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.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Call to Comment on National Cellular Consumer Code

The CRTC has taken another step on the path to the "development of a consumer code for cell phones and other mobile devices" that I first addressed in the blog of 16 Oct 2012.


The Commission issued a number of inter-related releases on 28 Jan 2013. The lead document is an open invite to comment on a draft wireless code. A related document entitled "Proceeding to Establish a Mandatory Code for Mobile Wireless Services" contains a copy of the Wireless Code Working Document (WD) at the Appendix.

The general public can provide comment on the WD by logging in through the consultation website. (Note; I had to create a new log-in credentials even though I have other CRTC log-ins registered.) The time frame for comments is 28 Jan 2013 to 15 Feb 2013.

The WD is an extensive manuscript that is divided into numerous parts from A to F, many with multiple sub-parts. Each part addresses particular areas that were raised in the initial go around from last October. There are two columns associated with each part. Column one identifies the policy or code issue and column two provides proposed wording for the item.

In some cases, the WD provides options for the reviewer to comment on as shown in this sample:

Application of the Wireless Code to pre-paid and post-paid wireless services

Option 1: The Wireless Code applies equally to pay-as-you-go and other types of pay-in-advance services (“pre-paid services”) and to “post-paid services” (i.e. services where the consumer pays after receiving a bill).

Option 2: All sections of the Wireless Code apply to post-paid wireless services. The following sections of the Wireless Code apply to pre-paid wireless services: To be determined.

In my estimation, the WD addresses many of the concerns often expressed by users concerning their relationship with cell vendors. Will everyone be satisfied with the document or its intent? Absolutely not. is it a step in the right direction? Absolutely yes.

Further, I feel a national code is far better than a mishmash of provincial regulations that vary from province to province.

If there is a weakness in the WD, it is the lack of detailed information on how the code will be enforced. There has to be a methodology to allow for quick and effective response to consumer complaints that lead to a satisfactory or legal solution applicable to all involved within a reasonable timeframe, say 90 days. At that point, some form of sanctions needs to be available to enforce compliance.

I encourage readers to take the time to read the WD even if you do not wish to comment. Feel free to submit comments to this site if you wish.

Monday 28 January 2013

PIAC Challenges the Rogers/Shaw AWS Spectrum Deal

As predicted in the blog entry of 15 Jan 2013, the usual group of suspects have launched a campaign to get Industry Canada (IC) to reject the Rogers/Shaw deal which will see Rogers acquire unused AWS (Advanced Wireless Spectrum in the 1700/2100 MHz band) from Shaw once the moratorium on AWS spectrum transfer runs out in 2014.

The lead organizers of the appeal are PIAC, the somewhat misnamed, in my opinion, Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Open [sic] There are also a number of west coast based groups that usually operate as part of the Open [sic] umbrella involved in what is at the moment mainly a letter writing and e-mail campaign.

Reasonable arguments can be made for both sides of this debate. On the "let it go through" side, if Rogers does not acquire the spectrum, there is little likelihood that the existing AWS operators will actually start using the spectrum in the Algoma District within the foreseeable future. On the "stop it" side, allowing Rogers to acquire the spectrum will on the surface only increase what is perceived as an oligopoly with the existing big 3 vendors.

How IC will react to the challenge is anyone's guess. I feel there are two critical areas of concern that the may affect the course of government action:

a. Will IC make a decision or announcement before of after the 700 MHz spectrum auction? Depending on where the appeal stands in the decision making process, it may directly affect who will participate in the auction and therefore the revenue the government will receive from the auction.

b. How will the decision affect future takeover bids? There have been persistent rumours of the incumbents taking over one or more of the new entrant AWS carriers since they went on the air. Any decision affecting the Rogers/Shaw deal will undoubtedly set precedence for future acquisition plans.

I am sure there will be more action in this arena in the not too distant future as all parties crank up their communication and public relation campaigns.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Rogers Makes Offer to Purchase Shaw Spectrum

Rogers announced that it has reached an "option to purchase" agreement with Shaw for the wireless spectrum purchased by Shaw in the AWS (Advanced Wireless Services) band. The statement was part of a number of agreements announced on Monday, 14 Jan 2013 by Rogers but the only one having a direct impact on the Algoma District.

In 2008, Shaw spent close to $190 million dollars to purchase wireless spectrum in the area from SSM to Vancouver Island. Included in this amount was $1.25 million for spectrum in the SSM and Thunder Bay areas.

In the fall of 2011, Shaw decided not to proceed with plans to develop a traditional cellular network but opted instead to build a Wi-Fi based network with cellular hardware access capability fully integrated with its cable network.  This made the AWS wireless spectrum they held redundant to their needs.

Under the terms of the 2008 spectrum auction, the major incumbent network operators i.e. Bell, Rogers and Telus are prohibited from purchase spectrum from the new entrants such as Shaw until 2014. No mention was made of "options to purchase." Regardless, the Rogers/Shaw sale will need approval from the Competition Bureau and Industry Canada. The CRTC is not involved in this decision.  

Rogers paid Shaw $50 million dollars upfront for the option to purchase. Since Shaw paid $190 million originally, and is rumoured to have spent close to a billion dollars overall in the development of a wireless strategy, it is reasonable to speculate that if the regulators approve the sale, Shaw will try to recoup as much of their expenditure as possible and Rogers will end up paying many times more than the $50 million agreed to for the option.

What Rogers would do with the spectrum in the Algoma District is open to conjecture. There does not appear to be spectrum shortage per se in the District but there is a congestion issue with the existing sites. More cells need to be added to ease this congestion.  How the major vendors providing the cell and backbone infrastructure in the District - Bell, Rogers and Tbaytel - achieve this is up to them.

One of the consequences which the regulators will have to consider when making their decision is the impact it will have on the other new entrants in the marketplace. Will companies such as Mobilicity, Public or Wind be able to sell all or part of their spectrum to an incumbent if the Shaw sale is approved? These companies have spectrum in the north, but I am not aware of any plans to activate their own hardware based service in the area. 

In my estimation third parties will launch some sort of legal or regulatory appeal of the process and any preliminary decisions the regulators may arrive at.

Stay tuned; I am sure there will more to follow.