Rural wireless a hit
Teen uses grain elevators to provide reliable, high-speed internet
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.” firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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.
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.