Industry Canada is scheduled to announce ‘soon’ the details on how the auction of the 700 MHz spectrum will be conducted. (Note: ‘Soon’ is used in the sense of government time – not the real world.)

Mobile vendors in Canada have been anxious to gain access to this spectrum which was freed up due to the transition from analogue to digital television signals last year.

In addition to giving relief to the vendors, the technical characteristics of the 700 MHz band mean the signal is able to travel farther, bend more to follow the curvature of the earth, and penetrate structures and foliage better creating improved indoor reception. This means vendors will require fewer towers to cover a greater area. It is also the preferred frequency for LTE service.

This blog is a review of some terminology which may be heard during the auction.

The radio frequency spectrum is divided into a number of Bands. (Note: The term “band” is often used to identify various aspects of the radio frequency spectrum so the term must be read in context.)

This chart shows the frequency bands.


All Mobile phone and most fixed wireless broadband (high speed) Internet is located in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band identified as the range: - 300 MHz to 3 GHz with a wavelength of 1m to 10cm.
Within the UHF band, one often sees reference to Mobile phones and antennae operating in the 800 MHz band, 850 MHz band, 1700 MHz band. 1900 MHz band, 2100 MHz band and so on. Use number two of the word “band”. These frequencies are agreed by international conventions. You can search for “3GPP TS 45.005” if you are interested on all the gory details.

During frequency auctions, each of these bands is further divided into frequency blocks, usually identified by letters A to ?. The blocks are defined by the national authority but with due consideration to international conditions. The blocks are then further divided into bands based on the bandwidth measured in Hz. Use number three of the word “band”.

Since the US did their TV conversion to digital a number of years ago, we can look at how they handled the spectrum to see how these terms noted above are applied and perhaps help understand the Canadian rules when they are announced.

Frequency Spectrum
700 MHz Band
[clip_image004%255B4%255D.jpg] [clip_image006%255B4%255D.jpg]
AWS = Advanced Wireless Services. In Canada the new services like WIND, Mobilicity, etc. are in this category
PCS = Personal Communications Service. In Canada Fido is the best known PCS. The term is seldom used any more.

The US conducted two separate auctions over a number of years and this resulted in the Lower 700 (2002) and Upper 700 (2008) split.

The auctions divided the UHF spectrum into 5 blocks with paired bands in most cases. Paired bands means one band is used for transmit and the other band for receive. Only Block E in 2002 was an unpaired band.
    • § Block A: 12 MHz bandwidth (698–704 and 728–734 MHz)
    • § Block B: 12 MHz bandwidth (704–710 and 734–740 MHz)
    • § Block C: 22 MHz bandwidth (746–757 and 776–787 MHz)
    • § Block D: 10 MHz bandwidth (758–763 and 788–793 MHz)
    • § Block E: 6 MHz bandwidth (722–728 MHz)
(There is a Canada–US-Mexico agreement on coordinated use of the 698-758 MHz and 776-788 MHz frequencies within 120 km of the respective border regions. )

In the Upper 700, the C block is a full 22 MHz wide, compared to 12 MHz for the other major blocks. That extra bandwidth means extra capacity, for handling more voice calls and/or more data.

In additional to the technical details, the auction also established geographical areas for where the frequencies can be used. In the end the two big winners were Verizon and AT&T with Verizon getting all the most valuable Block C 22 MHz coverage.

Verizon 700 MHZ Coverage
AT&T 700 MHZ Coverage
[clip_image008%255B3%255D.jpg] [clip_image010%255B3%255D.jpg]

Notice that the Verizon bands (frequencies) are not compatible with AT&T bands. Nor is the coverage. In the US experience, this is beginning to create problems and a backlash from smaller vendors. I will look at this issue in another blog.