Cell service upgraded to 5G in eastern Saskatchewan

Ryan Kiedrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The World-Spectator

Cell phone coverage received a boost recently as SaskTel announced 5G services in 30 more areas around the province.

“At SaskTel, we’re firmly committed to being the best at connecting our customers to the world,” said Charlene Gavel, SaskTel President and CEO in a media release. “The continued rollout of our 5G network will strengthen the technological foundation of our province and help support the development of exciting innovations that have the power to transform nearly every aspect of modern life.”

Currently, 5G coverage is available to more than 50 per cent of the provincial population, spanning major centres and highways plus many rural and resort communities. The 5G network boasts speeds of up to 1.2 Gigabits per second, which is anticipated to increase in the future. 

Included in the announcement was an area around Moosomin now upgraded to the faster service. 

“There are two cell tower sites around Moosomin, there’s one off Carlton Street and there’s one just west of town off of Wright Road,” said Lindsay Mazenc, external communications manager with SaskTel. The Wright Road tower was actually turned up to 5G back in October while the Carlton Street tower boosted a 5G signal in February. “So residents would have noticed 5G on their phones for the last little bit.” 

A coverage map on the SaskTel website shows 5G along the TransCanada spanning from Red Jacket to Fleming, north almost to Welwyn and south to the Moosomin and District Regional Park. Wapella, Whitewood, Broadview and Grenfell are also 5G clusters along the highway

The expansion of both 5G and fibre networks across Saskatchewan stems from SaskTel’s financial commitment of $1.6 billion in capital over the next five years.

“Our government is pleased that more families and businesses who live and work in rural communities now have access to the same wireless network and technologies as those in our larger urban centres,” said Alana Ross, MLA for Prince Albert Northcote. “The efforts being put forward by SaskTel to expand their cutting-edge wireless and fibre networks across the province will help improve the quality of life and drive economic activity in all corners of Saskatchewan.”

Coverage near border stays the same

However, while the bump to 5G technology on many towers has been received graciously, some areas continue to lack coverage. People in the Welwyn area will not see a change to coverage, something that has been a great concern for some time.

“We are aware that coverage in Welwyn, and really along the Saskatchewan and Manitoba border, can be challenging at times,” said Greg Jacobs, External Communications Manager with SaskTel. “Specifically with Welwyn, coverage there would be what we consider limited. Unfortunately, at this time, we don’t have any plans to install a tower there any time soon.”

The closest cell tower to Welwyn is located in Rocanville, and SaskTel doesn’t have any plans for new construction in the foreseeable future. 

“When you’re installing a large cell tower, the signal will generally travel between 15 and 20 kilometres, depending on other structures or obstructions that may prevent a signal from traveling that far,” said Jacobs. 

This comes as frustrating news to area residents, especially since there have been rumblings of a possible tower project near Fleming three years ago. Back in 2021, SaskTel reached out to the Town of Fleming about the possibility of placing a tower in order to expand the latest technology of the time, being the 4G wireless network. Once the emerging 5G network began, the idea was scrapped with an estimated three to five year timeline tentatively placed before construction plans would be revisited.

With the close proximity to the Manitoba border, SaskTel needs to abide by certain limitations.

“What we’re limited by is our license as a wireless service provider. Our spectrum licenses allow us to offer wireless service within Saskatchewan, and within Saskatchewan only,” Jacobs explained. “What we must do is basically everything in our power to prevent our signals from escaping any of our borders, north, south, east or west. That puts a community like Welwyn in an awkward spot because they’re so close to the border that we don’t really have a good solution to offer service there without running afoul of our spectrum licenses.”

Essentially, the message remains the same—we know the issue, but don’t hold your breath.

“Given the current situation, we don’t have a good solution today,” acknowledged Jacobs. “That doesn’t mean that there won’t be a good solution tomorrow, and we continue to look at every opportunity, every potential to improve connectivity all across the province.”

Those sentiments come as little comfort to RM of Moosomin CAO Kendra Lawrence who, while a Fleming resident, has a long distance package on her cell as the phone picks up the tower in Foxwarren, Manitoba for service.

“As the administrator for Welwyn, I spoke and phoned into SaskTel quite a few times asking about improved service over there [Welwyn] because we have first responders that are not receiving their alerts that there is an incident that they have to respond to,” she explained. 

Many people in the area have maintained a landline due to the lack of cell coverage, and Lawrence noted RM of Moosomin employees utilize CB radios in all equipment “to ensure the safety of the staff when they’re out working along the boundary where they might be in a dead zone.”

“We’re struggling with 3G, so we would be content with that, and improve on it so that we could maybe get rid of the landlines,” she said.

A good swath of Saskatchewan is covered by SaskTel’s LTE network, which connects 99 per cent of the population according to the Crown corporation.