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Canada’s Blackcomb/Whistler ski resort inspires many images – from the majestic slopes that helped Vancouver to win the 2010 Winter Olympics to its award winning golf courses, hiking trails and bustling village filled with shops, restaurants and hotels.

But Whistler is also well known in telecommunications circlesThe one thing you probably don’t think of when you hear the name Whistler/Blackcomb is wireless networks, yet the municipality of Whistler was as something of a pioneer in the development of wireless networks for its small community – with almost two years of experience in providing a regional network of wireless internet hot-spots. for internet at a time when most cities and towns are still getting to grips with why they might to offer such a network

The whole venture began in September of 2003, when the resort municipality of Whistler and V-Link Solutions announced a public/private partnership called Yodel to offer wireless internet access throughout the
villageof Whistler – including the 2010 Olympic office.

The idea was to give Whistler’s 10,000 permanent residents and the 6,500 guest rooms occupied byalong with the hordes of thousands of an avalanche of tourists who visit the resort each reliablebroadly-available access wireless internet access for their 802.11b (ie. Wi-Fi devices. It also aimed to provide revenue to the municipality to help fund local services.

The solution was developed jointly by V-LinkSolutions Inc. and Colubris Networks – and was to be rolled out in several phases, with the goal of providing wireless Internet access to some 6,500 guest rooms - including hotels, condominiums, bed and breakfast accommodation and some homes. So how did it all work out?

According to Keith Borg, director of business development for V-Link Solutions, says the Whistler business has evolved into a profitable, turnkey service – now largely owned by his company with a small stake retained by the municipality. He says the costs of setting up with wireless network infrastructure, which is now complete, were more than covered in the first year of operation – and that in the last year the service was run at a profit.

Mr Borg says it was also able to run largely automatically with users paying for access through online, automated credit card transactions and a level of reliability which ensured that little or no support costs were generated. Mr. Borg said his company’s main focus now is to provide “added value” applications for businesses to run on top of the municipal wireless network infrastructure that is now bought and paid for.

Meanwhile, the home-grown Yodel service has started to see competition from more established operators offering wireless hot-spot services of their own. TELUS Mobility, the telecommunications market leader in Western Canada, offers its own range of wireless hot-spot services at Whistler at prices comparable to that of Yodel.

Not surprising,The local conference facility offers wireless access provided by TELUS, as do the Westin Resort Spa, the Woodrun Lodge and the Marriott Residence. Perhaps more importantly, there are now a number of other spots throughout Whistler where users can choose between a number of carriers to provide a wireless service – and the four biggest mainstream carriers, Bell Mobility, Fido, Rogers Wireless and TELUS Mobility, offer “roaming” between one another’s hot-spots.

This roaming capability is very recent – and came as a result of an announcement made on May 25 which saw the four companies introduce Wi-Fi roaming on all their respective hot spot locations nationally.

Mr Borg, however, suggests that none of this may make much difference at Whistler. “I’ve got nothing against roaming, but it’s difficult to see a business model for this,” he said. “People aren’t coming to Whistler for the internet - they are coming for the mountain.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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