Toronto’s waterfront developer plans ultra-broadband network

Toronto’s waterfront revitalization – involving a string of new condominium developments lining Lake Ontario – will be connected by an ultra-broadband fibre optic network which will deliver bandwidth speeds up to 500 times faster than typical North American networks today, project planners announced yesterday.

Beanfield Metroconnect, a privately-held Toronto-based telecommunications company has been hired by Waterfront Toronto after an open and competitive bidding process to build the network. Waterfront Toronto is the organization given a mandate by the federal, provincial and municipal governments to oversee the new development of Toronto’s waterfront property. The network will provide 100 megabit per second speeds to residential customers, and up to 10 gigabits per second speeds for businesses located in the new developments.

Beanfield Metroconnect’s network will also provide community-wide Wi-Fi access and will be used to deliver IPTV and home phone services. Waterfront communities will see an online portal hosted on the network that will act as a central hub connecting all of the businesses located in the development, says John Campbell, president and CEO at Waterfront Toronto.

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“Internet access for business has been significantly more expensive in Toronto than in other global cities,” he says. “The affordability and accessibility of this infrastructure will remove barriers and help start-ups.”

That Internet access will come with a guarantee from the network builder – a building that comes online and gets connected is assured that it will have connectivity that places in the top seven intelligent communities worldwide for a decade. A combination of the speed provided, affordability, and reliability of the connection are the factors that go towards achieving that, says Dan Armstrong, president and CEO at Beanfield Metroconnects.

“We’re building multiple 10 gigabit rings into each commercial building,” he says. “Our differentiator is that we actually put a switch in the basement of the building, which is connected to major metro points of presence. So either one of those points could fail and the building is still online.”

The telco says it operates the largest fibre optic network in downtown Toronto, and constructed a similar network grid for the city’s Liberty Village neighbourhood. It offers business services starting at $79 per month for 10 mbps symmetrical connections, and packages as expensive as $3,000 per month. Businesses located in the new waterfront communities will receive a 20 per cent discount on those prices, the firm says.

The estimated $30 million project will be funded entirely by private money, including an investment by Beanfield. The carrier plans to make its money back on services sold to residents, as well as wholesale services to other providers looking to use the network to deliver services.

Developers putting up buildings in the waterfront will all be connected to the network, Campbell says. “Because we are in control of the land, we can say to the developers ‘ok you can buy land from us, but guess what, you have to do certain things.’ One of those things is you have to connect to the network.”

Determining whether Beanfield actually meets its guarantee will be the Intelligent Community Forum, an organization that releases a list of leading communities from around the world each year. Having widespread, affordable broadband access is common feature amongst the winning cities.

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“It’s more than just putting wire in the ground,” says John Jung, the chair and co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum.  “You have to know what to do with it, and encourage a community to use it and prosper from it.”

Jung points to Waterloo, Ont., which won the top spot in 2007 and attributes that prize as a result of leadership from Research in Motion’s co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridus, as well as then-president at the University of Waterloo David Johnston, who is now the governor general of Canada.

Beanfield’s network will be IPv6 ready and provide 802.11n Wi-Fi using Cisco Systems’ Aironet access points, Armstrong says. “It will allow people to leave the confines of their homes and still access blazing fast speeds.”

Businesses will have access to services that include point-to-point connections and a data centre will be built on the waterfront that will offer collocation services and a fully redundant backup power. The network will focus on serving new buildings, but older buildings can be retrofitted if the owners show interest.

The area will likely attract companies in the information technology and communications sector to set up shop, Campbell says. “It won’t be attractive to a group of 20 lawyers. But bring down a group of 20 game developers, and wow.”

Corus Entertainment is technically the first building on the network, as Beanfield built the network when its waterfront building was constructed in 2009. The first condos to be connected to the network will be Urban Capital Property Group’s River City development, scheduled to go online in 2012. Next will be a Great Gulf Homes development slated to open in early 2014.

Residential fees for unlimited access to the network will cost $60 per month, according to Waterfront Toronto. Adding TV and home phone service will bring that cost up to $100 per month.

Brian Jackson is Associate Editor at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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