Mobile Coverage in Guelph, Ontario

To this day, it is hard to find properly documented information regarding cell coverage in certain areas. Although the big 3 providers in Canada do cover a vast majority of urban areas, there are still coverage holes in certain areas. Guelph, mainly on campus, is one of them.

Now I aim this post at anyone who goes to or is thinking about going to the University of Guelph. Although something like this should have been written a few years ago, better late than never, right? Hopefully this will give some insight on which mobile networks work and don’t work at the University of Guelph. After all, a university student needs to stay connected with his friends, doesn’t he?

The Big 3

I refer to the big 3 providers as Rogers, Bell, and Telus. Although there has recently been a few new providers starting up in Canada, I don’t believe they have any market penetration in Guelph at this time or in the near future.

In my opinion, Bell and Telus have very similar coverage. They share cell towers around the country and have numerous other agreements in other service areas. Bell and Telus also launched a new HSPA+ network last year. This has been nicknamed the “Bellus” network. For the less technically inclined person, the Bellus network is a 3G (3rd generation) cell phone network which brings their cell phone speeds on par with Rogers and the rest of the world. All the ads you see on TV today are advertising the current Bellus 3G network.

Bell and Telus also operate an older 2G CDMA network which not only covers metropolitan areas but also covers the most rural areas of Canada.

Rogers operates two networks as well: an older 2G GSM network and a newer 3G network (much like the Bellus HSPA+ network). Unfortunately, Rogers coverage isn’t as prevalent in the outskirt rural areas of Ontario.

Big 3 Resellers

I should mention that the big 3 providers also have smaller discount brands/resellers of their service. It is common for people to have plans with some of these common providers so I thought I’d give you some information. Please refer to the following chart:

Bell: Solo MobileVirgin Mobile
Telus: Koodo
Rogers: FidoChatr

What works and what doesn’t

Around the City of Guelph, all cell phones work without too many problems. The problem area is where students spend most of their time: on campus.

Rogers’ customers will have no problem if their phone works on either 3G or 2G networks.

Bell’s and Telus’ customers will have no problem as long as their phone supports the 3G network.

Bell and Telus customers on their 2G CDMA network will experience highly spotty coverage within the University of Guelph’s campus. It mainly affects the service inside buildings, but it’s still bad enough around the University of Guelph that calls are dropped and data, emails and text messages don’t go through very often.

Recommendations for Rogers Customers

Nothing! You guys are lucky that the school has a Rogers cell tower on top of the library to serve all your needs and keep you connected!

Recommendations for Telus and Bell Customers

If you’re a student that is planning on attending, or are already attending the University of Guelph and you are currently subscribed to Telus or Bell, check to see if your phone is a 3G phone. Chances are, if you bought a new smartphone within the last year or so, such as a Blackberry or iPhone, you should already be utilizing the 3G network. If you have an old, simple phone that doesn’t do anything other than call and text, your phone will likely be on the 2G CDMA network. You can find out this information by Google-ing your phone’s model number, or by calling your service provider (dial *611 on your mobile phone) and asking for technical support.

I must note that during the first week of school, all 3 cell phone providers are on campus promoting their phones and plans. You can find some awesome deals from them so it is wise to wait sometimes.

Why I wrote this quick little article & do we rely on mobile phones too much?

I know there are a fair amount of students who are constantly frustrated about why their phones do not work on campus. They usually do not fully understand why their phones don’t work. It’s also intriguing to see how the tendencies and trends with the student population have changed over the last few years. From my observations, I would estimate that about 50% of students have a smartphone; the majority of them being Blackberries, followed by iPhones and other smartphones.

It’s interesting how the naked feeling of not having your phone or not having cell coverage makes people feel cut-off and isolated. There is even a term called phantom-vibrate-syndrome, for when you think your phone is vibrating when it really isn’t, or when you don’t even have it in on you.

People that have smartphones such as a Blackberry, iPhone and Android platforms feel the need to be constantly connected via email, Twitter and Facebook. These devices rely on reliability and coverage of the mobile networks from Bell, Rogers and Telus to keep people connected with their business and personal lives.

A few weeks ago, the Rogers (and Fido) mobile network in Vancouver went into haywire for 4 hours during business hours so Twitter erupted with people reporting that they couldn’t make a call, send data or text messages or do anything with their phones. Their phones were paper weights. Imagine the impact on businesses during the period. This is equally as bad as the Internet stopping to a halt!

Most university students these days object to purchasing a land-line in their homes in order to save money. Most of them are usually out and about anyways, moving from class to class. Mom and Dad know that they usually have their phone on them all the time, since they’re always keeping in touch with friends. They get worried when they don’t answer, depending on the parent and they sometimes think the worst.

Sometimes we miss an important phone call from a possible employer or even a friend you’re trying to meet up with. Should they really feel that they can contact you right this second? What happened to voice mail and call-backs? Nowadays, people text and email each other and expect a reply instantly.

Similar instances have probably happened to you before. Your friend is meeting you outside of a building and for some reason, you’re running a couple minutes late. Your friend has no clue where you are and is trying to get a hold of you, only for the call to go straight to voice-mail or go unanswered. Everyone gets frustrated! As our society grows reliant on cell phones and being connected instantly, people get anxious when someone isn’t there right away.

Hope this helps!

Hopefully, users within the University of Guelph campus find some of this mobile phone information useful since many of us only rely on mobile phones to communicate now. I believe that less and less people will have issues with their coverage as most wireless subscribers who upgrade or purchase a new phone today will be on the newer 3G networks provided by Rogers, Bell and Telus. If you have any questions, comments, or think some of this information is inaccurate, leave a message/reply and I’ll respond as soon as possible.

Further Reading

If you are serious about finding out more information about cell phone networks in your area, forums are a great place to start. They provide experience from other users that likely have similar problems or questions.

Howard Forums has some great community information for Canadian Mobile Carriers.
Loxcel Cell Tower MapSpatial Tower Map provides local cell tower information – It’s always interesting to see where the nearest cell towers are in your area.

Some Preventive Techniques for Malware

The dark side of computing….Viruses….Spyware….Rootkits….Trojan horses….etc. Almost everyone has been a victim of this at one time in their life. There’s no avoiding it! These unfortunate things are products of evil people who are trying to steal our information or make money from uninformed and ill-trained users.

I’ve been working the Computing and Communication Services (CCS) HelpCenter/HelpDesk at the University of Guelph (UoG) for the last 4 years. I’ve also been fiddling with computer hardware and software since I was a little kid. I’ve helped hundreds of people with computer malware issues. At CCS, My team of about 30 student consultants are just a small group of people deployed by UoG to help students clean and protect their computers. It is also our job to make sure they are able to connect to Resnet and have full internet connectivity with whatever comes across our desks. Most of us are informally trained but are well experienced and are able to dynamically change our methods to keep up with computers. We’re not geniuses; we’re careful patient ordinary people.

There are many different opinions and methods of preventing, getting, and cleaning malware. I will go through a quick guideline from my perspective on how to keep your computer healthy and malware free. I will also mention some alternatives to pesky paid subscription based antivirus software. Feel free to leave comments or questions below…I’ll answer them when I have time.

So what exactly is malware?

Malware is a term used to describe malicious software such as viruses, trojan horses, spyware, rootkits, worms, adware….etc; Basically anything involving software which is trying to takeover certain aspects of your computer without you realizing exactly it. From experience, most consumers and non-security professionals refer to this as a “computer virus”.

The majority of malware affects Microsoft Windows based systems due to their strong market domination of roughly 90%. Although Microsoft has done a great deal of leg-work at making its most recent version of its Operating system, Windows 7, more secure, there are still millions of users out there with malware on their machines. Those with Apple based products, who claim that there is no such thing as Mac viruses are naïve to think they are automatically free from any malware. Although most of the computers that I help service at the IT Helpdesk are windows based, we do see the occasional Macbook with very odd security or network settings which usually constitute to a virus.

One might wonder, “Why isn’t malware illegal?”…

Well it is! (mainly in Canada, USA, European countries) But because the Internet is a highly world-wide multilingual, multi-platform, multi-cultural, and multi-legal system, it is very hard for legal systems to convict a programmer or hacker from Russia or China. Laws are still being developed in conjunction with countries all over the world to help combat illegal computer activity.

How do you usually get malware?

I hate to be blunt, but I usually determine that if you have malware on your computer, you’ve done something stupid. A streaming video site shouldn’t be asking you to scan your computer for viruses. If it does, it’s usually a fake pop-up requesting you to download something. Don’t expect your favourite websites or a search for your favourite celebrity or artist on Google to be 100% trustworthy either. This past August, hackers tried to fool people by purposely getting their links listed on the first page of search results.

Other common ways of being infected with malware are by using unpatched windows versions without the latest updates or even old virus definitions installed. About 30% of users ignore their Windows Updates or disable it. This is especially dangerous as hackers find holes within the Windows platform and take advantage of them. About 90% of computer users are using Microsoft Windows, and about 30% of them don’t have recent updates. Hackers see a great opportunity to take advantage of the vulnerable and infect these machines as they are an easy target of unsuspecting clients.

Historically, email used to be a vast medium to spread viruses. It was a goldmine for hackers at the start of the 21st century. The ILOVEYOU or Nimda virus are prime examples of viruses which took advantage of email and spread very rapidly due to unpatched security holes in Windows and Microsoft Outlook. Today, email viruses still exist but have less penetration due to better email filtering offered by many web-based email accounts such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo as well as business email security appliances such as Ironport. Nowadays, most hackers try and extract personal information by sending fake emails via spam and trying to impersonate an authority figure such a bank. This is known as phishing and can occasionally lead to malware.

Ways to prevent malware?

My number one method for preventing malware: Smart Browsing…be careful on the internet.

Since our lives revolve around technology, take a few minutes out of your time to think about what you’re actually clicking when you’re on your computer. Read pop-ups and alert messages and think before clicking Yes or No…if you’re unsure, ask someone who you think may know better.

Think about using different web browsers. In my opinion, the three mainstream browsers, listed in order of the most secure to the least, are

  1. Google Chrome
  2. Mozilla Firefox
  3. Internet Explorer (IE)

If you’re browsing the internet to stream movies/tv shows, downloading torrents, or general surfing, think about using Google Chrome. It’s fast, convenient and  the most secure. If you find that certain websites render or display funny, then maybe think about falling back on Mozilla Firefox. If all else fails, use Internet Explorer as the last resort. Although the latest versions of Internet Explorer are far more secure than its predecessors, IE, like Windows, is the most popular web client used around the world. Hackers target it for that reason.

Everyone knows they should have antivirus software installed. There are tons of free ones out there as well as some with paid subscriptions. I recommend using Microsoft Security Essentials as it is free, easy to download and install, and has been rated highly by many professionals. Keep in mind, contrary to popular belief, just because your computer has an antivirus program installed, your computer is not 100% protected from malware. Antivirus software only prevent approximately 70% of threats, the rest is up to you to be careful and diligent. Lastly, is it not recommended to install more than one antivirus software on your machine. It will greatly reduce performance and may lead to frustration as both software fight for power.

As mentioned before, keep your computer up-to-date! Download latest patches when alerted by your software or operating system. At the University of Guelph, CCS employs the Cisco NAC agent to enforce computers on the network to update their windows with the latest patches. Although this can be a pain for many, this is a great way of preaching and making people aware to always keep their computer up to date.

What to do if you have malware?

I find that the majority of users who are infected with malware know where they got it from. They usually say, “I knew doing __fill-in-the-blank__ wasn’t right, since then, my computer’s been doing weird things”.

This is great! It shows that the user is aware of their actions and will learn from their mistakes. Cleaning computers infected with malware is a pain and sometimes it’s faster and easier to reformat the machine instead of spending hours trying to remove it.

If you do have malware though, be careful when using Google to find solutions. On occasion, the malware provider publishes fake removal instructions by asking you to download a program to help clean your computer. This consequently infects your computer with more malware making it more frustrating to clean. Removing and cleaning out malware can sometimes lead to file corruption on your computer which would prevent it from booting up and performing regular functions. I would recommend that you backup any files on your machine that you value on a weekly basis in case this were to happen. It’s good practice to back up your data in case your computer gets stolen.

My favourite tool for removing malware is Malwarebytes. It is, for the most part free and you may find it here. I also recommend cleaning out temporary files before doing any scans in order to free your computer of excess files. This helps lower the time it takes for antivirus and malwarebytes to scan your computer. A great software for this is CCleaner.

I recommend the following steps for scanning and removing malware from your computer:
Please read through them carefully first before attempting instructions

1.      Restart your computer into Safe Mode with Networking Support (hit F8 while the computer is booting)

2.      Download CCleaner (portable or slim edition) and Malwarebytes

3.      Run CCleaner and clean out as many temporary files that it can

4.      Install Malwarebytes and make sure its updated to the latest file definitions

5.      Run a quick or full scan.

6.      After the scan, click Show Results and Remove Selected

7.      Restart your computer and see if it got rid of the malware

8.      If you still have malware, repeat all instructions until you find no more objects infected

9.      If you still have malware, seek professional help and think about reformatting.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of malware and some preventive tactics to keep it off your computer. Feel free to leave messages or suggest for other users and if you know anyone who gets affected by this, feel free to forward them to this page. Remember, be smart when you’re on the computer and being proactive while using the computer is the best approach for preventing malware.

Further Reading:
PC World – How did my protected PC Get Infected?
PC World – Microsoft Security Essentials – Whats the catch?

A much more in-depth article about many types of malware and some popular real-life examples. The article is a bit out of date as it aims for Windows XP and was published in 2004, however you may have been exposed to some of these back in the day.
Ars Technica – Malware & How to prevent it

Patent Trolling…NTP VS RIM

How would you like it if something you’ve successfully developed and refined is being sued by someone whose products failed, but still, they think they have the right to make money off of you! This is exactly what happened to RIM a few years ago.

A quick intro:

I’m an avid Blackberry user. Most of my close friends can attest to that and some of them even call me a crackberry addict…but it doesn’t bother me. In my opinion, it’s paved the way for modern day wireless communications.

Millions of users around the world rely on Blackberry smart phones. From consumers, to small/large enterprises, to government, public services, and military, the Blackberry has been deployed from director and CEO’s right down to front-line staff to allow them to stay in touch with their email and communications.

Research In Motion (RIM) is the world renown company which engineers and manufactures the blackberry device. It was founded in the mid-1990s by Waterloo University drop-out, Mike Lazardis. After successfully producing blackberry devices for over 10 years and selling over 100 million blackberry smartphones, RIM has been touted as one of the most successful Canadian stories ever.

Despite being a fully Canadian company with its headquarters in modest Waterloo, Ontario, the majority of RIM’s market is within the USA. This mainly because the US has 5 times the population of Canada and is also major player in World banking and trade. RIM has thousands of customers! Tons of small, medium, and large businesses/enterprises, the US Military, US Congress, Government (notably President Barack Obama), public services such as Fire & Police Departments, and consumers like you and me. Basically, you name it, and I’m someone within each of those sectors has used or knows someone with a Blackberry. They’re everywhere and we rely upon it.

What is a Patent?…

A patent is basically an idea or invention in which an individual(s) or a company have filed with a governing patent office (Usually federal) and have exchanged exclusive rights over the invention for a limited period of time. If another party were to use or infringe on a patent, then they would be required to pay a licencing or loyalty fee to the patent holder (the group/company who owns the patent). Failure to do so can lead to fines or lawsuits against the offending company.

In relation to RIM?

RIM, being the success story they are so far, also has many registered US patents to its name. These patents were filed over their years of innovation and success to protect their products and designs. Many companies all over the world hold patents and usually have a team of highly paid patent lawyers to enforce them. In this case though, it was a man and named Thomas Campana and his intellectual property (IP) lawyer Donald Stout, who were waiting for this opportunity to cash in.

NTP Inc was founded by Campana and his lawyer in 1992. Its sole purpose was to sign over some patents he had filed while working with his old company ‘Telefind’. Telefind was partly owned by Campana and was developing a wireless paging system when it went bankrupt in the early 90s. Campana then created NTP and signed over the patents. If you Google NTP, you pretty much find nothing about the company other than its Wikipedia citing. NTP has no website, they have no products, and no desire service or produce anything. They have been labelled as a patent troll after launching an extensive patent infringement suit against RIM in 2002.

This patent suit has been regarded as one of the largest patent litigations in history. It even caught the attention of the US government.

This post isn’t supposed to be about the actual legal process and etc…If you’re more interested in what actually happened in the case, there are plenty of articles from many international media outlets. Globe and Mail – Patently Absurd

Although RIM and NTP settled their case for a high cost of $612 million in 2006, there is still controversy on the legitimacy of NTP patents. Some of them are still be re-examined by the USPO.

What is a Patent Troll?

A patent troll isn’t an official legal term, I would classify it as lingo for a company that has no intension on producing or marketing their patented ideas to a practical form. It is usually referred to with a negative connotation. There are many patent trolls out there. It usually contains a set of lawyers with a company who hold a portfolio of patents. Patent trolling can also occur internationally as many governments respect patents from other countries. (Most of the European countries have agreements with Canada and the US as does Mexico and Australia)

Aren’t patents supposed to help protect your products and ideas?

Yes, they are! Its great to have a patent under your name, but I personally view a patent troll as someone who sees an opportunity to make money off of someone else’s success. In this case, if NTP had actually produced and manufactured a product to market, even if their product had failed. I think a patent infringement case against RIM would be ethically sound…especially if the Blackberry manufacturer had released a product a few years after NTP’s original failed release.

Since it’s obvious that this didn’t happen, I feel that the US Patent System as well as other patent bodies around the world should have their laws amended with a clause that in order for the patent holder to actually enforce their patents, they must be able to prove that they did indeed try and take their design to a market with a practical, not just theoretical means.


In July, 2010, NTP has embarked on another patent trolling rampage. This time it’s going after Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, AT&T, LG, Motorola….etc. In a brief set of layman terms, NTP is now arguing that those companies are infringing on its patents over the use of wireless email to any device….pretty much the same argument they used against RIM. I found this article by Rob Pegoraro from the Washington Post outlining something very obvious…Is NTP trying to claim that it should be able to enforce their patents on the transmission of email over any form of wireless device? In a way, does that mean, that by using my laptop on wireless is an infringement of their patents? NTP should sue everyone in the world who makes computers now too! Who knows…they might try might even try…

Related in some way…

Apple, the maker of the popular iPhone and Mac products aren’t immune to patent trolling. Recently, a US court ruled that Apple infringed upon a patent involving their Mac OS and iPhone. You can read more into this story by this appleinsider article or by simple searching google.

Further Reading:

I linked this Globe and Mail Article earlier in this post. I felt that it’s a great overview about the entire RIM vs NTP case. If you have the time and are interested, I would highly recommend that you read it. Globe & Mail – Patently Absurd
CNET News – tagged NTP Articles
InformationWeek – Will NTP Sue Every Wireless Company?
BBC – Settlement Ends Blackberry Case