Thanks to new technology that solves the problems of reliable radio transmission over large stretches of water, high-speed Internet access will be available later this year to about 5,000 residents of one of the most remote parts of British Columbia.
Construction has already begun on the $1.3 million link between Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, and a series of mountain-top data transmitters on the northern B.C. coast, according to Telus spokesman Shawn Hall.
“The technical elements are stunning,” Hall said in an interview. “It’s a technical marvel that wasn’t possible not that long ago.”
The project, which uses paired dishes and multiple frequencies to overcome interference from the atmosphere and from the water, will involve the world’s longest over-water radio Internet transmission between Mount Hayes, near Prince Rupert, and Masset, on the islands. The over-water part of the link is 115 km long.
Telus is designing and building the system in partnership with Alcatel, Hall said.
The range of frequencies and pair of dishes at each end provide redundancy, to fill any transmission gaps and stabilize the signal, Hall added.
Telus will be the wholesale provider, while local ISPs will supply the retail service on the islands, he said. “The intent there is to encourage local economic development.”
Fibre optic cables will join the Masset station to six other communities on the islands: Port Clements, Tlell, Skidegate, Queen Charlotte, Sandspit and Old Masset.
The Haida Gwaii service will be owned by the communities and operated by the Gwaiitel Society, in cooperation with Telus and Alcatel.
The project is part of the Connecting Communities agreement, a collaboration between the B.C. government and Telus, signed in April, 2005 that aims at providing last mile broadband service to communities that would otherwise have access only to dial-up speed service.
By the end of this year, 119 remote communities will have been connected under the agreement, which involves a $110 million investment from Telus. To date, 92 have been connected.
Miles Richardson, the chairman of the Gwaii Trust Society, said the existing ISPs are oversubscribed, even at current, mostly dial-up, speeds.
“They can’t even service their existing customers,” Richardson said.
The new broadband service will make life on Haida Gwaii far easier in numerous ways, he said in an interview.
“It will mean we will have broadband services at a quality level, at a similar capacity and a similar price to what people in the Lower Mainland and other parts of the province get,” he said. “This is basic infrastructure for health services, for education services, for economic development.”
“It’s just doing business in today’s world,” Richardson added. “It keeps us in the loop, it keeps us on an even playing field with everyone else.”
Richardson said Gwaiitel will need to ensure services evolve to match residents’ needs.
“Now you look at what people want for their quality of life, and locating in places,” Richardson said. “These services are basic—people demand them.”
Telus expects to have the service up and running by the end of October, Richardson said.
“We expect the ISPs to be offering home hookups with operations by mid-November,” he said.
The Gwaii Trust is a non-profit society aimed at bringing environmentally sustainable economic and social improvements to the Haida Gwaii.
Telus, B.C.’s largest company, has a total of 10.4 million telecommunications customer connections, including 4.7 million wireless subscribers, 4.6 million wireline network access lines and 1.05 million Internet subscribers.