Northwestel vs. Shaw: A Quick Comparison

My Dad lives in North Vancouver, just off Lonsdale Avenue, and he subscribes to Shaw’s High-Speed Xtreme-I service. This service promises 15 Mbps download speeds. Here’s what he’s getting this morning:

In a word: lame. Compared to the 14 Mbps download speed I’m now enjoying with Northwestel, this service seems paltry.

But there are two additional points to consider. First, he’s paying Shaw just $54 a month, compared to the $80 I’m paying Northwestel. And he gets a whopping 100 GB of data transfer each month, while Northwestel tops me out at 60% of that.

So while Northwestel’s upgrade is a critical first step in improving the performance of local services, their immediate next step needs to be an improvement in the value of the service. As I’ve said before, speed is irrelevant if there is not the volume to back it up.

Let’s hope Northwestel’s people are working hard at negotiating new bulk data rates with their upstream providers.

Quick Look at Northwestel’s New Internet Service

It looks as though Northwestel turned the switch on for its new internet services last night:

Compared to the 2 Mbit/second connectivity I’d recently become accustomed to (northwestel cable service revisited: it’s still lame in comparison) I’d say that Northwestel’s new fibre optic network (Yukon News: Northwestel speeds up internet service) has definitely improved things in the North.

Even this morning at 8:30, during what has historically been the worst period for internet access as the Yukon’s plethora of government workers settle into their desks for a morning dose of YouTube and Facebook, Northwestel’s new network held its own:

This is great news. But it’s just day one. We’ll see, over time, as people use (and abuse) the new network, if Northwestel can keep the quality of service up.

How Northwestel Measures Up to Southern Canadian Internet Providers

In light of Northwestel’s new pricing that takes effect September 1, I looked at a cross-section of Canadian internet providers this evening. And I’d summarize Northwestel’s service upgrade something like this: relatively competitive service levels, but insanely expensive prices.

Internet services in Canada seem to be very regionally dependent. Bell, for example, offers very competitive packages in Ontario, but almost nothing in British Columbia. And some providers I looked at, like Cogeco and Vidéotron, are limited to Ontario and Quebec. Of course, Northwestel is the North’s sole provider.

So it’s somewhat surprising that packages are at all comparable across Canada. But, roughly, they are. Continue reading

Northwestel Internet Upgrades Coming Soon

I just had lunch with Northwestel’s Vice President of Consumer and Small Business Markets, Curtis Shaw, and he informed me that Whitehorse internet users will soon be very, very happy. Heck, I’m as giddy as a little girl with his news.

He asked me not to share the details for a while, but here’s the bottom line: on September 1, consumer and business cable internet customers can expect cheaper prices, significantly improved download speeds, and vastly increased data caps.

This service upgrade will bring us pretty much in line with southern service providers.

How is this possible? Apparently, crews are finishing up Northwestel’s final leg of fibre through Muncho Lake Park in BC as I write this. They’ve had to carve up the highway there to lay it down.

Once Northwestel lights up that pipe, its new data headroom capabilities will provide Yukoners with significantly improved internet services.

All of a sudden, I get the warm fuzzies when I think of the Big Green N.

Hey, Northwestel. What’s So Special About High Level, Alberta?

I was browsing Northwestel’s cable internet plans today and stumbled upon the fact, captured in the screen shot below, that Northwestel provides exceptionally preferential high speed internet pricing to a teensy weensy little town in northern Alberta called High Level.

High Speed Cable Classic in High Level, Alberta

High Speed Cable Classic in High Level, Alberta

In case you can’t read the tiny print in the screen grab, I’ll summarize it this way: Northwestel gives this town of just over 4,000 souls three times the monthly bandwidth for half what Whitehorse pays. Yeah, that’s 60 GB for $50 per month.

Northwestel’s Ultra service in High Level not only gives more data transfer per month, but the company also provides this town with improved data transfer rate, as illustrated in this screen grab:

Northwestel Loves High Level

High Speed Cable Ultra in High Level, Alberta

That’s a 20% improvement over Whitehorse download rates and double our upload rates.

So, what’s up with that, Northwestel? Why the love for this little cowpoke ville and the bird for the rest of us loyal customers, eh?

If you’re going to monopolize a regional industry, at least monopolize equally. Your “Bringing us together” slogan is starting to ring pretty hollow. Perhaps you should adopt something more relevant like, “Divide and conquer.”

Double the Bandwidth, Double the Fun?

I took a rather unusual step further into geekdom today: I picked up a second cable modem for my house.

I’ve been regularly exceeding my monthly bandwidth allotment of a measly 20 GB with the Northwestel Ultra package, which costs $90 per month.

I’ve been going over every month by anywhere from 4 GB to 15 GB. As Northwestel bills this extra data at an absolutely ridiculous fee of $10 per GB, I’ve been paying anywhere from an extra $40 to $150 extra each month.

It makes a lot of sense, then, for me to pick up a second cable modem account which buys me with an additional 20 GB at just 45% of Northwestel’s overage rate. Really, once anyone goes over Northwestel’s limit by 4 or 5 GB, it makes sense to pick up a second modem.

For some silly reason, Northwestel can’t just increase the bandwidth allotment on my original cable modem. I would have been sort-of willing to pay a full $90 extra each month to receive an additional 20 GB of data without even any increase in speed. Instead, they insisted that I pick up a second cable modem. Oh well, I’m not the one paying for the hardware.

But having two modems, to a geek like me, begs the question: how do I load balance these puppies?

Right now, I must swap the modems out once per month when each reaches its 20 GB data limit. But that seems kind of silly. At any given time, I have a perfectly good cable modem sitting there idle.

What I want to do, instead, is this:

Internet Load Balancing Hardware Architecture (v1)Yeah, that’s the ticket. I want both modems online simultaneously so that, on top of my new 40 GB per month bandwidth limit, I can reach a theoretical data throughput of 20 Mbps (a utopian dream with Northwestel, I know).

My problem is the load balancing device. I managed to locate a D-Link DI LB604 Load Balancing Router:

6076f8e4dd0a8ba551921f1ae3e902b4

CNet reviewed it a few years ago. But the D-Link site reports that the device is discontinued. I haven’t been able to locate anything currently on the market that compared with this device (for less than $5,000, that is). Anyone else out there seen anything?

I’ve read up on how one could configure a Linux server to load balance multiple network connections, but that seems a bit like overkill for my needs.

Until I can identify a good load balancing solution, I’ll just swap the two modems regularly to avoid paying overage fees to Northwestel.

Once I get a load balancing solution in place, I’ll report back on what I put together, and whether I experience any increase in bandwidth speeds. (In case anyone actually wants to replicate the solution!)

Post Script

I’d like to note that, yeah, I’m now paying the ridiculous sum of $180 per month for a lacklustre, patchwork internet service that pales in comparison to other Canadian providers.

For example, in southern Canada Shaw offers a High Speed Warp service for the unbundled price of just $102 per month. Warp provides speeds of up to 25 Mbps and a whopping monthly download budget of 150 GB of data.

So while we pay comparable prices in the North for fruit and vegetables from Equador at Superstore, when it comes to an essential and modern infrastructure, we get shafted hard.

Northwestel Cable: It’s Getting Worse

Since January, I have felt the gradual reduction in performance of my $90-per-month “ultra” cable internet service from Northwestel, but I didn’t think it was this bad.

In just four short months, the service’s download speed rate has dropped by almost 75%. In January my download speed was a more respectable 9.19 Mb/s (northwestel cable service revisited: it’s still lame in comparison) and now, as you can see in the graphic at left, it’s a paltry 2.01 Mb/s.

Upload speeds, never a strong point of the service, have dropped by a full 25%, from .46 Mb/s to .37 Mb/s.

What’s more, since January I’ve experienced several multi-day service outages that Northwestel Cable too-often showed very little interest in rectifying. In fact, over on her blog, Horsewords, Breanna Blottner describes that she’s experiencing this situation right now (No good internet).

I’ll just revisit comparable pricing for internet services in southern Canada Shaw, to properly frame how bad the northern internet situation really is. If all I wanted was a mere 2 Mb/s download speed from Shaw, well, I couldn’t get it. Their lowest tier of service, High Speed Lite, offers just 256 kbps downloads for $19.99 per month. But remarkably, the next tier up, High Speed, is priced the same and offers a whopping jump to 7 Mb/s.

These days, I’m lucky to exceed 3 Mb/s with Northwestel and I’m being jacked for $90 each month; not to mention the additional $150+ each month I pay in data overage fees due to Northwestel ultra’s paltry 100 GB data cap.

If you jump up to the Northwestel Cable ultra price range with Shaw, you get a scorching 25 Mb/s download rate and a respectable 150 GB of data transfer per month. And I’ll bet the quality of service is head and shoulders above what we Northerners are forced to suffer at the hands of Northwestel.

Man, it’s getting so bad I feel like I should quit working to improve the high tech industry up here and just go be a miner or get a job at Wal-Mart.