Rural Internet and Xplornet FTW!

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Earlier in year ( right when COVID was happening ) we purchased a cottage on Lake Koshlong. We’d been looking on the lake for a while and we were excited to close on a cottage.

One of our goals was to be able to work at the cottage so getting internet access and high speed internet was KEY! Initially it looked like several options were available on the CRTC’s Internet Service Availability Map.

Service options, according to CRTC, included:

Bell DSL
Fixed LTE Wireless ( Rural Wave, Cottage Country Internet, Xplornet, Bell Fixed Wireless )
Cellular LTE ( Telus, Rogers and Bell all list LTE support )
Xplornet Satellite

Of these the Bell DSL with a history of service in the northern parts of Canada seemed like the easy choice, our neighbours had it on either side of us on the road and the previous owners had service in the past. Unfortunately after spending weeks calling Bell and trying to order the service they kept insisting it wasn’t available, even though our neighbours have it. Several attempts to escalate and request a Bell technical investigation failed. Bell DSL wouldn’t be an option.

Next we started looking at Fixed LTE Wireless. This is the same technology that cell phones use but on a different band and you can’t move the receiver once setup on a tower outside. Bell again looked like a likely candidate as one of our neighbours had it 400m down the road. Bell failed us again though and insisted they couldn’t install access. Bell Home Internet and Bell mobility kept pointing at each as to why install wasn’t possible.

Next we tried Rural Wave, which is has much better service map on it’s own site showing no access for us. Cottage Country Internet had an online form and promptly responded they had no coverage either. Xplornet indicated they might have 5mb/1mb access and could install Satellite if the Fixed LTE failed. Finally some success but 5MB was pretty slow…

Xplornet LTE Tower

Now looking for greater speed we found the Telus Rural Internet plans. The plans looked great in terms of speeds and data allowance but unfortunately are only available in Alberta and BC despite no region limits on the website.

When talking to Telus support they suggested I could get a Cellular LTE plan for $75 that allows 20GB at month or $115 for 50GB a month. At home we use around 150-250GB per month so I wasn’t too excited about paying several hundred dollars for the same sort of data. I tried calling Bell and Rogers again to see how their plans compared and amazingly they both had the EXACT same plans. No collusion in the Canadian cellular pricing happening here, just 3 providers ALL pricing their plans exactly the same… I chose Bell Mobility’s $75/20GB plan and found an unlocked LTE hub on Facebook marketplace to use as my device.

Lastly I considered Satellite internet and Satellite dish service, this has been around for awhile but the speeds are limited. Xplornet plans at the time was $100 for 10MB and 1MB upload with 100GB limit. The latency on the connection is also a problem for Zoom and video calls. I wasn’t excited about this option and the reviews online had a long list of complaints. Xplornet seems to have shifted away from Satellite service.

One exciting new offering for Satellite Internet by the SpaceX launched Starlink service for high speed internet connections. The service promises faster download speeds similar to broadband internet with small satellites in orbit at a reasonable cost for many rural locations. It looks like service will start in Northern US and Canada with Starlink satellites in 2020. Looking forward to seeing how this service works.Starlink Satellite

With ONLY Xplornet agreeing to provide service we scheduled an install a days after the sale closed. On the day of installation the installer ( a great guy named Tyler from Integrated Solutions ) looked for LTE service with a 20′ pole on our roof. Luckily he was able to get a connection with the LTE tower in Haliburton about 16KM away. When he secured the tower and we ran some speed tests we were amazed to get speed of 25MB down and 2MB up. The latency is also decent at around 20-30s, even in the rain. Success!

When we setup the Bell Mobility LTE we were only getting 3-5MB regularly with a few seconds at a faster speed. We tried several locations around the cottage with no real improvement in speed. The connection also seem to get worse the longer it was used so I suspect Bell Mobility throttles the connection. After a few days with sub optimal speeds we cancelled the service .

I also tried my work iPhone as a hotspot, which is with Rogers but I received no access until I enabled the Data Roaming feature. Despite the Roger’s LTE map showing coverage I couldn’t get access until I connected to Bell via the Bell/Rogers roaming agreement. The speeds via my iPhone were even slower than Bell directly via the Wifi Hub.

We’ve been using Xplornet for a month now and the service has been great. We regularly do video calls and our son does eschool. Last month we used 133GB so we’re slightly less than our city usage but far more than any cellular LTE plan.  It all just works and has been very reliable. Xplornet is working on 50MB LTE and Starlink might offer even faster speeds soon.