Mobile phone precursor dies in Newfoundland

Aliant Telecom on Monday took a step towards its wireless future, just three days after cutting ties to its wireless past.

The St. John’s-based ILEC said it would expand both its cellular digital

packet data (CDPD) wireless data network and its Atlantic-wide wireless network, a move that will extend its wireless phone coverage to 70 per cent of Atlantic Canadians by the end of this year.

This on the heels of an application to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission by Aliant Telecom and its local carrier in Newfoundland, NewTel, to decommission Aliant’s Improved Mobile Telephone Service (IMTS), a cellular phone service predecessor most often used in cars.

Aliant first introduced its MTS service in 1965, following shortly after with the IMTS service. The “”improved”” in IMTS meant users could make direct calls rather going through an operator. Both systems include heavy, bulky boxes that reside in car trunks. Ian Angus, principal of Ajax, Ont.-based Angus Telemanagement Group said most telcos in Canada retired such systems “”in the 80s, if not earlier.””

“”This is real old stuff,”” he said. “”I’m surprised there are any left.””

He said Toronto had 20 MTS channels, but Dean Roebothan, Aliant’s director of wireless business marketing, said in some areas of Newfoundland there are just one or two, meaning only two people can use their MTS or IMTS phones at the same time.

“”As far as we know we’re the last company in North America to offer this service, “” said Roebothan, noting that some users in Newfoundland still have to use an operator to connect their MTS calls. “”It’s just not practical. It’s an antiquated service.””

Roebothan said that in the 12 years since Aliant introduced cellular service, the number of MTS and IMTS users in Newfoundland has dropped from 3,000 to just 200. The remaining users tend to be hunters or fishers in the most remote areas of the province. But Roebothan said the reason Aliant is asking to retire its service is not a lack of demand, but a lack of parts. He said Aliant used to buy spare parts from other telcos discontinuing their services, but with Aliant being the only MTS and IMTS player left, there are no replacements parts for the 29 towers that service the network.

Roebothan said some opposition to the move is coming from drivers using a pair of 75-100 mile highways that connect the south of the province to the Trans-Canada Highway, but that most users understand the service is past its due date.

“”Most people are not surprised,”” he said. “”Some said they’re surprised it lasted as long as it did.””

Subject to CRTC approval, Aliant plans to shut down the service by end of July and is encouraging current users to adopt satellite service or cellular service where available. Cellular, he said, is more reliable than MTS or IMTS and less expensive; IMTS and MTS service cost $25 per month and 75 cents per minute.

Though some Atlantic Canadians are so remote they will probably never have cellular service, Aliant Telecom Wireless said Monday it will spend $65 million expanding its wireless network. Most of the money will go into the company’s digital network, which Aliant says will reach almost half-a million customers in the Atlantic provinces by the end of the year.

Aliant’s digital service, which currently reaches 56 per cent of Atlantic Canada, will be expanded to include more rural areas including Clarenville and Conception Bay in Newfoundland, Chezzetcook and Pictou in Nova Scotia, the Bathurst to Campbellton corridor in New Brunswick, and Kensington and Borden on Prince Edward Island.

“”We’re starting to get to more rural communities,”” said Aliant Cellular Networks product manager Will Jost. “”By the time you get to 70 per cent, you get to small towns.””

Aliant said it will add 75 new digital cellular sites, as well as 40 new sites to support the company’s wireless CDPD network. Investment into the data network has not yet been determined. The product data network allows users to remotely maintain a connection to their office or corporate networks with a network card-equipped laptop or handheld wireless device.

“”Our key customers at this point tend to be law enforcement, emergency services or government service, with potential to move out to courier service, that type of thing,”” Jost said.

The CDPD, which is live in urban centres and main corridors, is currently being used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Fredericton Police Force, as well as the City of St.John’s, which employed the CDPD this winter to monitor its snowplow fleet.


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