Bell MTS rolls out service upgrades

Originally published by the Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Murray McNeill

Bell Canada has begun delivering on some of the promises it made when it acquired MTS with the rollout of a number of new broadband and wireless-service upgrades in Manitoba.

When the company’s $3.9-billion acquisition of MTS was finalized in March of this year, the new entity — Bell MTS — promised to spend $1 billion over the next five years on broadband network and wireless service upgrades.

Bell MTS vice-chair Dan McKeen warned at the time that it would take a while before some of the upgrades would begin to materialize, but that time has now arrived, he told the Free Press Thursday.

“So we’re pretty excited.”

The new network upgrades and service offerings, some of which were reported earlier, include: the completion this week of continuous wireless coverage along Highway 75 from Winnipeg to the U.S. border; the upgrade of its wireless LTE network to LTE-Advanced, which more than doubles the speed of data downloads; the introduction of Bell’s Fibe TV service in select areas of the province, the expansion of its high-speed Fibe internet network to more Manitoba communities; and the introduction early next month of its new cellular service for the new Apple Watch 3, which is expected to hit the market before Christmas.

McKeen noted the company offered wireless coverage along Highway 75 before, but there were dead spots where cellphone calls would be dropped. Now, with the addition of three new cell towers at Silver Plains, St. Jean and Letellier, which will become operational next week, that will no longer be an issue, he added.

McKeen said MTS on its own could have eventually provided some of these new products and upgrades.

“But it would have taken longer and it’s possible we wouldn’t have done them quite as well or quite as extensively,” he added. “It’s the scale and the money… We’re able to do it efficiently because we’re now part of the bigger whole.”

But there are also some things MTS wouldn’t have been able to offer on its own because of the cost, he added. The example he cited was the new Restart feature which is part of the new Fibe TV service. The feature allows customers to restart and watch a TV show up to 30 hours after it started.

“It’s a really nice feature,” McKeen said. “A lot of customers use it… and everybody who has our TV service will get it at no additional cost.”

But he noted providing such a feature isn’t cheap, and would have been cost-prohibitive if it was done only in Manitoba. “But if you’re doing it across the country, it makes sense.”

He said these new products and services are just the beginning.

“There absolutely will be more improvements in both our wireless network and our broadband network in 2018 as well,” he said. “But the specific timing on those we don’t know yet.”

Here is a summary of the upgrades and service offerings unveiled Thursday.

● Bell Fibe Internet, which offers download speeds of up to 940 Mbps, is now available in parts of Beausejour, Blumenort, Brandon, Carberry, Dauphin, Dugald, Gimli,Killarney, La Salle, Lorette, Minnedosa, Mitchell, Morden, Neepawa, Niverville, Oakbank, Oakbluff, Selkirk, Steinbach, Stonewall, The Pas, Thompson, and Winkler.

● Approximately 85 per cent of the Bell MTS wireless network has now been upgraded to LTE-Advanced capability, including in Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage La Prairie, Selkirk, Steinbach, Gimli, Morden, Winkler, Churchill, Thompson, Flin Flon, Falcon Lake, East St. Paul, and Grand Beach. It offers peak theoretical data download speeds of between 300 and 600 Megabits per second, which is more than twice as fast as the speeds that were available before.

● Next week, the company will complete continuous wireless coverage along the Highway 75 corridor between Winnipeg and the U.S. border at Emerson.

● This month, Bell will introduce Fibe TV service in selected areas of the province. The new service will include exclusive television innovations like Restart, which lets customers watch a show already in progress, or up to 30 hours after it has aired.

● Early next month, Bell MTS will become the first carrier in Manitoba to offer cellular service for Apple Watch Series 3.

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