While the Northern-grown upstart telecommunications provider Ice Wireless is set to roll out its 3G service in Hay River this fall, the company is still looking for a local retailer to sell its phones and products in the hub.
“We’re talking with a few retailers in Fort Smith and Hay River,” said Cameron Zubko, vice president of Ice Wireless. “But we invite retailers to get in touch with us. Once we launch, the only way customers can get a phone locally is when those partnerships with retailers get going, and we can provide full services and support.”
Once the network is up and running, Hay River customers looking to switch to Ice Wireless would have to travel to Yellowknife to get plans and phones set up. While Zubko agreed this is not the ideal situation, he said it is entirely dependent on whether partnerships with local stores are possible and forthcoming.
“Hopefully, it will happen this fall and into the winter,” he said.
Ice Wireless covers 70 per cent of the population of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, primarily serving the markets of Whitehorse and Yellowknife.
The company recently installed an antenna on the roof of the high-rise in Hay River in anticipation of an expanding network.
The telecommunications market is a tough one to tap, according to Craig Kovatch, co-owner of Superior Audio Video Unlimited, who said cellular phones are a tricky sell.
“Because you’re dealing with binding contracts, you have to know your stuff,” he said. “If you tell a customer they’re entitled to something, you’re responsible if you get it wrong and they end up with a potentially gigantic phone bill.”
Furthermore, Kovatch said the average new sale of a cell phone and plan takes between 45 minutes and an hour, which is a lot of time for an employee to devote to one client.
“It’s really labour intensive, and, frankly, the profit margins just aren’t there,” he said.
Kovatch sells Bell cell phones and plans, and his contract prevents him from retailing for other companies.
The retailer recalled that, when he got into the mobile phone business in the 1990s, there were four phones and five plans, and the contracts were far more simple and user-friendly.
“Everything is way more complicated now, with data and all the extra features,” he said. “You have to know and understand all the phones, all the plans, and all the features before you even think about selling anything.”
— Sarah Ladik