Wireless upgrade to bring region up to speed

Duane Hicks

An announcement by TBayTel last week to build a new third-generation (3G) High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) wireless network across Northern Ontario will allow the region to keep up with the times.
The upgraded network is to be deployed in Thunder Bay, Kenora, and Dryden this year, and then Fort Frances and Rainy River District sometime in 2011.
“I think it’s a good thing for the region,” said Geoff Gillon, economic advisor with the Rainy River Future Development Corp. here.
“It keeps us moving forward as far as infrastructure,” he noted. “It makes us at least as attractive as somewhere else.
“It’s absolutely essential for any economic development in the future to be as close as possible to the standard, and the standard is always better in the cities because there’s more people,” Gillon remarked.
“But as a rural region I think it will bode well for the northwest,” he added.
Gillon said with the conversion of the current Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network to HSPA, a major benefit is that “it will make our cellphones work everywhere, and everyone else’s cellphone work here.”
“That’s a fabulous thing,” he enthused, explaining this lack of cellphone/network compatibility has been a longstanding problem here for tourists, visitors, and locals alike.
The 3G HSPA network also boosts the usefulness of devices such as Blackberries and iPhones.
All of this helps raise the standard of what a town like Fort Frances can provide to its current and prospective residents, adding that when the town is trying to attract professionals, the last thing it needs is for someone to move here and find out their cellphone doesn’t work.
“It better prepares us for the future,” Gillon said.
Mark Howarth, of Howarth’s Home Centre here, agreed the announcement is welcome news.
“Everybody’s wanting the faster speed here. That’s the main thing with 3G,” he remarked.
“We’re finally catching up with the rest of the world—until they get the 4G out.”
Fort Frances Mayor Roy Avis said the upgrade is good news, but the downside is the fact Fort Frances is getting the service after communities like Kenora and Dryden.
“I don’t know how they determined which areas were going to be getting these services first,” he remarked.
“We, at one point, were a partner with [TBayTel] with the cellphone project here in Fort Frances, and all of a sudden we’re second in line to get this new upgrade,” he noted.
“It bothers me, to be honest,” the mayor said.
Barry Streib, director of corporate relations for TBayTel, conceded the upgrade will take a little time.
“Phase One will include Thunder Bay, Kenora, and Dryden,” he noted. “Then after that, the other regional communities and the highway corridors will done throughout the remainder of 2010 and into 2011.
“I can’t give you a specific date or time for when Fort Frances and the Rainy River District, but the work will be ongoing from that time on,” Streib added, speculating it could be the summer of 2011 although other factors could delay it or make it earlier.
“Rest assured, we’re going to be blasting away and getting the work done,” Streib pledged.
“And by 2011, we’re going to have a brand new network out there for everybody.”
“This is really good news,” he stressed. “You have to understand how good this is—it takes our Northern Ontario to a level playing field with all of the major centres in Canada.”
“With this new network, TBayTel will close the technology gap with other regions of the province and Canada,” echoed Don Campbell, president and CEO of TBayTel.
“Our customers will benefit from improved access to high-speed wireless voice and data services, a broad base of handset technology and smartphones, and increased capabilities for high-speed mobile data,” he noted.
“Delivering competitively-priced advanced telecom solutions to Northern Ontario is a key corporate end for our company,” Campbell added.
“The social and economic implications of an initiative such as this provide clear evidence of our commitment to, and understanding of, the north and its telecommunications needs,” said Michael Power, chair of the TBayTel Municipal Services Board.
“Our success as a company is dependent upon the success of Northern Ontario, and our new 3G HSPA network demonstrates TBayTel’s commitment,” he noted.
“We live here, we work here, and we are very proud to be investing in its future,” Power remarked.
In related news, Rogers and TBayTel also announced a strategic business relationship that will extend HSPA service and enhanced customer products across Northern
Rogers and TBayTel customers will have access to TBayTel’s HSPA network from just west of Sault Ste. Marie to the Manitoba border, connecting users with 3G download speeds to communities and major highway corridors covering an area of close to 300,000 sq. km for the first time.
The relationship will give Rogers and TBayTel customers expanded coverage with enhanced mobility features across Northern Ontario.