Feds reach out to remote employees through satellite technology

The federal government has signed a seven-year contract with a satellite Internet company to provide broadband connectivity to 25 remote sites whose employees either can’t access the Internet or who rely on dialup services.

Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) awarded the contract to RAMTelecom Inc. in March after reviewing several request for proposal bids.

Wayne Lewis, service manager, satellite and IT services branch, service management and delivery sector, PWGSC, said his department chose RAMTelecom because its service is secure, reliable and cost-effective.

“They met all of the criteria from our specification and they were the lowest price,” said Lewis.

The initial contract, valued at $600,000, requires RAMTelecom to create a new broadband network for six sites with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) at its remote locations in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and the Yukon. The implementation was completed in June and RAMTelecom expects to have the remaining 19 sites — the majority of which will be in Alberta, Saskatchewan, northern B.C. and the Yukon — up and running by the end of August. PWGSC, which buys telecommunications equipment and services for 122 federal departments, is currently in discussions with other departments that have remote sites.

The network allows employees at these sites to access the federal government’s intranet and information databases. “Now they’re totally connected to the government intranet,” said Ralph Misener, CEO of RAMTelecom. “From those sites they have the same capability as someone in downtown Ottawa.”

Roberta Fox, a telecom expert with Fox Group Consulting, said satellite Internet is becoming more affordable as a means to connect to the Internet in areas where cable and DSL services are not available.

“The cost of satellite Internet is coming down as the compression technology allows more subscribers per bird,” said Fox. “It’s the compression technology that’s allowed you to cram more subscriber revenue through these frequencies.”

The government will connect to the Internet using RAMTelecom’s Telesat Anik-F2 satellite, which covers as far north as 65 degrees latitude. The satellite terminal on the ground has a 1.2 metre antennae that can be attached on top of a roof or on a pole beside the building. The user’s laptop plugs into a satellite modem, which is approximately the same size as a laptop. Download speeds range from as low as 384 Kbps to as high as 2 or 3 Mbps, according to RAMTelecom.

The service is monitored 24/7 by RAMTelecom from its Ottawa office in case of outages or the need for additional bandwidth requirements.

“When we get ‘x’ amount of customers on the network, we know that we’re going to have to add bandwidth,” said RAMTelecom’s Misener. “Our network planning is essential to make sure we have enough bandwidth at all times.”

On the government side, PWGSC can monitor availability receives notices when any sites go down.

While the main function of the broadband network will be for data connectivity, PWGSC’s Lewis said voice over IP could be a possible future use of the technology.

But Fox added that because of the quarter of a second delay with satellite Internet service, the quality of service would suffer.

“Satellite is not effective is in voice over IP because you would hear the delay,” said Fox, adding that an alternative solution would be videoconferencing where a delay wouldn’t affect the users as much.

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