The NWT government has begun the process of figuring out how much it might cost to establish cell coverage along Highway 3 between Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife.
Earlier in the month, finance minister Caroline Wawzonek said the territory was interested in assessing the cost of building and maintaining cell service in a region of high traffic by the NWT’s standards and, consequently, a significant number of accidents.
There have been renewed calls for cell service to be provided along the highway after a fatal accident on New Year’s Eve. At the moment, there is no such service and travellers without a form of satellite communication have no means of quickly summoning help.
The 90-km stretch of highway has seen 117 reported accidents in the past decade, including four reported fatalities.
The territorial government has this month asked companies to express interest in “a possible expansion of the NWT mobile network coverage” to include the highway between Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife.
That expression of interest is preliminary: companies aren’t yet required to provide final proposals but are being asked for their qualifications and to suggest how they might go about solving the lack of cell service, and at what cost.
If the project ultimately goes ahead, a contractor would be expected to build the required infrastructure along the highway then operate it for at least 10 years.
The technology would need to offer 4G LTE service and be “interoperable with the current mobile networks in the NWT.”
The territory notes there are some significant challenges to getting this done.
For example, there is no access to power along most of the highway, the terrain varies considerably, and there is a risk of wildfires or wildlife damaging or disrupting infrastructure.
Last year, Northwestel – the dominant provider of cell infrastructure in the NWT – told Cabin Radio it had no active interest in setting up cell service between the two communities.
The company is, however, one of those to have so far downloaded the territory’s new request for expressions of interest.
Interested parties have until Monday, February 22, to respond.