Manitoba — Where Cell Phone Coverage is as Rare as a Rider Fan

I frequently travel to “friendly Manitoba” for business. Manitoba is the proud home of the Winnipeg Jets (after a brief hiatus), a brand new Human Rights Museum, and some of the most productive farmland in Canada. Some of my best friends and business clients proudly call Manitoba home. Manitobans carry a provincial pride that rivals any other province, based on my experience.

In many provinces the rural/urban divide is divisive and provides the opportunity for conflict. The imbalance of resource allocation from corporate Canada and government can be the cause of much of the conflict. Manitoba is a perfect example of the issues that arise from having two major cities (Winnipeg and Brandon) and a rather sparse population throughout the countryside.

What is happening in Manitoba to rural residents  has to be fixed — I’m talking about the cell-phone-signal-bubble that sits over Winnipeg, and is a bone of contention for the agricultural industry. For many of us that visit Manitoba and travel outside the Winnipeg perimeter we know we will have zero cell phone coverage (some carriers are worse than others).  I am a Telus customer (not a small provider) and once I leave the perimeter I get zero signal no matter if I am in Morris, Morden or Portage.

For much of the rest of the Prairies, we’ve come to expect a broadband world. In Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta, many rural areas are starting to even receive access to LTE. In Manitoba some people are lucky to be able to make phone call, never mind surf the internet or use an app. Many urban areas are already focused on the release of a super speed 5G network in the future, but you can’t even send a text if you’re an hour from the city?

The disadvantages that this brings to rural Manitoba is more than not being able to post a picture to Facebook but more about industry’s ability to do business in rural Manitoba (and this isn’t even starting to tackle the issue of high speed home and office connections — a short-coming of rural Ontario, too, not just in Western Canada).

The current situation is not acceptable in 2014. Not only does the lack of mobile broadband disadvantage industry but also the farmers that want to be able to have the communication advantages that their farming peers enjoy in the rest of Canada. Change needs to happen before Manitoba farmers are left further in the communication dust.

 

Shaun Haney

Shaun Haney is the founder of RealAgriculture.com. He creates content regularly and hosts RealAg Radio on Rural Radio 147 every weekday at 4PM est.

@shaunhaney

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6 Comments

Lyndsey Smith

In fairness, I’ve lived in Manitoba and traveled to Saskatchewan and had similar shoddy connectivity. When I lived in Saskatchewan, I’d travel to Manitoba and have zero coverage. Your carrier plays a major role — and visitors and residents alike pay the toll.

That said, smartphones seem to be hardest hit. If you well and truly just want to talk or text, basic phones have fine reception, but want to do anything beyond that and sorry but you’re SOL.

Also, the bigger issue, in my mind, is high speed access — rural Ontario struggles just as much as the West with spotty or uber expensive options. That’s hampering progress for sure!

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Shaun Haney

In terms of cost of mobile data and talk, Canada is one of the most expensive in the first world. Its really too bad for all consumers, urban and rural.

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Dieter Schwarz

Telus something we don’t know!

Seriously though, MTS is the only way to go outside of the city. Locals know this, but I am thankful that you brought up the issue that visitors to our friendly province face. This is a regular problem for my work colleagues, and I hope it gets addressed soon. Part of the problem is of course the sharing of infrastructure, or in this case towers.

Joel

I can definitely attest to it being a carrier thing. As a Rogers customer I get reasonable service, though not exceptional, from anywhere in the southern half of the province. When I was on MTS it was a little better.

If you’re a Manitoban and you want to travel through Saskatchewan though? You may as well invest in a satellite phone.

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Derek

Used to be a Rogers customer here in MB. ran out my contract and never again (I hope). Coverage was somewhat okay as I travelled in the rural area, however travelling #16 to Sask. brutal. No coverage around Saltcoats, screwed if you traveled north of #16 west of Yorkton. Got onto MTS, problem solved. So feel sorry for those on Telus, etc., coming into the province. Maybe with the recent Sellinger debacle that is going on, 2016, maybe the government controlled MTS will get sold off and we can experience some better cell service that they have been talking about. Sure wish Version or AT&T or Sprint would come into Canada and shake up the monopoly.

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Ben

It would be great if the signal was improved, but in fairness, it’s because a Telus phone (among others) doesn’t talk to the MTS/Rogers network. (MTS and Rogers use a shared HSPA+ network/towers. They used to be separate with MTS’s CDMA network and Rogers’ GSM network, but basically any modern Rogers or MTS phone uses the newer shared HSPA+ network.)

LTE is becoming available in most towns with more than a couple thousand people. It’s not available where I live out in the country though. The speed is good, but with data costing ~ $10/GB, it’s not a cheap high-speed Internet solution.

There are definitely bad coverage spots. A lot of farmers have cell boosters in their trucks to get around this.

It would be great for the coverage to improve, but it’s not as bad as if we had Telus.

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