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Personal communications

The phone that works everywhere but indoors

Jennifer McPhee
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 17/01) - You can use a mobile phone anywhere in the North.

But how much it costs and what type you need depends on where you are.

In the NWT and Nunavut, NMI Mobility provides cellular phone service to Iqaluit, Hay River, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Yellowknife.

NMI has four cellular sites in the Beaufort Delta area. Two sites are in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. The other two are set up for oil companies in surrounding areas.

Cell phones range in price from $59 to $1,200 and cost roughly 35 cents a minute to use.

But NMI Mobility isn't the only cell phone provider in the North.

New North Networks Ltd., a broad-based communications company, also offers cellular service in Inuvik.

"We put (the system) in place three years ago because NMI wouldn't come into Inuvik at the time," says owner Tom Zubko.

According to Zubko, the town had been asking for cell phone service for awhile. "So we found a system and installed it."

Zubko said the biggest change in cellular technology is the move from analog phones to digital phones. Along with other benefits, digital systems offer more security and clearer calls.

New North Networks was the first to provide a digital cell phone system in the NWT.

"We tend to find ways of bringing technology into smaller communities that are not generally available otherwise."

New North's system is expandable but, "Right now, we are set up to handle 1,000 customers quite effectively," he says.

NMI Mobility also plans to launch a digital system, limited to the Yellowknife area in the NWT, within the next three months. NMI will expand the service to the Beaufort Delta area at a later date.

"For the customer walking around with a cell phone it will mean a longer battery life," says Glenn Nicol, vice-president and general manager of NMI Mobility. It also means customers can send more information from their laptops and send it faster.

The digital system offers a range of features previously available only in the south, including caller I.D., voice-mail indicators and a short message service (SMS). With SMS, customers can sit at their laptops, dial a cell number and leave text messages on the receiver's phone.

"The message can have any kind of message on it," says Nicol. "It could be your favourite stocks."

"The capabilities of a pager are going to be transplanted onto the cell phone," said Nicol.

Satellite only choice

In very remote areas customers need a satellite phone to keep in touch with the rest of the world. Satellite phones cost upwards of $1,300 and roughly 90 cents a minute.

"If you are going hunting, or exploring or even driving up and down the highway, you have to go to a different product," said Jon Liv Jaque, manager of CasCom in Yellowknife.

"You have to go to a satellite phone."

CasCom sells Globalstar satellite phones, which work below the 71st parallel.

Iridium satellite phones, available at New North Networks, work all the way up to the top of Earth. The military, tourists, some remote lodges and the Department of Transportation all use satellite phones. The phones are like gold to exploration companies setting up temporary camps.

Apart from cost, there is one drawback.

"They work anywhere except where you are sitting right now," says Jaque. "They don't work indoors."