Bell leveraging Olympic sponsorship 

Wireless service now available in Whistler

By Andrew Mitchell

As part of the Bell’s $200 million sponsorship of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, the company has committed roughly $60 million to build a telecommunications infrastructure for the Games — a figure which they will likely go over as part of the company’s aggressive expansion into Western Canada.

As of December, some of that infrastructure is ready to be used in Whistler as Bell launched its own wireless cellular service. Bell’s fibre optic line should also be completed soon, and will be available to the community by 2008.

Last week Bell hosted Goldrush in Whistler, providing stakeholders with an update on Bell’s Olympic infrastructure and to celebrate the launch of their wireless service. According to Norm Silins, Bell’s general manager of Olympic Services, the complete infrastructure build is currently under budget and ahead of schedule.

There are four parts to the project, says Silins — the wireless network, the fibre optic network, the venues (including localized WiFi), and the community component where Bell will offer its regular services before and after the Games, leveraging their Olympic infrastructure.

The wireless component is the farthest along, with Bell offering cell service in Squamish as of June, and in Whistler as of December. An extension 10 km into the Callagahn Valley is also complete, aiding the ongoing construction of the Whistler Nordic Centre.

According to Silins the entire Sea to Sky Highway will be covered by Bell’s wireless service by 2008. So far 22 out of 27 towers are up and running, offering wireless voice and data transmissions via roughly twice the number of towers other companies have.

The wireless network is one of the most advanced in the country, says Silins, as required to meet Olympic requirements.

“Prior to (the Olympic build) we had an agreement to provide running coverage through Sea to Sky, but what we’ve done is build it deeper to provide an Olympic quality network,” said Silins. “The breadth of capacity we have is the best of what’s available, bar none.”

As part of its Olympic commitment, Bell will be providing cell phones to all Canadian athletes, as well as 7,000 handsets for Games operations. As well, Bell will be providing an additional 2,000 handsets that can function as walkie-talkies using the wireless infrastructure.

The majority of towers have been built alongside other development, such as hydro lines, to minimize their visual impact and keep costs lower. Silins would not specify just how much will be spent on the different components of the Games’ telecommunications network, maintaining that some of the money would have been spent anyway as part of Bell’s planned Western Canadian expansion. As a result he says it’s impossible to separate regular costs from additional Olympic costs.

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