Ice Wireless to melt monopoly

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.

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.”

Contact Josh Kerr at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Benjamin Poudou, Mount MacIntyre’s ski club manager, poses for a photo in the club’s ski rental area on Nov. 16. The club has sold around 1,850 passes already this year, compared to 1067 passes on Oct. 31 last year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Early season ski pass sales up as Yukoners prepare for pandemic winter

Season passe sales at Mount McIntyre for cross-country skiing are up by around 60 per cent this year

The City of Whitehorse will be spending $655,000 to upgrade the waste heat recovery system at the Canada Games Centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New waste heat recovery system coming to the CGC

Council approves $655,000 project

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate education advocates and volunteers help to sort and distribute Christmas hamper grocery boxes outside Elijah Smith Elementary School on Feb. 23. (Rebecca Bradford Andrew/Submitted)
First Nation Education Directorate begins Christmas hamper program

Pick-ups for hampers are scheduled at local schools

Cyrine Candido, cashier, right, wipes down the new plexi-glass dividers at Superstore on March 28, before it was commonplace for them to wear masks. The Yukon government is relaunching the Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program as the second wave of COVID-19 begins to take place in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program extended to 32 weeks

More than 100 businesses in the territory applied for the first phase of the program

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read