PORT HARDY—Representatives from Telus and Network BC appeared before Port Hardy Council last week and assured those present that the future was friendly for North Island telecommunications.
As residents will attest, internet access has left something to be desired of late, with a waiting list for new customers and slow, intermittent service for those with a connection.
The issue lies with the infrastructure on the North Island. “The infrastructure in place is designed for voice,” explained Ray Lawson, Telus’ Vancouver Island General Manager.
While Port Hardy is connected to Port McNeill via fibre optic cable, the connection from Port McNeill to Sayward uses microwave transmission. It is this section of the connection that is operating at full capacity.
After years of lobbying from local government, a project is now underway to run fibre to bridge the gap and eliminate the need for Port Hardy and Port McNeill residents to rely on the outdated technology.
The good news is that the work is slated to be completed sooner than many expected. After bringing in a piece of specialized digging machinery — only the second such machine in North America —to aid the project, Telus expects end-to-end activation in May 2014.
Once the upgrade is complete, those who can take advantage of the new technology will see a night-and-day difference in the level of service.
Lawson put it in perspective when he was asked whether the system would be future-proofed or if the North Island would be in the same position as it is now ten years down the line.
He explained that the company was running 144 cables in the pipe, each capable of 1 terabyte per second transmission. In simpler terms, if peak usage was four users per household, each streaming a high definition movie, the new system could cater for around 5 million customers.
Initially, however, the project will only bring the fibre connection to the existing portion of the backhaul. In other words, once the fibre is connected to the main switches, it will be distributed via the existing copper wires.
This system has a radius of around 1.5 km from the switch, so only those who can currently receive service will be able to take advantage of the upgrade. Potential customers in Coal Harbour and Storey’s Beach will still have a wait for service from Telus.
Once the fibre service is connected to the North Island however, those remaining on the current system should, in theory at least, also see improved service due to the reduced load on the system while distribution options are investigated.
Telus will work with council staff to map the town and look into the expense and practicality of installing a local fibre-to-home upgrade.
A second distribution option is also being investigated which, in theory, would expand the radius of service to 28 km. Lawson stressed that this option was untested, but if viable would dramatically expand the availability of internet access.
Due to logistic factors and expense, the line upgrade will not lead to expanded cellular service on the highway, another boon many hoped the project would bring.
Lawson explained that, while it would indeed be possible to erect cell towers along the route, powering the towers would be prohibitively expensive.
Besides the cost of the towers themselves — estimated at around one million dollars apiece for each of the 13 towers needed to provide complete coverage — the cost of running power cables from the main transmission lines to the sites was estimated at $26m.