Remote Locations Need Reliable Communications

TOM METZNER, BULL MOOSE CAMP, RED LAKE

Since times have changed it has been a real challenge operating a remote business without basic things like a private phone line, answering machine and fax machine. The Bell FM radio phone was a marvel in its day and on many days still works fine but we now have some different options.

About 8 years ago we purchased an MSAT Satellite phone to serve as a critical backup when the Bell system was down or if busy, in an emergency situation. However at a dollar a minute for inbound, outbound or unanswered calls we found the system to be cost prohibitive for our business.

In search of an alternative to the satellite phone, we figured the solution was to use Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP with a high-speed satellite internet link. This would allow us to make and receive phone calls using our internet connection instead of a phone line. Since HughesNet was being sold by an outfit called C-Com and available in northwestern Ontario, this was the obvious choice for a high-speed satellite internet provider and phone system. When we first looked into VoIP, Hughes was coming out soon with the DW6040 Voice Appliance.

In year two of having the Hughes system we upgraded to a higher bandwidth plan before finally giving up on the system and buying a Vonage VoIP phone system. Although we were suppose to get 200 kbps of uplink speed with the Hughes system we estimated that we experienced something closer to 20 to 60 kbps. When we changed to the Vonage phone with the Hughes satellite internet, the phone worked great but reception was choppy and the phone was therefore impossible to use. At the end of the season we took the Vonage phone with us and plugged it into a DSL connection for the winter. What a great system- phone & fax, call forwarding plus voice mail and email notification when you have messages. One phone number and no matter where you go, just plug into any high speed Internet service and you’ve got your phone.

Because the Vonage phone did not seem to work at camp, in the third year we again gave C-Com and Hughes a try that involved a $1500 upgrade to the newest Hughes DW7700 Satellite modem and 2 watt transmitter. We hoped that this would give us the speed and power for the Hushes system to work. Another re-point and a new contract for the 1.5 Mb download and 300 kbps upload speed plan only to result in the system still not working. As before the speed tests came back time and again at far less than what we were paying for and even though they were higher, the VoIP phone did not work.

After continued frustrations with the upgraded Hughes system we heard of the new Ka Band satellite system being sold under various brands (we ended up purchasing XplorNet). We learned that this new high-speed internet satellite service was very reasonable priced and that our problems may be solved. We signed up for installation and a contract for the same 1.5 Mb / 300 kbps plan as with C-Com and immediately after getting it up and running, we had great phone service! WOW!

Don’t get me wrong, we still have some issues and the Bell phone isn’t going away just yet. Currently, with Vonage when we make or receive a call, there is a 5 to 10 second delay before we can be heard. Once they say ‘hello’ a couple of times and you get past that, it’s very normal. On occasion, people will hang up and when you re-dial even the confused eventually stay on the line a little longer.

We’re still not able to get our fax to work reliably but that’s likely just because I’m tired of playing with things and now that the phone works, I’m happy enough. The only experiment still underway is a test of another VoIP service to make a comparison of the ‘hook up’ delays. We’re awaiting the delivery and activation soon and will leave a report on the NOTO bulletin board where we’ve been posting our saga.

Anyone interested in the Ka Band satellite system should go ahead and do it. You’ll never regret it and if things go well, you may even still get 75% of the cost of it (max. $1000) paid for under a funding program delivered by NEOnet.

The program is called SIRA http://www.neonet.on.ca/projects/sira.php and the contact person is Sharon Jones sjones@neonet.on.can

Editor's Note: The SIRA program has now come to an end and that is why a hyperlink has not been provided for it.


This article was taken from page 20 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Fall 2006 Issue

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