Friday, November 27, 2009

How Fast Is Slow?

Results Are In

Wow - that was a whirlwind tour - but the timing was perfect. Got to meet some first class people and talk to some enthusiastic motivated locals. It only strengthens my drive to move out to Powell River sooner than planned.

Anyways sitting in Victoria now, on a high speed connection. The view is not as nice and it's definitely noisier, but I have time to type everything in as promised, before returning to Calgary on Sunday. At the bottom of this post, please leave your comments, personal thoughts and findings so others can benefit.

If you haven't had a chance to read the PRRD report prepared by Joseph McLean (from Second Flux), please make an effort to get a copy from the PRRD office or download it (1.6MB). You'll be very impressed with his work - all the areas, options and topics were covered in depth in a very very short timeframe.

My testing took place over two days - all on the North side - but was fairly consistent throughout. It differed from Joseph's testing as I went into the homes or at the very least into the driveways of the users that requested testing. I'll summarize my results and recommendations right off the top. For those that want details, I'll enclose those at the bottom of the post. I won't get into many technical details - those are explained very well in Joseph's report.

As you may have read in the previous post, I tested Bell's new product which is supposed to use the same high-speed network as the new Telus 306 Aircard, and a lower speed Telus Compass 597 (almost identical to their current Compass 598 offering).

Although I really went in wanting to prove Bell's product as comparable or even better than Telus, it's hard to recommend anything they're offering right now to the majority of rural users outside Powell River in the Lund area. The main reason I say this is that they offer no stick with an external antenna option - and my testing showed that this was an absolute requirement for almost every case. The only exceptions were those that already had clear unfettered access to a strong cell phone signal - in those cases the new HSPA network showed remarkable speeds up to 1Mbps (1000k/sec).

Even in that scenario, unless you have a Bell plan already, I'd still recommend the Telus High Speed product offering, the (Aircard 306) over Bell. My reasoning being the low cost of Telus's 1Gb plan and the Aircard's external antenna option.

However, for the majority of residents situated in amongst big cedars with a line of sight to nothing other than the stars at night, I think the only choice is to go with the Telus Compass 598 and a 500MB ($30/mo) or 1GB ($35/mo) plan. Even though these are the CDMA cellular modems that the report suggests may become obsolete, it is highly unlikely that this technology will disappear for several years - especially since it seems to be more reliable in poor line of sight conditions.

Right now, there is little downside at all to this option. For $0 down on a 1 year contract, and a monthly fee similar to the dial-up fee being charged right now, you can free up a phone line while using Internet and increase your download speed from 20-40 k/second to 120-500k/sec with an antenna and extension cable. Telus is also offering free shipping (2-5 days) and the first two months of your contract with unlimited data - so you can assess your needs.

I've posted a summary of the Telus web page where they summarize a good data comparison of what can be done for 500MB and 1GB and up.

Finally, the antenna. I haven't done any antenna research so if people can report on what options they found, that would help. If anyone wants to buy the same antenna I did, they can do it through the eBay seller "sunsunsun". I've sent him an email to see if his company will give a discount for multiple users. Let me know if you're interested in this option and I'll see if there's a local company that'll bring them in with a bulk order. If you just can't wait, here's the links - seller is in U.S. but ships USPS Express Post, so it arrives fairly quickly (5 days?) and you shouldn't have to pay any duties like you do with FedEx and UPS:
11 db antenna (same one I used) US$28 + $34 shipping
13 db antenna (stronger signal booster) US$35 + $34 shipping

One more thing I'd love to heard more about is Bill Norris's cell phone signal booster - referred to in the report, and apparently purchased from a company in Powell River for around $300. Bill reported a large gain in signal strength and you aren't tied down to an antenna cable. I'd like to get more details on this and if it adds to cell phone signal as well. Please report back.

Thanks a lot to everyone.

Details of Testing

Speeds measured at, typically choosing either the San Franciso server or Toronto server.

Jean McKenzie (7970 Southview Rd)
Location: End of driveway by chicken coop
Antenna: Truck Roof
Download: 200-320 kb/sec
Upload: 50-122 kb/sec

Martin Mitchinson/Jurgen Koppen (end of Plummer Creek Rd - at Okeover Inlet)
Location: indoors
Antenna: inside window ledge (Martin), rooftop (Jurgen)
Download: 390-490 kb/sec
Upload: 35-60 kb/sec

Pete Tebbutt (Craig Road)
Location: indoors
Antenna: inside window
Download: 116 kb/sec
Upload: 43 kb/sec

Location: upstairs
Antenna: rooftop
Download: 200+kb/sec (testing results not noted because of excessive plum wine)
Upload: ? kb/sec

Quarry Place - Lund (2 locations)
Location: indoors
Antenna: outdoors
Download: 200-380 kb/sec
Upload: 56-66 kb/sec

Steve Ervington (9510 Malaspina Road)
Location: end of driveway
Antenna: on truck roof
Download: 380 kb/sec
Upload: 20 kb/sec

Peter Parlevliet (3893 Lund Hwy)
Location: indoors
Antenna: inside window (facing Vancouver Island)
Download: 350-500 kb/sec (Telus); 940 kbs (Bell)
Upload: 70-125 kb/sec (Telus); 275 kb/sec (Bell)


  1. Thanks Don for your time and effort, very much appreciated. I'm investigating Bill's setup and will post what I find. I look forward to your next visit. Pete

  2. Thanks Pete - I know Jurgen is also looking.

    From Joseph's report...
    "Area residents have used cellular amplifiers by Wilson Electronics, for around $300. A good use for
    these devices are homes where cellular coverage barely exists, e.g. coverage is present from the
    driveway or the roof of the dwelling. We have not tested this technology; this month an Area A resident
    reported an incredible gain from “barely any service” to 4 out of 5 bars. Wilson amplifiers are available
    from North Island Communications in Campbell River BC • 1 877 977 9207 •"

  3. Don: This is Bill Norris. I have, after proper connections, I now have 5 bars out of 5 and absolutely no problems in the last 8 days of checking this system out. The system works great and the biggest downfall is the 1 GB usage you have in a month for $35.00. Basically you can only surf the net and get emails and absolutely no downloading of movies and facebook and youtube are hard on the usage as well. You are welcome to come and see the system working any time. Phone: 604-483-2164

  4. Hey Bill:

    Appreciate taking the time to update me. I know Jurgen talked to you as well and has ordered one for himself. He's also going to try out the new HSPA stick from Telus (Aircard 306, I think) - that's what they're recommending though I'm not sure the signal is as strong as the older technology.

    I agree with what you're saying about usage limits - dialup imposes its own self-limiting feature, but when you finally have true high-speed access, it's amazing how fast the data piles up.

  5. Hi Don, thanks for all your work on this. I had your brother come up to our house (you and he checked out a signal in our driveway)and try his stick with is antenna and we got a weak but useable signal from our third story bedroom...promising!
    So I decided to go ahead and buy an aircard from Telus. They offered me a Huawei E182E card on a 2 year plan (salesperson said this was a better card than the 306). I also had Glen Roscovich of RossComm here in town set up an antenna on my roof with a wilson dual band booster amplifier to my stick. Unfortunately we can't pick up any signal. Any ideas on why this set up isn't working? The Huawei literature says it's stick covers Band widths from 1900-800MHz. Glen could get coverage on his Blackberry both in our driveway and on our third floor with the booster antenna but still spotty. Very aggravating! Any ideas would be appreciated. I'm still hopeful there is a solution! Thanks, Steve Ervington

  6. I did look at the literature and noted that it is supposed to have an external antenna option, which I think makes all the difference. Even though sales reps from both Telus and Bell always beg to differ about this need, they just don't comprehend the extent to which the term, 'rural' applies out here.

    I would ask Glen if he has any external antenna options that boost the 900MHz range - I really do not think you'll be able to get the High-speed range out there. In theory, Marty's antenna should work on your modem just as well if you want to call him again.

    something around 7.5 to 9dbi gain with magnetic mount might work best. Antenna mounted on metal is supposed to be ideal.

    here's an eBay product of something that might work.

    Saying that though, I do know Jurgen Koppen was able to configure his Wilson Booster to work - but he also had to add a wireless router in close proximity in order to boost the signal throughout his house. Without the wireless router, the signal was only strong enough when the Internet stick was VERY CLOSE to the booster.



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