Before I begin, a little primer on how wireless internet access works here in Manitoba. The ISP (internet service provider) puts a big honking antennae up somewhere. You then have an antennae or “dish” installed on your roof/garage/tower, or another area high enough that something like a bus passing your house won’t knock out your internet connection. That antennae is hooked up to something resembling a cable modem, which then hooks up to your computer/router/etc. Now these are both 2-way transmitter/receivers, which means you don’t need to also use a phone line (the way satellite systems work). They’re also (surprisingly) pretty low-latency. What this means is that you gamers out there can play your online games without getting “lag”. Now on to my story…
Today, the weather was less than desirable. By that, I mean wet snow coming down, typical for March here in Manitoba. Our internet connection was of course acting up, disconnecting at times, and other times just plain being slow. Yet it didn’t really bother me, and here’s why….
For those not familiar with Manitoba, Canada, there is really only 1 major city (Winnipeg), and then a couple other small cities. A great deal of Manitoba’s population is in rural areas. Unfortunately, for services like Cable TV and High-Speed Internet, most of us are literally ‘left out in the cold.’
That is, until high-speed wireless came about. We started out on dial up, and were on it for years until we got a notice in the mail around the summer of 2003 or 2004 from our Rural Municipality, letting us know that a company called “Rainy Day” was hoping to offer high speed wireless. There was a town hall meeting about it, and I of course felt compelled to attend.
During the meeting, I basically learned that they already provided service to Niverville, and were hoping to bring the service to Lorette as well. Now Lorette already had high-speed DSL offered through MTS, but since many people live in the outlying areas, this really sparked interest.
The meeting went well, most were for the arrangement between the Municipality and Rainy Day, and work on the project began. It was expected to take a few months for the tower to go up.
Our plan at home was to sign up as soon as it became available. Believe it or not, we had 4 or 5 computers sharing the same dial-up connection using ICS (internet connection sharing) built into Windows XP. Not only does that mean the connection was slow, but we’re also big Warcraft III fans here, and playing 4v4’s got to be quite difficult when someone else checking their email (or an anti-virus program updating itself at an inconvenient time) meant we would ‘lag out’ or get disconnected.
Finally, Rainy Day’s internet became available, but there was a problem… A maximum transfer of 1GB/month. Figure that driver packages can be 30MB+, service packs can be 250MB+, and so on, and you’ll see that 1GB doesn’t go very far. In fact, with dial-up I think we were probably pushing 2GB. On top of that, there was a $300 start up fee, and then somewhere between $50-70/month. This wasn’t really acceptable, so after searching around, I came across a company called Skyweb.
Now Skyweb’s actually been around for quite some time, even before Rainy Day. They’re also known as Skycable, as they offer both wireless internet and wireless cable television. They haven’t been really popular though, probably because they suffered massive growing pains in the beginning years of operation. Anyway, aside from the technical problems they had, they also over-sold their service at one point in time, so it was painfully slow. In fact, they stopped doing new installations, which meant we couldn’t use them. The good news was that they had no bandwidth limit, cost around $45/month, and had a $150 sign up fee that was waived if you stayed on for a year. The bad news is that every time I phoned, they told me “we’re not doing any more installations in your area right now… try back in a month”.
Months and months went by, and finally when phoning one day and asking “are you doing installations in the Lorette area yet?” I got a yes. This was around Christmas holidays, and unfortunately the day they were supposed to do the install (which I even booked off of work), they had over-booked, and we didn’t get the install until the following Saturday. I was actually quite irked, because after all this waiting… well I finally had to wait some more. Plus I booked the day off of work which meant I lost out on some money.
Saturday came, and the install went well…. until the installers left and I tried to log on to Hotmail. The connection dropped. When it came back up, Hotmail caused a drop again. So did Windows Update, and a couple other sites. After phoning, and spending a while having them switch us back and forth between “subnets”, things finally worked, and aside from hiccups here and there, it hasn’t been bad.
So it’s a year later, and the connection is still going quite well. Our house is somewhere between 30-50km away from the tower, yet we hit probably 500-1000kbps on average for a download speed (which is a lot better than what our 56k modem that actually did about 30kbps used to do). Instead of getting disconnected from 75% of our Warcraft games, we get disconnected from less than 1%. Ping times are always over 100ms, but it’s still not that bad. Sure, the service is worse than what DSL would be, but we’ve had much worse, and when we get days like today, I simply think about the way things used to be, and I all of a sudden feel much better. That is why the flaky connection in this weather doesn’t bother me. We’ve had years of agony with dial up, so if our wireless high speed decides to puke out every now and then, I’m inclined to say “oh well” and spend the time reminiscing about the old days.
For those interested in Skyweb, simply drop by to Skyweb.ca (Web Archive). For those interested in Rainy Day, they have since increased their package to 5GB bandwidth/month, and they’re available at RainyDay.ca.
Update: Skyweb is long gone. They sold their spectrum to a consortium created by Bell/Telus and just left all their equipment. Fortunately a few smaller players have arrived since this was written (High Speed Crow as an example), as well as some larger players (Xplornet).