Exploring Canada’s North


I apologize for the lack of posts recently. Summer vacation and back to school and other events took my focus away from blogging. Now I am ready to dive back into it with renewed vim and vigour !

This year for our family vacation we decided to go North, really North. To the Spectacular Northwest Territories.

So in late August we packed our carry-ons and hopped on an early morning plane from Pearson (we were originally booked on a flight from Waterloo Airport but it was cancelled by WestJet) to Calgary and from there to Yellowknife. One note, at Calgary when we changed planes, on the tarmac you could smell the smoke and see the haze on the horizon from the forest fires. I hope those are all extinguished now. Very sobering to see.

Yellowknife was delightful. As soon as you enter the cosy airport you know you are in the North as you are greeted by a huge statue of a polar bear on the ice, chasing some seals. There are furs and antler prominantly displayed. And very down home, friendly people.

We stayed at an AirBNB condo right on Great Slave Lake that was maybe a seven minute drive from the airport. It was in Old Town, where some of the orginal cabins and shacks are still standing. A lot of things were in easy walking distance; great food at places like the Dancing Moose Cafe, Bullock’s Bistro, The Wildcat Cafe and the North’s only brewpub, the Woodyard Brewhouse where we also got a growler to bring back to our condo. A few streets away was the famous Ragged Ass Road; you can buy replicas of the street sign so please dont steal the real ones !

One of the highlights of that area is the Bush Pilots Monument. It is a local monument honouring the bush pilots of today and yesterday, who helped open up the North to the rest of Canada.The monument sits on top of “The Rock”, a six story rock hill in the centre of Old Town. Once you climb up the hundreds of steps, the view from there is fabulous. And you will usually see a float plane or two or three taking off or landing on Great Slave Lake.

We ventured into downtown a few times (including great meals at Coyote’s Bistro on Franklin, thanks again to the owner Ed But and his staff for taking great care of us) to get groceries and supplies for the room and also to explore. We were able to find the school that my wife attended as well as the house they lived in when they were stationed there. It struck me that there were only six traffic lights in total in the town, and at night they all just flashed yellow !

My youngest daughter is a geophysicist working exploration in the North so she flew in from Whitehosre to spend a day with us and show us around too. Her crew bunkhouse was only a few minutes walk from where we were staying. She brought us to Weaver and Devore,a trading post cum outfitters that has been there since 1936 where you can get true outdoor clothing and gear for working in the North. It was great to see the places she had told us about previously including the colourful houses and the houseboats on the lake.

We also did a lot of outdoor adventuring including some kayaking on the lake (trying to avoid a bush plane !) and drove out about 45 km on the Ingraham Trail to Hidden Lake Territorial Park. There we took about a half-hour hike to Cameron Falls (see the picture at the top of this post). We spent a lot of time exploring the falls, and then crossing over a foot-bridge upstream to the other side to explore there too. A lot of the scenery reminded me of Northern Ontario where I grew up. The old rocks of the Canadian Shield and the bush. The trees up in Yellowknife were much smaller though.

A week in Yellowknife is good for the soul. The pace is slower, the air is cleaner. There is no visual pollution from billboards. The locals are laid back and friendly. Late August was a little early to see the aurora borealis (I LOVE that name !) but if you went later in the fall, or definitely during the winter, the light show would be awe inspiring. I highly recommend making the trip North, especially if you are a fan of the outdoors.

Lastly, I promised I would review telecom. I had no problem getting a strong cellphone signal everywhere I went, including out on the Ingraham Trail. It wasnt always LTE, but the 3G was fine. Our AirBNB had satellite TV and great high speed WiFi internet. We did not stream any movies or Netflix (I brought some downloaded movies on my computer for family entertainment at night) rather than abuse my hosts data plan.

Finally, a big thanks to Curtis Shaw, the President of Northwestel, who I met at this year’s Canadian Telecom Summit who gave me some great tips and restaurant recommendations !

Do I need a Satphone ?


These days almost everyone in Canada has a smartphone. It seems that we can’t live our lives without one. But what do we do when we are out of range of a cell-tower signal ? How do we remain connected and not panic when we have zero bars on our phone and there is no WiFi available ? That is when a satphone becomes essential.

Satellite phones (Satphones) have been around for over two decades, since the early constellations like Iridium were put into orbit in the late 1990’s. Some people think that satphones are only for large corporations, the government or mountain climbing expeditions but that is not true. There are many important reasons for ordinary Canadians to have quick and efficient access to reliable communications. Here is why you should have communications anytime, anywhere.

First, and most importantly, satellite communications are critical during and after natural disasters. Canada is not immune to severe weather and emergencies that can knock infrastructure like cell towers out of commission. We have seen this with the ice storms in Quebec , fires such as the one in Fort McMurray, the floods in Calgary and Winnipeg, extensive power outages in Ontario, avalanches and tornados. During a disaster, often the only communications network that remains working is the satellite one and it is vital for relief work, search and rescue and letting loved ones know your status.

Additionally, satellite phones can be an important lifeline during recreational activities. We Canadians love our great outdoors and we revel in activities like back country skiing, hiking, sailing, mountain biking, and hunting. We know that adventurers trying to break world records in remote areas of the world such as Mount Everest or in the Antarctic or Arctic carry satphones. They are just as useful in Northern Ontario, or the Rocky Mountains or even at the cottage where you’re out of range of a cell signal.

What about your job site ? Many Canadians still work in resource extraction industries, whether it is mining, forestry or oil and gas. Staying connected via a satphone is essential to some industries, especially when driving down some remote highways where there are no gas stations or other traffic for long stretches.

So what kind of satphones are there ? The traditional ones like Inmarsat are based one geo-synchronous orbits (ie they look stationary from earth) and some (like Thureya) don’t cover North America. The GEO ones have a long delay as the signal has to travel up 22,236 miles to the bird and then back down. There is one network, Iridium, that covers the entire globe using LEO (low Earth orbit) satellites that have almost no delay and that is well suited for providing service in Canada. They have many solutions depending on how you want to stay connected using satellite communications. Two of the most popular are a standalone handheld satellite phone, or alternatively turning your own existing smartphone into a satellite phone.

The Iridium 9555 and Iridium Extreme are two of the most popular Iridium handheld products. Both phones feature up to 30 hours of standby and four hours of talk time, in a small and very durable structure. Through talk and text, the Iridium 9555 and Iridium Extreme can save lives. The Iridium Extreme also has e-mail messaging capability, Google Mapping services, and GPS-enabled location-based services.

Iridium GO! is the innovative product which transforms your smartphone into a satellite phone anywhere in the world. Compatible with Apple and Android, Iridium GO! extends the use of your smartphone and devices. The Iridium GO! app extends your connection, optimizing you for voice, SMS, e-mail, 100-foot radius of WiFi for up to five devices, weather monitoring and more.

Whether you are making a disaster prep plan, heading our on a wilderness trip, or like the ease-of-mind of being accessible during your adventures, having the right resources in place for any situation is crucial. That is why a satphone can be essential to living an active life outdoors in Canada.

Canadian Telecom Summit

From June 3 to 5 I was lucky to attend the twelfth annual Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto . Organized by Mark Goldberg and Michael Sone, the CTS brings together the prime movers of our industry for some thought provoking presentations. This year also saw some major announcements from the CRTC and also the Canadian government.

The CRTC issued a new Code of Conduct for the wireless industry to try to reign in some of the worst anti-consumer practices in the industry. Then the Industry Minister, Christian Paradis, sent a clear message to the industry by blocking the Telus proposed purchase of Mobilicity. The direction of the government and the regulator is clearly being signaled as “pro-consumer” which I applaud and support.

I am lucky to have been in the telecom industry for over 30 years and have witnessed incredible growth and advancements in that time period. When the Canadian market deregulated in the early 1990’s I was an executive at ACC. CRTC Decision 92-12 in 1992 opened the door to true long distance competition in Canada and many new entrants such as CallNet, fonorola, STN and ACC fought hard for consumers against the established incumbent telcos.

Fast forward to 2013… all those early long distance competitors are gone, bought by the telcos… our new wireless entrants are all in danger of being bought by the telcos. The Canadian telecom market is controlled by three companies Bell, Telus and Rogers. Some things have changed, some things have not.

Here at Amitel, we support the “pro-consumer” approach, and we strive to earn your business every day. We are proud to compete fairly in the market, using our premium quality as our competitive advantage. We don’t believe in long term contracts, or bundling, or unfair consumer practices.

We look forward to serving you, and being a vibrant part of the Canadian competitive telecom landscape and seeing what the next 30 years will bring.