Some Alternatives to Northwestel’s Internet Shortcomings

Like an aging porn star, Northwestel just can’t keep it up.

And by “it”, I mean that which is most important.

And in Northwestel’s case it is the internet. (So get your mind out of the gutter, already.)

Yet, despite the fact the current incumbent constantly flubs it like a clown in a circus, in the itsy-bitsy market of the Great White North no hoser would be fool enough to directly compete.

So it’s up to we citizens to seek alternative means of accessing the environment we all now live, work, shop, and socialize in, to fill in those gaps when Northwestel suffers from what I shall henceforth delicately refer to as Internet Dysfunction (ID for short).

It might surprise you just how many alternatives there are.

The first suggestion I have might already be in your pocket. (No, that’s not a Mae West crack.)

During Northwestel’s most recent ID episode I could sometimes still satisfy my need to work online if I plugged my iPhone into my Mac.

This is called tethering. It’s like using your mobile phone as an internet modem.

It sounds complicated, but it’s actually the simplest thing to set up. In the Settings app on your iPhone, just turn on Internet Tethering.

Then whenever you plug your iPhone into your Mac, you’ll automatically be tethered to the internet.

It works with Windows computers, too, but probably requires a bit of tinkering. (But that’s why you bought a Windows computer, right? You love to tinker.)

Other smartphones might tether, too, so check the documentation for the device you already have if you want to try it out.

For some people, the drawback to using an iPhone for internet access like this might be speed.

With my so-called “High Speed Performance” connection from Northwestel, I generally get about 9Mbps download speed (a far cry from their advertised 16 Mbps rates, it’s worth noting).

Tethered to my iPhone I get just over 2 Mbps.

Interestingly, if you subscribe to Northwestel’s lowest-end cable or ADSL internet packages, such as High Speed Lite, you’ll probably experience a 5- or 6-fold performance boost when you tether an iPhone.

Kind of makes you want to tether all the time, eh?

If you’d prefer not to buy a new mobile phone, Bell offers a very interesting device called the Turbo Hub.

It accesses the internet using the mobile network (just like the iPhone), purportedly at speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps.

What’s more, it acts as a Wifi hub so that you can wirelessly connect up to 15 computers or other devices. And you can plug a phone into it to make regular voice calls.

The service plan for the Turbo Hub starts at $40 per month.

What’s especially nice about the Turbo Hub is that it’s portable. So if you head downtown for a coffee, or even down to Saskatchewan to visit the family, you can pack this unit along and enjoy internet and voice service wherever there’s power.

Of course, the major drawback to both the iPhone and the Turbo Hub (when they’re in the Yukon) is their reliance on the Northwestel fibre line that runs about a metre under ground along the side of the highway from Whitehorse to somewhere in BC.

When Northwestel suffers from ID locally, as they have recently, the Turbo Hub and iPhone will continue to work.

However, when some wayward soul with a rent-a-backhoe digs up that fibre just south of Stoner, everything goes down (including, inexplicably, Bell’s mobile voice network).

To completely avoid that, you have to look to the sky.

No, I don’t mean pray, as some of you may have been doing during Northwestel’s recent periods of ID. I’m talking about a satellite-based solution.

And here’s where things get messy.

As with satellite TV, you’ll need to hang a big, ugly dish off the side of your abode, and spend one Sunday afternoon perched perilously atop a ladder angling it appropriately.

Then you have to drill big holes in your walls to run a cable through to hook into a big, ugly box of a receiver that you then must blow your sanity configuring.

Not the best local solution, but it’s definitely something I’m considering if Northwestel doesn’t visit the doctor for a sample pack of an effective internet aphrodisiac.

The other major downsides to satellite internet services are low speeds (most top out at just 2Mbps); and price (satellite services have more significant start-up costs and monthly fees than Northwestel).

But, unlike Northwestel, satellite internet services reportedly don’t suffer from chronic ID.

There are a few satellite internet providers that service the North, such as Xplorenet and Infosat. If you’re interested, start by calling Dynamic Systems in Whitehorse.

In a perfect world, Northwestel wouldn’t suffer from ID. We’d have dependable, high speed internet access all the time.

But, like that other Yukon utility that shall remain unnamed, Northwestel can only be counted on to periodically fail. So, if the internet is intrinsic to your livelihood or lifestyle – as it is mine – then you need one of these backup systems.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, July 9, 2010.

8 thoughts on “Some Alternatives to Northwestel’s Internet Shortcomings

  1. tsk, tsk, smart-ass. no bell in sask – it’s sasktel. and they’re only just getting 3G (plus) in major cities this summer, so turbo hub’s probably not an option.

    • Okay yeah, whatever. I actually thought the phone company out there was called FarmTel. After all, between BC and Ontario it’s all the same: flat and redneck. 😉 (Seriously, though, thanks for clarifying.)

  2. Considering that my Bell phone doesn’t work in my community at all (yet it works in several other communities across Yukon, which confuses me) tethering isn’t an option for me 😦 … and hanging another big ugly dish on my house and drilling more holes in the wall, as amusing as it would be, I don’t think would go over too well with Yukon Housing … so, NWTel it is for me … with any luck they will get their act figured out sometime in the near future

  3. I shudder to think what your cellphone bill is going to be like when you’re constantly tethering to your computer…Computers suck back pretty massive amounts of data (YouTube, Streaming Audio, etc) and that’s going to rack up a pretty decent bill unless you plan to continue doing the tethering thing and ditch NWTel’s service altogether and get a really beefy cellphone plan.


    • If you depended on a mobile device full time, yeah, maybe. It depends on your usage. Personally, even when I rely on my iPhone regularly for access from my Macs, I haven’t exceeded 1 GB in a month. My plan with Bell includes up to 3 GB, so I’m pretty safe there. Many of my clients who don’t depend on the internet for work or pleasure (what I would define as an “average” internet user) rarely exceed about 500 MB in a month.

      But, point taken, if you’ve got kids in the house or are a heavy YouTube, iTunes, or even WoW user, you’d work your way through the included 3 GB much more quickly and a cable or ADSL solution is a much better idea. That said, though, the point of this article is to provide a back-up solution for those inevitable times that Northwestel will drop the ball, not for constant access. For people who depend on the internet for work or pleasure (like my son and I do), then the repeated, long-term service disruptions require the immediate availability of Plan B. These were some ideas.

  4. Excellent information. And as a Windows user I did not bristle at the “you love to tinker” comment. It is true… I like to get into the guts and know what’s going on. With Windows a device driver is required whereas Apple just “knows” everything. Just don’t ask HOW Apple knows because it won’t tell you. Everything is a secret in the Apple world. That closed door at the end of the hall is where the Matrix guy sits. Don’t go in there unless you’re prepared to browse the registry.

  5. If you live in one of the communities that has been upgraded to 4G (Hay River/Enterprise and Yellowknife) than I don’t recommend an iPhone as none of them, including the iPhone 4, support 4G. In these towns you’re better off with an HTC Desire Z as it is the only (current) Bell phone that supports 4G and tethering. Though the Motorola Atrix will be out soon on Bell as well and possibly the Motorola Bionic. Both would also offer the high speed tethering capability, not to mention the other features the Atrix brings to the table.

    I sure wish Bell would up their data caps, this would really put pressure on NWTel as a majority of their customers (ie Yellowknife / Whitehorse ) would be able to switch to Bell Turbo sticks or tethered phones. Hopefully this would result in positive changes on NWTel’s part.

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