Improving Cell Service

Strong and reliable cellular services are critical to help rural communities take part in the economy, create jobs and improve public safety. EORN is spearheading a $300-million public-private partnership to improve cell service across the region. Both the federal and provincial governments have contributed $71 million each while an additional $10 million has been contributed from the members of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC) and most municipalities within the Eastern Ontario Mayors’ Caucus (EOMC). Rogers Communications has been selected through a competitive bidding process to improve the coverage and capacity of cell networks in the region and will be contributing the balance of the funding. 

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The EORN Cell Gap Project is designed to improve cell coverage across the area where people live, work and travel. It aims to provide:

  •    -99 per cent of the area with voice calling services.
  •    -At least 95 per cent of the area with standard-definition (SD) level services, such as video-app calls, basic app usage and streaming of SD video.
  •    -At least 85 per cent of the area with service levels that can support streaming high-definition video and more data-intensive apps. 

 

While the project will expand cell data coverage and capacity to support the use of typical smartphone apps and streaming video, the project also has the potential to:

  •    -Create more than 3,000 full-time equivalent jobs and spur $420 million in new business revenue over 10 years.
  •    -Improve safety so people aren’t left stranded with “no signal.”
  •    -Provide greater choice to residents in areas where traditional broadband isn’t available.
  •    -Ready the region for the next evolution of technology.

 

The Cell Gap Project will be built with an eye to the future. All new equipment that is installed across the region as part of this project will be designed to support the transition to 5G technology. EORN is committed to ensuring that all residents, businesses and municipalities in eastern Ontario benefit from the roll out of 5G, but we also understand there may be questions. EORN has compiled a 5G Resource Guide to help in answering those questions and direct readers to more information from government agencies and other respected organizations.

Read more about EORN’s project to improve cell service and timelines for next steps

 

Cell Gap Project Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why do we need to improve cell service?
Dropped calls and spotty cell service are common across rural eastern Ontario. There are gaps in both cell coverage and capacity. At the same time, demand is growing as people depend more and more on smartphones and tablets for work, social connections, entertainment and to access public services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased demand for connectivity as more people work, socialize and access services from home.
We need to expand cell service to fill the gaps so that the region can compete economically. Reliable cell services across the region is also important for public safety.

Is EORN still working to expand fixed broadband services?
EORN continues to work on further expanding fixed broadband services. It has completed a study to find out how to bring internet speeds of one gigabit per second (1 Gbps/1,000 Mbps) to homes and businesses in the region. It is talking to both the provincial and federal governments about how to reach that goal.
EORN’s initial project built a fibre-optic backbone and other infrastructure across the region that can be used to further improve both fixed and mobile broadband access.

Why are we providing funding to telecommunications providers?
Building the infrastructure to serve a large, sparsely populated region is costly. By partnering with telecommunications providers, and providing some funding, we can improve their business case for investing in improved services.
This model has been effective. With EORN’s earlier broadband project, private sector partners contributed more than expected and then went on to invest on their own to further expand services – to the tune of about $100 million.
In addition to the cell project, we need to continue investing to meet the constantly growing demand for bandwidth. The EORN Gig Project would serve the region well into the future.

When will cell services improve?
Work to enhance existing structures and acquire new sites will begin this spring and the service provided through these enhancements will improve as they go live. Service throughout the area will improve gradually in stages, as work rolls out over the next four to five years. The project is expected to be complete by 2025.

How did EORN decide where it would improve cell service?
To create a solution for eastern Ontario, EORN needed to map a “demand area,” which is where there are homes, businesses, and major roads. This is the area where EORN wants to see new or improved services.
EORN used data from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) which is responsible for tax assessment of all properties across Ontario. MPAC has the most reliable and detailed data available on commercial, industrial and residential properties, including whether a property is multi-unit or seasonal, etc. This helped to model the cell capacity that would be needed to meet the demand for services.

Will there be more cell towers?
The only way to deliver better cell service coverage is through more towers. Rogers expects to build more than 300 new cell sites as part of the project, in addition to upgrading more than 300 existing sites. In the request for proposal, EORN encouraged tower sharing and the use of existing infrastructure to reduce the number of new towers needed.

Who determines where towers go?
Tower locations are regulated by the federal government and all companies must comply with local zoning by-laws and follow local siting protocols. Municipal councils generally must provide agreement with a tower before it can be built. We won’t know the location of new tower sites until after we go through the procurement process.

How is health and safety protected?
All Canadian telecommunication providers must build their mobile networks based on established industry standards and safety guidelines set out by Health Canada. Both Health Canada and the World Health Organization say that the exposure to radio frequency from cell towers is well below any health risk.

Are you consulting with Indigenous groups and communities about the Cell Gap Project?
Yes. We believe in and are committed to meaningful consultation with First Nations and Métis about the Cell Gap Project and will do so in the spirit of good faith, mutual respect and honesty. We look forward to their guidance throughout the process and in keeping with our Aboriginal relations policy. Please contact us if you have further questions about EORN’s duty to consult.

The news release and full announcement video are also available.