Let the phone competition begin

The Yukon has a new landline phone company. Iristel, a Toronto-based telco, officially opened for business in the North this week. Right now, it's only offering local numbers in Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Inuvik.

The Yukon has a new landline phone company.

Iristel, a Toronto-based telco, officially opened for business in the North this week.

Right now, it’s only offering local numbers in Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Inuvik, but the plan is to expand into smaller communities in the near future, said Maged Bishara, Iristel’s vice-president of operations.

“Our main goal is to achieve real local presence and that’s the end result that we’re going to strive for,” he said.

The company already offers its Internet-based phone service in all 10 Canadian provinces.

“We’re the only coast-to-coast VoIP (phone company),” said Bishara. “We’re coast to coast to coast now.”

Iristel will be launching service in Iqaluit next month.

“We’re going to use the larger cities as a springboard to the smaller communities,” said Bishara. “We have to.”

But just because Iristel is only offering local numbers from major centres right now doesn’t mean rural residents are being left out in the cold. Because it’s an Internet phone service, the numbers aren’t constrained by geography.

As long as there’s a high-speed Internet connection, an Iristel customer in rural Yukon has the option of taking a phone number from any area code in Canada.

For the last few weeks Rob Hopkins, a Yukon-based telecommunications consultant, has been running an Iristel line with a local Whitehorse number from his office in Tagish.

He’s one of the “beta clients” that Iristel is training to install, integrate and sign up customers.

Not only is the voice quality better – which Hopkins demonstrated by calling in on two different lines – but it’s cheaper too, he said.

And while it does use up some if his precious Internet bandwidth, so far the amount has been miniscule, said Hopkins.

The Iristel line also lets him use basic features like caller ID, voice mail and call waiting, which up until now haven’t been available in rural Yukon.

“Presently the way the communication stuff is in the Yukon, Internet, telephone, all this stuff, it actually chokes our economic viability here,” said Hopkins. “This is definitely making the Yukon more viable and more competitive in the modern world.”

In the Yukon, Iristel is working with Midarctic Technology Services and Polar Group ICT to roll out its service.

Because it’s a VoIP-based service, a high-speed Internet connection is a requirement for an Iristel phone line. But the installation is simple, said Bishara.

“We don’t want the client to think about anything,” he said. “We want the tech to just go there and do the job while they’re having tea.”

Customers can keep their old phone numbers and still use their old phones.

“There’s nothing that you have to change except you might have to learn how to use a couple of the new features that come along with that, and get used to 3.9 cents long distance calls to the rest of Canada,” said Bishara.

Caller ID comes standard with a basic package which comes in at just over $30 a month. Other features like three-way calling and voice mail cost a little bit more.

“You could add a whole host of cool features and your whole package won’t come up to another $10,” said Bishara.

Things like IP mobility, which allow customers to use their cellphones to make calls through Iristel’s network, can actually save money, he said.

“Say you’re driving in your car and you want to make a call to Ottawa, you can use the Iristel network from your cellphone and all of a sudden you’re only paying 3.9 cents a minute, instead of a huge Bell Mobility charge for long distance.”

For corporate clients, there’s even more money to be saved and more features that could be added, said Bishara.

“I was in Whitehorse in June or July and I saw a telephone system, an antiquated, old, old PBX and I was a little bit astounded at the cost,” he said. “They were charged something like $25,000 for a small little phone system, a five-user type thing, the type of stuff we could bring to a client at $2,000.”

Iristel is the first company to enter the northern marketplace, long dominated by NorthwesTel, since the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission opened up the 867 area code to competition a year ago.

But Iristel is not stopping at landline service.

Through its sister company, Ice Wireless, it plans to roll out 3G cellphone and internet services in Whitehorse by the spring.

Contact Josh Kerr at