Navigo portable broadband is a go

Navigo Broadband is shouldering its way into the increasingly crowded mobile digital internet market in Whitehorse with a rather novel mix of…

Navigo Broadband is shouldering its way into the increasingly crowded mobile digital internet market in Whitehorse with a rather novel mix of services: portability and unlimited downloads.

The company has been offering portable high-speed internet service in Whitehorse since September, but has kept quiet while it ferrets out the network’s ubiquitous bugs.

But now that the wrinkles have been ironed flat, people within city limits can download at speeds of up to three megabytes per second anywhere there’s an electrical outlet to power a portable Navigo modem.

“You can take it from home, to work, to school, to the library, and you can even get national roaming, where it works in the majority of major centres across Canada,” said Lee Vincent, director of wireless services with Northwestel Wireless, which owns Navigo.

“In a sense it’s all one big network,” said Vincent.

Navigo is based on worldwide interoperability for microwave access technology — WiMax in techno-speak — developed through a joint venture between Bell Canada and Rogers Communications called Inukshuk Communications.

To further muddle the corporate ownership picture, remember that Navigo is owned by Northwestel Wireless … which is owned by Northwestel, which is owned by Bell.

The strange corporate bedfellows have created what amounts to an enormous wireless “hot spot” that covers all of Canada, except Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

If you’ve ever been to a coffee shop where a guy with a laptop computer nursed a chai latté while sending instant messages to a friend in Phnom Penh, you’ve seen a wireless hot spot in action.

But localized hot spots are, like, sooo 2005, as entire cities are becoming “hot” — offering those with the required hardware the ability to get wireless internet wherever electricity is available.

The Inukshuk network is one of the largest in the world and allows anyone with a Navigo modem to access high-speed internet in 19 Canadian cities.

Back at home, Navigo subscribers can get internet access anywhere in Whitehorse, though technicians have received a signal 10-kilometres south down the Carcross Road and on the Takhini Hot Springs Road, said Vincent.

Those who purchase a Navigo package, take it home and fail to obtain a signal will get a full refund, she said.

The network’s three wireless towers are located at the Northwestel building in downtown Whitehorse, Haeckel Hill, and on Grey Mountain.

Northwestel is considering launching Navigo in some Yukon communities, but Vincent couldn’t provide further details.

Depending on your internet needs, Navigo has different lures.

Small business owners who require portability or students who enjoy nomadic internet access will naturally gravitate towards Navigo’s ability to provide net access wherever there’s electricity, said Vincent.

But another major target market is customers currently using dial-up internet, as Navigo is faster and competitively priced, she said.

Navigo service is offered in two tiers: an entry-level package costing $40 per month on a one-year contract, offering download speeds up to 512 kilobytes per second. And then there’s Navigo 3.0, which offers download traffic of three megabytes per second for $55 a month on a one-year contract.

Both packages offer a free 25-megabyte e-mail account. But both require the purchase of a portable Navigo modem, costing $200 for those who eschew contracts, or $29 if you lock yourself in to a two-year agreement.

To access the internet in cities with the Inukshuk network, Navigo customers can buy a $5-per-month package that has no hidden fees, said Vincent.

But heavy internet users who don’t need portability may still like Navigo.

Unlike several internet service providers in the Yukon, Navigo offers internet access with no download restrictions and no blockages to peer-to-peer networks like Limewire and Bittorrent.

Some internet providers have simply blocked the networks because music, video and software downloads eat up too much bandwidth, but Navigo is taking different approach, said Navigo market development manager Shabbir Lasani.

“Mission critical” applications like e-mail and internet browsing get first and second priority for bandwidth on the Navigo network, said Lasani.

Peer-to-peer surfers get third priority, he said.

At peak traffic times, those trying to download music or video from a peer-to-peer site may see their speeds slow, as the built-in hierarchy ensures e-mail and internet surfing aren’t affected.

But peer-to-peer access isn’t blocked altogether.

“We say you can do it, but it’s treated as a second priority,” said Lasani. “Peer-to-peer is allocated a certain amount of bandwidth; if all that is consumed, peer to peer speeds will hit a limit.”

When internet traffic is light, though, peer-to-peer will hit maximum speeds, he said.

Unlike many internet providers, there is no monthly download cap with Navigo.

Those who have a laptop and enjoy using the internet while they travel can save a lot using Navigo, said Vincent.

“I was using my Navigo modem sitting in the Vancouver airport, sitting in the hotel, sitting in the Calgary airport and sitting at the Toronto airport,” said Vincent.

“Instead of paying the $14 per hour wi-fi ‘hot spot’ charges, I had internet access in all those places as part of my monthly subscription.”