Northwestel to transfer all northern cell phone services to Bell Mobility

Telecom plans 4G for three Nunavut communities by year’s end


Northwestel says that after Bell Mobility takes over all cell phone services in northern Canada, they'll offer 4G wireless in three satellite-based Nunavut communities. (FILE PHOTO)

Northwestel says that after Bell Mobility takes over all cell phone services in northern Canada, they’ll offer 4G wireless in three satellite-based Nunavut communities. (FILE PHOTO)

Northwestel will transfer all of its cell phone operations in northern Canada to Bell Mobility early next year, the company announced Oct. 21.

Northwestel and Bell Mobility are separate companies, but each is a subsidiary of Bell Canada.

Northwestel said the change won’t affect customers’ cell phones, phone numbers, or contracts. All will “simply be transferred to a Bell Mobility account,” Northwestel said in a news release.

“The transfer is expected to take effect in the first quarter of 2014 and be seamless for all post-paid and pre-paid” customers, the company stated in the release.

Bell Mobility already provides cell phone services in Iqaluit. After the change, Bell Mobility will provide cellphone service to nine communities in Nunavut.

Three of them — Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay and Iqaluit — are slated for 4G service “by the end of the year” under the company’s modernization plan, Northwestel’s president and CEO, Paul Flaherty, said Oct. 22.

“Bell will do that work, going forward,” Flaherty said.

A further commitment under the plan to provide cell phone service to Nunavut’s 16 other communities will also be carried out under Bell Mobility, Flaherty said.

The plan to upgrade service from 3G to 4G in three Nunavut communities where all telecommunications are carried by satellite, is a new innovation, Flaherty said.

“No one’s ever deployed 4G cellular over satellite,” he said.

“I think this is good news for customers, because you’ve got someone the size of Bell Mobility who invests in services that they provide across their customer base.”

Within the next few years, he added, “people in Nunavut can expect to see the same kinds of services that are available elsewhere in the country.”

In Nunavut, the transfer will begin for subscribers with “post-paid” monthly plans and contracts to be transferred first, “probably in the next couple of months,” Flaherty said.

Customers with pre-paid plans covered by vouchers, which are more common in smaller communities served by Northwestel, will be transferred early next year, Flaherty said, once post-paid plan transfers are complete.

Northwestel will stop selling new cell phones and plans in the territory as early as November, Flaherty said, when Bell Mobility begins replacing Northwestel in Nunavut’s cellphone market.

Northwestel’s decision to shift cell service to Bell Mobility came after the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission issued a set of new regulations earlier this year, known as the Wireless Code of Conduct, Flaherty said.

“We looked at that piece, and it was going to cost us several millions of dollars in order to become compliant with the code,” the president said.

The company had made a commitment in January 2013 to a multi-year modernization plan that would bring 4G wireless service to the North, just before the code was announced.

“There’s a large upfront cost when you develop a new innovation. You’re going to spend millions of dollars but you’ve only got a small customer base to spread it across,” said Flaherty, pointing to the remoteness of northern communities.

Bell Mobility, he said, “has 7.7 million customers out there, and they’re going to be making changes in their wireless system to be code-compliant. Because of their large base, they can spread out that cost over a much, much larger base than we can.”

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