When a company needs some form of telecom services, the first place to look is with the local Internet service provider or telephone carrier. But in the last few years, businesses have started to turn to a new crop of players: their local power utilities.

The deregulation of electricity has opened

a new avenue for utilities like Hydro One, Enersource and Toronto Hydro to expand their customer bases and generate new revenue. A handful of utilities in Canada are already deploying broadband optical networks for businesses in the MUSH (municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals) sector, says Jim Taylor, president of Oshawa, Ont.-based Cygnal Technologies’ Data Networks Solutions Group, which installs networks for power companies.

“”Telecom is a natural fit for them because they have the right-of-ways and it’s similar to the electrical business in that it’s wires and billings per month and stuff they’re familiar with,”” Taylor says, adding the slowest speed a public sector client would have is 10 Mbps.

Until recently, high-speed services have typically been delivered using asynchronous transfer mode (ATM). At gigabit speeds, Cygnal normally uses Ethernet but some utilities continue to use ATM, because the technology lets the utility set how much bandwidth is assigned to a particular user.

“”The ATM allows you to shape the bandwidth to this customer,”” Taylor says. “”You can say, ‘I’m going to put fibre in there but I’m only going to allow you to draw on 1 meg.’

“”There’s no real benefit for the utilities to be in DSL or anything like that,”” he adds, because the revenues they would earn wouldn’t be high enough to justify the cost of installing the lines.

“”When we first started delivering at the ATM level, the reason we went ATM and the reason some still do ATM is the ability to shape the bandwidth. Now Ethernet technology has come a long way, where you can shape the Ethernet bandwidth.””

SCHOOL BOARDS CAN DITCH SERVERS

Cygnal is helping with the rollout of a 300-site gigabit network being deployed west of Toronto. Mississauga-based Enersource Telecom and Hydro One are implementing a network for both the Peel District and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic school boards.

“”We were looking for flexibility,”” says Jim Smith, controller of Learning Technology Support Services for the Peel District school board. “”Where we’ve been traditionally with networking isn’t different from a lot of people: You put in a technology, and every three to five years, you rip it out and put in something else.””

Smith says he expects the optical network to last 20 years before it needs a significant upgrade.

In addition to the potential to reap cost savings through IP telephony and video-on-demand, the gigabit optical network lets the board save money by eliminating the need for servers at every school.

“”By putting in a high-speed gigabit network, they have one big LAN, so they can buy bigger servers in one consolidated locati

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