Ru­ral wire­less a hit

Teen uses grain el­e­va­tors to pro­vide re­li­able, high-speed in­ter­net

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - LOUIS PIN

Matthew Van­heule stands in front of grain el­e­va­tor legs cur­rently op­er­at­ing as a makeshift wire­less in­ter­net tower. His goal is to bring af­ford­able high-speed in­ter­net to ru­ral On­tario with in­fra­struc­ture al­ready in place. He’s 19.

THAMESVILLE — Matthew Van­heule was frus­trated by slow in­ter­net speeds just like any­one else.

For him, the break­ing point came when he was try­ing to stream live video feeds from busi­ness classes at the Univer­sity of Wind­sor at his home near Thamesville. His so­lu­tion was to cre­ate a wire­less sys­tem hooked up to the tallest struc­ture he had avail­able to him: a bucket el­e­va­tor on the grain bins on his un­cle’s farm.

It worked. Then peo­ple started ask­ing ques­tions.

“Ba­si­cally when I started do­ing this I was just go­ing to do it for my fam­ily,” Van­heule said. “But at the time other peo­ple were like, ‘Hey if you’re al­ready do­ing this can you come hook us up, too?’ . . . I re­al­ized I could ac­tu­ally make a busi­ness out of this.”

Fast in­ter­net in high de­mand. Ru­ral in­ter­net speeds are sig­nif­i­cantly slower than ur­ban speeds, to the point where farm­ers and small busi­ness own­ers of­ten find their op­er­a­tions lim­ited.

It was an is­sue dis­cussed by the Western On­tario war­dens’ cau­cus be­fore they launched SWIFT — South­West­ern In­te­grated Fi­bre Tech­nol­ogy — a plan based on ma­jor in­ter­net in­fra­struc­ture in­stal­la­tions through ru­ral On­tario.

Other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, such as Dut­ton-Dun­wich south­west of Lon­don, have taken it upon them­selves to in­stall bet­ter in­ter­net in­fra­struc­ture.

While ev­ery­one else was look­ing down, Van­heule looked up at bucket el­e­va­tors, also known as grain legs.

“It’s a lot cheaper than try­ing to build phys­i­cal tow­ers, and they’re pretty (com­mon) around here,” Van­heule said. “I’ll make deals with the farm­ers. Pro­vide them with bet­ter in­ter­net and they’ll let me use their legs.

“It works very ef­fec­tively,” he added. “In­stead of hav­ing one big tower you have mul­ti­ple smaller ones, which al­low you to hit more peo­ple.”

Van­heule, 19, started his com­pany — MPV Wifi — in early 2017. Since then he’s in­stalled wire­less re­ceivers on 15 el­e­va­tor legs to con­vert them into makeshift “tow­ers” and hooked up more than 100 cus­tomers, mostly around Thamesville.

Tow­ers cost a lit­tle more than $5,000 to hook up, he said. It’s a low-cost op­er­a­tion that pays div­i­dends in other words, for Van­heule and for the peo­ple he helps in ru­ral On­tario.

“I’ve had a lot of busi­nesses con­tact me,” he said. “They were hav­ing the same is­sue with in­ter­net . . . it’s nice to fi­nally have (bet­ter speeds) out here.”

MPV Wifi of­fers speeds up to 35 megabits per sec­ond. It’s an up­grade from the top speeds of 10 megabits per sec­ond of­fered by other com­pa­nies in the area, though it re­mains ex­pen­sive — like most plans in ru­ral On­tario.

Van­heule still takes classes Tues­days and Thurs­days. He hopes to even­tu­ally add some 100 cus­tomers per year, ex­pand­ing to res­i­dents in El­gin, Lambton and Mid­dle­sex coun­ties.

“I have the op­po­site prob­lem of most com­pa­nies out here,” he said, laugh­ing. “I don’t have too many clients and I have too much ca­pac­ity.” lpin@post­media.com

I’ll make deals with the farm­ers. Pro­vide them with bet­ter in­ter­net and they’ll let me use their legs.” Matthew Van­heule I’ve had a lot of busi­nesses con­tact me. They were hav­ing the same is­sue with in­ter­net . . . it’s nice to fi­nally have ( bet­ter speeds) out here.” Matthew Van­heule

LOUIS PIN/TIMES-JOUR­NAL

The sys­tem is based off 15 wire­less "tow­ers" strate­gi­cally placed to cre­ate a mesh sys­tem. In­ter­net has long been a prob­lem for res­i­dents of ru­ral On­tario, espe­cially small busi­ness own­ers and farm­ers who rely on fast up­load speeds.

PHO­TOS BY LOUIS PIN/TIMES-JOUR­NAL

Matthew Van­heule is in his sec­ond year of busi­ness school at the Univer­sity of Wind­sor. Though his busi­ness is based out of Thamesville, he hopes to even­tu­ally ex­pand, adding 100 new cus­tomers ev­ery year.

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