North Bay region hooked up for wireless broadband

Wireless technology will help deliver broadband Internet access to an area of Ontario surrounding North Bay, thanks to a $1-million Broadband for Rural and Northern Development (BRAND) grant from Industry Canada.

The Blue Sky Region Community Network, a regional network of community access

project (CAP) sites, applied for and won one of a number of BRAND grants for broadband access projects. It has turned the project over to an affiliate called Blue Sky Economic Growth Corp., whose Blue Sky Net unit will oversee its development, said Jeff Buell, project co-ordinator at Blue Sky Net.

A three-company partnership that has received several contracts for BRAND-backed projects has been awarded a contract for the project. Brian Walters, president and chief executive of W3 Connex Inc., said his company has optical fibre backbones that will carry Internet traffic from the Blue Sky network to a gateway in Toronto. The backbones will interconnect with a wireless network owned by W3 Connex, which will use point-to-point wireless technology from DragonWave Inc., also based in Ottawa.

A third partner, Toronto-based mmwave Technologies Inc., will acquire the technology and provide engineering services to construct and run the network, Walters said.

Peter Allen, chief executive of DragonWave, said his company’s wireless technology works in the 18- to 26- GHz frequency range, most of which is licensed. Requiring a clear line of sight between transceivers, it can provide bandwidth of as much as 100 Mbps or be broken down to units of as little as 10 megabits for customers who require smaller capacity, he said.

To connect users to the network, W3 Connex will use point-to-multipoint wireless technology supplied by Alvarion Ltd. of Tel Aviv, a major supplier of such equipment to communications carriers. Walters said the DragonWave equipment could also be used to provide high-speed links directly to large users such as schools and hospitals.

The initial phase of the network will require about 25 towers, most of which will be existing ones. Buell said six towers are being built.

The first phase of the network, covered by the BRAND funding, will cover something like 16,000 sq. km., Buell said, but this will be built in five subnets. The first subnet, east of North Bay, will cover about 2,000 sq. km.

Construction of the new towers will be completed in a couple of weeks, Buell said, and installation of the wireless equipment is expected to go fairly quickly. Blue Sky Net hopes its first pilot customers will be up and running by year-end. “We should have it fully implemented by the April time frame,” Walters said.

Blue Sky Net has applied for additional support from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, and if this comes through it will be used to extend the network southward, Buell said.

The network will give residential users about 1.5 mbps of bandwidth both to and from the Internet, for a monthly fee of $45 to $50 plus an initial installation charge of around $150, said Buell. Commercial services will start at around three megabits, Walters said, and could offer up to 100 megabits.

The BRAND program will cover the capital cost of building the network and requires a business plan that would see the network support itself within five years, said Walters.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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