Yukon News

Ice Wireless to melt monopoly

Josh Kerr Friday August 3, 2012

Ian Stewart/Yukon News

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ICE Wireless president Samer Bishay at the cell towers on Grey Mountain on Thursday. The company plans to offer Internet, phone and cellphone in Whitehorse this fall.

Touring the North was a real eye-opener, said Samer Bishay, president of Ice Wireless.

“It’s different looking at it on a map than to see it and experience it,” he said.

The most shocking thing was seeing how “behind the times” many of the communities are when it comes to communications infrastructure. That’s not only bad for northerners, but bad for business as well, he said.

In the fall, Ice Wireless plans to roll out cellphone, Internet and landline services in six northern communities: Whitehorse, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Iqaluit, Hay River, and Behchoko. However, because of the age and state of NorthwesTel’s equipment, right now, only half of those communities can be serviced.

When the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission opened up the North to telephone competition last year, it also ordered NorthwesTel to update its equipment.

The CRTC found that the average age of NorthwesTel’s switches was 17 years.

Trying to tie a state-of-the-art network into such old equipment is pretty much impossible, said Cameron Zubko, the vice-president of Ice Wireless. Normally, after five years telecommunications equipment is considered obsolete.

Last month, NorthwesTel came out with its modernization plan.

After the five-year, $273-million project is complete, most of its switches will be replaced and every one of the 96 communities in NorthwesTel’s service area will have access to high-speed Internet and 3G or 4G wireless networks.

The telco plans on using the $20.5-million annual subsidy it gets from the CRTC to pay for a substantial portion of the plan. Its parent company, Bell Canada Enterprises, is asking the CRTC to approve another $40 million for the project.

That money would come out of the more than $200 million in public benefit funds Bell has to put aside to get approval for its $3.38-billion purchase of Astral Media.

This modernization plan is just a veiled attempt by NorthwesTel to shore up its monopoly in the North, said Zubko.

“If you’re going to use public money, at least have equal access to that fund so that companies that are qualified in the North can tap into it,” added Bishay.

There is nothing in the modernization plan that addresses the cost of backbone connectivity, which is the biggest barrier to competition, he said.

Wholesale bandwidth costs a thousand times more in the Yukon than it does in the south, and the quality of service, something essential for telephone service, isn’t guaranteed.

Regardless, Ice Wireless still plans on moving forward with its plans.

Thanks to a partnership with Iristel, a Canada-wide VoIP service provider Bishay founded in 1999, the cellphones that Ice Wireless uses will work seamlessly on both cellphone and WiFi networks. That means that while the company will only have cell towers in six communities, the phones will work anywhere in the North if there is a WiFi connection - and anywhere in the south where Rogers has a tower.

“What we’ve done in Canada is unparalleled as far as I’m concerned,” said Bishay. “Iristel has changed how telecom is being done, and we want to do the same up here.

“We want to offer a national service in Canada. There shouldn’t be any boundaries, they’re just a thing of the past.”

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9 Comments

Moose Dr. wrote:
8:26pm Thursday August 9, 2012

“Wholesale bandwidth costs a thousand times more in the Yukon than it does in the south.”  That’s a bit of a problem right there.  Why should this be so?

onyukon wrote:
8:18pm Tuesday August 7, 2012

@Jack Iristel’s partner Ice Wireless is a northern company. So they would support northern families too, as long as they’re allowed to grow in the North.

lucy wrote:
8:02pm Tuesday August 7, 2012

I cannot wait for Ice Wireless to come to the Yukon! It will give us more jobs and more opportunity. To have more options is so exciting.

Chris wrote:
1:13pm Monday August 6, 2012

It’s great to see that the CRTC is recognizing that a monopoly does not provide a healthy climate for business.  Opening the doors will ensure that consumers in the North have better access to services and more competitive pricing.  It will keep NWTel in check and give consumers a choice which is what it’s all about. Why would Northerners want to continue to pay their hard earned money for services that are price fixed by the only provider?  Only an idiot.  Furthermore, with better internet/wireless access and services etc..  which undoubtedly competition provides, Northerners will have a whole host of opportunities available to them to make money through businesses established through the internet never mind their information highway to the rest of the world which will bring more tourism hence dollars to the economy.  Congratulations Samer for pioneering the way!!!

phil wrote:
2:08am Monday August 6, 2012

DO NOT LET THE CRTC GIVE NWTEL SQUAT.  Everyone needs to write a letter to the CRTC and stop NWTel from suckling on the taxpayers nipple.  Maybe….if they had to stand on their own 2 feet Mr Paul would find another job.  He is only good at this one when the Feds and YG are handing money to him….looser.

Mike wrote:
11:08pm Sunday August 5, 2012

Jack, please don’t compare NWTel to Air North…they are completely different in terms of how they run a company and customer service. Air North is fantastic and NWTel couldn’t give a crap…until someone else wants to come up here and service the communities properly.

john wrote:
9:09pm Sunday August 5, 2012

Hey Jack,

NWTEL needs a wakeup call. Maybe this will help them get off their ___ and improve themselves. Everyone complains about the internet but they have tough challenges.

I bet when a few people switch for a while NWTEL will start to figure out that they can’t take zero action in the customer retention are as they have in the past.

jack wrote:
5:32am Sunday August 5, 2012

Yes Samer….“It’s different looking at it on a map than to see it and experience it”

I’ll continue to support NWTel.  NWTel payroll stays in the north and supports northern families.  Iristel (nothing against it) is based in Ontario.  Using Iristel is the same as choosing Air Canada over Air North, local economy loses.

Charles Hume wrote:
10:22pm Friday August 3, 2012

Great!  Can’t wait until you get to Dawson City, you have customers waiting.

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