Thursday, June 18, 2009

Infrastructure issues plague CityWest cellular service

As we outlined recently on this portal, CityWest's recent cellular problems have raised the interest, not to mention the temperature of local residents over the last couple of weeks, as they begin to ruminate on the reliability of their cel phone service and if the problems are going to be an ongoing concern.

To perhaps try and head off some of the bad karma that last week provided for the city owned telephone and cable operator, CityWest took their case to the Daily News, outlining the cause of the recent troubles and outlining how they hope to address them in the future.

For much of the difficulties, it seems that a finger can be pointed (if such behaviour is polite here) towards Northwestel, the city's "partner" in cellular services, which suffered a number of unusual circumstances over the last little while, all of which seem to have culminated in the crashing nature of CityWest cellular service.

Capacity however seems to have also been a local problem, especially on Seafest weekend and to that end the onus it seems is on CityWest to improve the nature of the in town platform on which the subscriber base is relying on.

The blueprint for future improvement and the mea culpas of the past week were provided in Wednesday's Daily News.

Fibre optic issues affect CityWest
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Pages one and two

CityWest said Tuesday that infrastructure problems originating out of Whitehorse and the surrounding areas of the Yukon and Northern B.C. were the main culprits for sporadic cell service last week.

Troubled cell service during the past week had not kept CityWest customers very happy, which the cell phone service operator acknowledged and promised to do better.

"This has obviously been a difficult week for our cellular customers, so we want to communicate to customers why these problems occurred and what we're doing about it," said Rob Brown, CEO of CityWest.

The first outage occurred on Wednesday, June 10 at noon pacific time. This outage affected all cellular traffic in Prince Rupert and was caused by a fibre optic cable break on the Alaska Highway near Whitehorse. Service was affected for approximately three hours.

The second occurred June 11 around 2:30 p.m.

This outage affected Internet service over the cellular network for approximately three hours. Voice services were unaffected. The outage was caused by a data network problem, also in Whitehorse.

The third outage occurred late Sunday evening June 14 around 11 p.m. Pacific time. This outage affected all cellular traffic in Prince Rupert and was caused by damage to a fibre cable by the Smith River wildfire near the BC- Yukon border.

"First on the fibre breaks, although we can't 'control when this kind of thing occurs, our efforts are on ensuring that these circuits are backed up so that a fibre-break can't bring down the network. With the data outage, this again is an unusual problem, but we can take steps to avoid or even minimize this problem in future should it reoccur," said Brown.

"The problems occurred with Northwestel facilities, so we are working with our partners to make changes with us," continued Brown.

Unusual conditions had led to the lack of back-up systems, which would have ensured that services continued uninterrupted, said the company. The Smith River wildfire had forced Northwestel to reroute telecommunications signals from its digital radio system to the fibre optic cable to protect services, but this left the company without quick access to an alternative system when the accidental fibre breaks occurred.

Paul Flaherty, President and CEO of Northwestel said that Northwestel recognizes the importance of the cellular and data services it provides to CityWest and apologized for the disruptions in service.

"Two of the outages were caused by circumstances beyond our control, when our fibre optic cable was damaged by other companies or contractors working near our facilities. Northwestel crews worked through the night in both cases to move communications to our backup system," he said.

"We place an extremely high priority on restoring services as quickly as possible during such emergencies." Flaherty added that Northwestel is investigating the cause of the data service outage to prevent a recurrence of that problem.

Regarding the problems during the Seafest parade, Brown explained that it was in fact a capacity problem.

"Each cellular site can only handle so much traffic on it, and during that period there were thousands of phones trying to connect to the downtown cellular site.

The network prioritizes voice service first so customers would have had more difficulty connecting to the Internet on their cell-phones, but would have also noticed some outgoing calls fail during this time," said Brown.

On the capacity issue Brown explained that CityWest and Northwestel are in the process of addressing that as well. "We are planning to upgrade the downtown cellular sites, which would improve cellular data speeds, as well as increase the voice capacity," Concluded Brown.

Flaherty added: "We are looking forward to working with our partner CityWest to upgrade the wireless services offered in Prince Rupert.

"We also want to assure CityWest's customers that we are committed to ongoing improvements in our service and improving emergency processes to minimize the impact on them as much as we can."

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