Looking for a cell mate
NMI Mobility appeals to GNWT

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 25/98) - Cellular phone services is in demand in a number of Northern communities but without government support, it's not likely to arrive.

Glenn Nicol, vice-president and general manager of NMI Mobility, which supplies cell phone service to the North, said cost-effectiveness is paramount for NMI's sustainability.

"From a pure economics point of view, we require a community to have at least 4,000 people in it." Nicol said. "We're a company that is not guaranteed any kind of rate of return. We have to be very risk-astute about where we go and spend our capital."

Therefore, NMI has been consulting with the GNWT in hopes the territorial government will become partners in the venture. The GNWT may have a vested interest because it is reconstructing the highway between Yellowknife and Rae-Edzo. Cell phones would obviously improve communication there.

"We are in discussions with (the GNWT) and we hope they will result in a positive, joint response," Nicol said.

Rae-Edzo MLA James Rabesca, would undoubtedly be pleased to see cell-phone service. During the last sitting of the legislative assembly, he said, "We all want the ability to communicate with our neighbors and the world.... It has been proven countless times that people with a cellular phone can react to emergency calls faster that people without," Rabesca said.

"If you are outside the 35-kilometre (range from Yellowknife), it takes at least 30 or 40 minutes of life-saving time to get in touch with the RCMP or ambulance services."

Cells phones are also in demand in Fort Smith. NMI wants to find out how much demand there is for cellular phone service in the community, so Martselos said he is planning to conduct a survey.

"I think it's important because there's demand from business people," Martselos said. "Every other community has this service and we feel left out."

Nicol confirmed that a certain percentage of interest is also necessary. As is the amount customers' monthly bills are likely to average. "It's easy to say, 'Give me cellular service.' There's extraordinary cost involved to put a tower, put up a site, to put up the hardware," Nicol said.

He estimated that in the North those costs can run from $375,000 to $500,000. Between the cellular network and the Aurora network, Nicol said NMI has approximately $15 million dollars worth of cell sites, which includes service in the Yukon and northern B.C.

The news is good for Iqaluit, though. NMI is planning to have a cell site and a paging network operational by September, Nicol said.