Tuesday 22 July 2014

Federal Connecting Canadians Program

The Federal government has released details about its latest attempt to increase broadband (high-speed Internet) coverage in rural and remote of Canada.  

Industry Canada calls the program Connecting Canadians - Digital Canada 150 (CCDC150) The 150 refers to the sesquicentennial in 2017 of the Canadian Confederation.  

The overall program website touts a number of recent and ongoing programs but this blog entry will only comment on the broadband (high-speed Internet) aspects of the program. In addition, I based these comments on an initial review of the site and I am sure additional details will become available over the coming days and weeks.

It appears the CCDC150 signals a change of policy from previous federal funding programs. In the CCDC150 approach, the federal government will deal directly with private sector Internet Service Providers (ISP). In the past, the government has dealt through "champion" intermediaries such as municipalities, not-for-profit (NFP) organizations, and community based networks (CBN) or innovations centres. For the most part, they tried to stay at arms length from the private sector ISPs. There are separate sections on the website for "Canadian and Communities" and "ISPs".

Another change from previous programs is there is no direct tie-in to provincial programs.  NOHFC still has a number of program that have a technology theme and it might be possible for some of he conventional champions to work with the  private sector ISPs which could result in some form of stacked funding - provincial on top of federal - as seen in the past.

The heart of the CCDC150 program is $305 million of federal funding. I find the wording on the  how and when they will spend the funds a bit confusing so I will quote from the website:-

  "From the launch of Connecting Canadians in summer 2014 until 2017, the Government of Canada will invest up to $305 million over five years to extend high-speed Internet service to 280,000 households in rural and remote regions of the country that currently have slower or no Internet access."[1]

The program defines broadband (high-speed Internet) as 5Mbps (assumed to be download speed). When the program is completed, "98% of Canadian households will have access to at least 5 Mbps."

The program does not place any restrictions on the technologies that the ISPs can or cannot use.  The ISPs are free to propose terrestrial (cable or copper) wireless (mobile or fixed), satellite or any combination there of.

The website states CCDC150 has two major geographical areas called components; "a rural component that will expand high-speed Internet service to rural and remote areas across Canada and a northern component that will extend and augment capacity in northern communities in Nunavut and the Nunavik region of Quebec."

There are other details, many of which are positive but in my opinion, there are a number of omissions in the public documentation to date.

Perhaps the most glaring is the complete lack of reference to any prices or monthly costs to the end user. We now have enough experience with mobile wireless broadband (high-speed Internet) data hubs to know that the monthly fees are close to unaffordable to  an average rural family.

There is also no mention of how, when, and by whom the 5 Mbps is measured and confirmed. In addition will the ISPs have to provide a consistent 5 mbps or better speed regardless of the number of users on-line at the same time. Again, we have enough experience with wireless Internet (Mobile, fixed and satellite) to know that network congestion makes the systems close to unusable at peak hours i.e. 4:00 PM to midnight.

I will be returning to this subject matter over the coming days.

[1] $305 million works out to $1080.00 per household. 

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Bell Quarterly Deferral Account Report of 15 Jul 2014

The purpose of this blog entry is to provide an update on the Deferral Account construction status and provide some background information on the Deferral Account pricing.  

General Overview

The CRTC has published the most recent Bell quarterly Deferral Account Report. The report, dated 15 Jul 2014, adjusts the Ready for Service dates of the two Algoma District sites from the previous report in April 2014. The revised dates as applied to the Goulais and the SSM-Airport areas:

Date in Jul Report
Date in Apr Report
Echo Bay
31 Aug 2014
No change
09 Jul 2014
31 Jul 2014
SSM -Airport
09 Jul 2014
31 Jul 2014
St. Joseph Island
30 Jun 2014
No change
31 Aug 2014
No change

The date report only discusses the Wireless Access Summary (Tower, new sites, existing site upgrades, etc.)  and Wire Transport Summary (Backhaul).

There is no mention of the when new Deferral Account rate (price) plans will be available.

Bell has insisted in this report and other correspondence with the CRTC that they will complete the by the CRTC deadline of 31 August 2014. Since the rate (price) plan is part of the project, this should be the latest the Deferral Account prices will become available.

As noted in the background information below, the necessary back office details needed to implement the Deferral Account rate(price) plan is complete so it is hard to understand why the delay on presenting the cost savings to the users in the Deferral Account areas that have the necessary hardware infrastructure up and running.

Background Information

As directed by the CRTC  letter to Bell of 29 Oct 2012, The Bell report is suppose to contain a section, which this report does not,  on "The status of IS/IT system development to support the retail wireless broadband service, including the expected completion date".   

This may be because Bell had report previously in their Jul and Dec 2012 reports that work was due for and in fact completed by the end of 2012.

In these two reports, Bell acknowledges and  confirms that  there will be " approved services, including the pricing, specifically set for the deferral account-funded communities only", a phrase which appears in both reports.

This requirement is based on the following section of the Bell 15 Jul 2012 report:

"The development of the Retail Wireless Broadband Service requires modifying processes and systems to provide the approved services, including the pricing, specifically set for the deferral account-funded communities only.  Until this work is completed, even if the wireless technology infrastructure was built in a community, the Company could not launch the service.  This work is currently underway and will be completed before the end of 2012, prior to the launch of service to the nine communities."

Bell elaborated on this aspect of the project in the 31 Dec 2012 report:

"Status of the IS/IT System Development to Support the Retail Wireless Broadband Service

1.                    The development of the Retail Wireless Broadband Service required Bell to modify its processes and systems to be able to provide the approved services, including the pricing, specifically set for the deferral account-funded communities only.  This work, which was a prerequisite to being able to rollout the wireless broadband services to the approved communities, has now been completed.  The key activities that were carried out as part of this work include the following:

  1. -               Changes to the billing system to incorporate the price plans for the retail wireless broadband services that are or will be offered in the approved communities, including the monthly rates and data allowances; 
  2. -               Changes to the activation system and the development of a third-party application to pre-qualify eligible retail customers (i.e., determine if the address at which the person is requesting broadband services is within an approved deferral account community).  The activation system is used by the sales agent to select the desired price plan and hardware, perform credit checks and validate customer addresses, for example, and triggers the provisioning of the customer information and hardware in the billing system and network;
  3. -               Creation of a new Service Agreement to be provided to the deferral account retail customers;
  4. -    -             Integration of the Bell Mobility and other Bell systems to permit the provisioning of certain "DSL like" features such as Bell Mail (email);
  5. -              Changes to the Bell.ca online system for customer self-serve management of Bell Mail;
  6. -               Configuration of network elements to provide data usage notifications and Pay-Per-Use prompting for overage charges which allows customers to exceed the usage allotment of their plans and be notified of the pay-per-use $ per GB that they will incur; 
  7. -              Enhancements to existing and new Client Care support systems to support the broadband wireless services in the communities that are included in the program; 
  8. -              Contracting of a third-party for the initial installation and ongoing support of external antennas at the customer premises; 
  9. -               Testing and approvals for a dual-mode (LTE/HSPA+) Turbo Hub hardware (mobile broadband router) for use at the customer premises;
  10.  -               Creation of training materials to Sales, Client Care and Technical Support teams related to the services offered as part of the deferral account-funded program; and 
  11. -               Creation of direct mail campaign material to market the new service to prospective retail customers located in the approved communities."

Saturday 12 July 2014

Impact of CDMA Close Out in North Sault Area

In my blog entry of 09 Jun 2014, I reported on the Tbaytel plans to close down their CDMA (2G) service and the impact this might have. As noted in the post, Bell CDMA will also be affected as they are in effect piggy-backing on the Tbaytel network. When the Tbaytel CDMA network closes down, the associated Bell CDMA service will also disappear.

Bell (and Tbaytel) CDMA customers have two options available to them - cancel service altogether or upgrade to the HSPA+ service provided by one of the two carriers. The latter will require the user getting a new handset capable of processing the HSPA+ signal. Because the need to upgrade is caused by the vendor ‘s actions, one might, and I emphasis might, be able to negotiate some kind of special price deal.

Both Bell and Tbaytel offer the HSPA+ service in the North Sault area from the Sault city limits to the Pancake Bay area. 

Bell uses Bell owned towers and cell sites to provide their HSPA+ service.  They are no longer reliance on the Tbaytel network.  This means that a Bell CDMA user who switches to Bell HSPA+ will be receiving their signal from a different physical location. In some locations, the Bell and Tbaytel towers are located near each other. This is the case at Heyden and Goulais while at other places only one or the other is located such as Tbaytel at Batchawana (Jones Landing) and Bell at Hwy 17/Hwy 563 intersection.

Another big difference is the frequency used to provide the service. The old Bell and Tbaytel CDMA service operated in the 850 MHz band and the Tbaytel HSPA+ continues to operate in this band.  The Bell HSPA+ operates in the 1900 MHz band. Generally speaking, the 850 MHz signal can travel farther and penetrate obstructions such as foliage and buildings better than the 1900 MHz signal. On the other hand, the 1900 MHz signal can handle more traffic at higher speeds than the 850 MHz signal.  Bell has tried to address the range issue by installing more towers than Tbaytel.

What this means is some customers who previously had good quality CDMA cellular phone service may not be able to get an equivalent quality of service using HSPA+ using the basic handset. (Remember, a CDMA handset will not work on the HSPA+ network nor will a Bell HSPA+ handset work on the Tbaytel HSPA+ network.) 

There is technology available through third party vendors that can boost and improve the signal within a designated area.