New cell carrier aims for spring launch

  • Feb. 24, 2015 8:00 a.m.

By Quinn BenderHaida Gwaii ObserverThe company installing a network of cell towers across the islands hopes to have it’s operation up and running in as few as three months. Vancouver-based RuralCom recently installed one of its first towers on the roof of Port Clements fire hall, with plans to install 40 more by the end of June, and then up to 100 by year’s end. The company’s CEO, Bob Hillman, says those plans include thorough coverage of Tlell, a notorious void with current cell service.”We will continue to expandÂ…with a goal to cover more of Haida Gwaii than currently covered by Telus,” he said.RuralCom has powered up the single tower in Port Clements for testing, to gauge volume requirements, but for now the tower will accept only roaming signals from Rogers wireless customers. That’s because RuralCom operates on the unused spectrum originally assigned to Rogers. RuralCom will be an independent service provider, but Industry Canada policies allow companies to adopt the spectrum of competitors who fail to put it to use in a specific area. There is no Rogers service on Haida Gwaii.”The policy is, use it or loose it,” Hillman said. Bell and Telus phones will eventually work on the network once the companies enter roaming agreements with RuralCom, as mandated by Industry Canada. Hillman says the big Canadian carriers are moving slowly on the matter, but US and international carriers are rapidly getting their agreements in place.”They know Haida Gwaii and the Yukon are big tourist destinations,” Hillman said. “They want their subscribers to enjoy the convenience and enhanced public safety that comes with cell phone service when they travel to these popular spots.”Hillman expects most of the roaming agreements to be in place by late March or early April, followed by the start of the company’s own service one month later. But they have yet to decide the type of phones and service packages they’ll be offering to islanders.”We’ll have to assess the market and see how things go,” Hillman said. “It might be with a pre-paid phone as an opening salvo and then add additional phones after that, depending on how deep people want to to jump in at first.”RuralCom’s technological strategy is a relatively new concept in wireless offerings. Designed specifically for rural and remote locations, so-called “small-cell” technology allows carriers to minimize its footprint and energy demands, and connect to switching stations via satellite. Locally, this reduces the challenges of finding suitable locations for towers and eliminates RuralCom’s need to connect through Telus’s landline or microwave network to Prince Rupert.RuralCom also plans to offer broadband service over wireless routers with speeds of up to 21 megabytes per second.

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