Seamless cell service … in African wilderness

When Jeff Penner travelled to Liberia last year, he had excellent cellphone service everywhere, from down in the deepest darkest jungle swamp up to the highest remote mountain peaks.

“Last June, I spent 10 days around Greenville, Liberia, in the heart of the African jungle, where Ebola started,” says Penner.

“I had four bars on my smart phone everywhere I went. It was crystal clear service at a fraction of what we pay here. If we can’t keep up with communications technology in a Third World country, then what’s wrong.”

Ironically, when Penner stands in his own farmyard at Swan River, Man., he can see the nearest MTS tower about seven kilometres away, but he can’t get cell service. He points out that it’s the same shabby deal for farmers and people in small towns across the Canadian Prairies. He says there are hundreds of potentially valuable services for farmers and rural businesses, if only they could access them. But they can’t.

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“In our modern cellular world, service should be seamless, especially when safety is an issue and human lives are at stake. There are many cell dead spots along the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border. We’ve had school buses in minus 40 getting stuck and the driver had to walk to the nearest farm to use a landline to call for help.

“That’s not the only issue. We’ve had farm accidents in our area, arms caught in augers and people run over by machinery. The ambulance cannot always find these people. The ambulance is all over the place trying to find the victim. We had one instance when a young child drowned in a pool and the ambulance couldn’t find the location for six hours. It’s just plain sad.”

Penner says people in his area have gone to great lengths to get cell service.

He said the old cell phone TDMA systems were reliable and had decent signals, but with the new technology, people can have four bars on the phone and still can’t make a call.

“In my area, I can see the tower. I can see it blinking at me, but I can’t get cell service. A lot of it has to do with bad tower location. Why don’t they at least put the towers up on high hills so they function properly?

“More towers and repeaters would give us better GPS accuracy. We’re supposedly moving into a new technological frontier, but rural people are being shut out because we don’t have access to the communication technology.

“If I could donate five acres for a tower, I’d gladly do that. I think other farmers would too. So let’s get farmers to donate five-acre plots of land in key locations so the service providers can set up towers or repeaters or boosters that work. It’s well worth the cost of five acres of land.”

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  • Richard

    Same in Haiti, pretty good coverage in most of the rural areas, and at a fraction of the price. I pay more every month to Telus for my Canadian phone to be in the vacation/sleep mode (and not be using it) than I do for literally unlimited data and minutes here on my Haitian phone every month.

  • old grouchy

    Sorry – – – but to deprive those wonderful Canadian companies of their income would be so devastating for them. They need more income (the senior management needs bigger bonuses you know!)

  • enforcer

    In Africa its a way for the government/dictators to keep control over its people. Its one of the most important pieces of ownership and was determined many of the peasants were willing to give up food and even water in favor of a mobile phone. Dont think Ottawa or the phone companies care about a few farmers in Sask or Manitoba not having cell coverage in a couple spots on thier farm. In Africa, it would be a revolt by many.

    • old grouchy

      Maybe its time for a revolt?
      I’m not seeing how Ottawa is useful or even applicable.
      Phone companies really are 2 – – – bellus and rogers – – – the major interest there is the senior execs getting their quarterly bonuses.

      • Harold

        The CRTC certainly pretends that they are protecting the public interests along with the other pretenders in Ottawa. If the CRTC were to ban yearly contracts and allow only monthly contracts, the public could protest and bring the Corporate to their knees. So, who are they protecting; us or them? (Corporate) For example, 20 million – 3 year contracts – the expiry dates are scattered amid the three year period – therefore they do not expire all on the same day – this allows the corporate their stronghold (stranglehold) over the public. Cell phones have become a necessary business and family tool and combined with a three year or two year contract, how can anyone “revolt” and who will listen? The one receiving all the money is the listener, and CRTC protected, they have a deaf ear.
        That being the case, why do we so automatically think that the mind of the government is the answer to all of our problems and so readily dismiss public oversight as the answer or remedy; how did we as a population become so foolish?

  • Darall Snyder

    We did a tour of Scandinavian countries, in and out of the fjords, we always had at least 3 bars, and the phone always worked. I can see the tower flashing on the Greenwater Hill tour, 12 miles away, and if you stand in the exact spot you MIGHT get one bar. When I questioned Sask Tel I heard a couple of disturbing answers, one was they said maybe the antenna is pointed in the wrong direction. Let’s think about that for a half a second. Another statement I got from a Sask Tel rep was, ” why do we need to build more towers in Saskatchewan? Despite the service issues, it has not stopped anyone in the province from owning a cell phone. These are the people in charge of all our other services as well. YIKES


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