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Wireless Internet access in Canada is behind the times

A few years ago, I bought a Fido GPRS (general packet radio service) card for my laptop, and an unlimited data plan. Two years ago, Rogers bought Fido, and now, the GPRS service is virtually unusable -- except in Ottawa.

When I first bought the GPRS card, the unlimited data plan worked without interruption pretty much anywhere. Using the dial-up speed cellular Internet connection, I could get on the Internet from anywhere within Fido's limited service area. In south-western Ontario, that was pretty much anywhere between Oshawa and Windsor. It also worked in much of the US. The GPRS card worked in Linux, a critical requirement for any laptop Internet adapter for me, and everything was good.

Two years ago, Rogers bought Fido. I was concerned that the company would be gutted, but was happy to hear that Fido would be a more or less independent company within Rogers, with its own phones and its own plans, and its existing customers would not, ostensibly, be affected.

Not long after that, my GPRS became less reliable. A year later, it became evident that Rogers was removing Fido's infrastructure and places where I used to have Fido service but my friends did not have Rogers service quickly disappeared.

My GPRS connection began to hang up on me. If I used the connection actively, it would hang up on me after 12 minutes, like clockwork. Because the IPs are dynamic, any time I reconnected, all my TCP connections were broken. For the non-technical reader, that means it became a pain in the rump to use. A call to Fido's once-useful tech support yielded no useful information.

I spent the past week in Ottawa attending a conference (more about that here: 1, 2, 3, 4). On the way there, my friends and I used the GPRS card to get on the Internet from highways 401 and 417. As always, the connection cut out every 12 minutes, like clockwork. As we approached Ottawa on the 417, the connection stayed up. It worked all the way to our hotel with no further interruptions.

A couple of evenings later, still at the conference, still in Ottawa, a dinner reception room had no wireless reception. I put my GPRS card in my laptop and got on line. It survived, uninterrupted, through the reception.

Yesterday, we left Ottawa, and again connected through GPRS. It required no reconnection and worked reliably until we got outside of the Ottawa area. The rest of the way home, it cut off every 12 minutes.

I can only assume that Rogers does not wish to irritate government officials from Canadian and former governments by hanging up on them, but us lowly regular customers are clearly not important enough to them for such consideration.

I'd like to get a Blackberry, as nearly everyone seems to have lately, but for something comparable to what GPRS+laptop gives me, the cost is utterly exorbitant. My Fido GPRS unlimited package has been grandfathered. It is no longer offered, but as long as I don't cancel it, I still have it. I'm therefore very reluctant to give it up without a better option.

Fido does not offer a Blackberry, though they do offer a competing device called a hiptop. Telus offers a CDMA-based blackberry with limited data and a TCP stack. The TCP stack works, but accounts I have read on line are that some ports are blocked. This means that the blackberry is capable of using the Internet like any connected computer, except that some services are blocked. Bell offers a great, high data limit plan on their blackberry, but offers no TCP stack. Rogers offers the best blackberry plan: a full, unblocked TCP stack -- but at a cost of around $100 per month with a data cap of a mere 25MB. I would use that up in a week without difficulty. At least they no longer seem to be calling this "unlimited".

I'm still holding out hope that we will have inexpensive, widespread, third-generation wireless Internet access in Canada before Europe and the far East arrive at the next generation of wireless connectivity.

Meanwhile, I'll carry on with the GPRS, reconnecting every 12 minutes.

Posted at 12:07 on July 24, 2006

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

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Randall writes at Tue Aug 1 12:09:32 2006...

Rogers maxes out at 100MB, and telus and bell have 250MB plans. Anybody with unlimited data plans for wireless?

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