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Minimizing broadband downtime

By Tim Perry Ontera, a telecommunications company run by the Government of Ontario, is building a large fibre optic ring serving Northeastern Ontario.

By Tim Perry

Ontera, a telecommunications company run by the Government of Ontario, is building a large fibre optic ring serving Northeastern Ontario.

Paul Goulet, vice president and general manager, said the ring design is meant to be resistant to downtime. 

In the event a fibre optic cable snaps, major nodes on the network recognize this and immediately reroute traffic around the broken cable and the network operating centre. A Timmins' team is alerted to the problem so they can send teams to fix the broken cable.  This all happens within a millisecond, said Goulet.

The ring configuration allows some ease to be placed on the repair crews.  In the past, repair crews had to fix the cables quickly in order to minimize downtime.  The ring allows the repair crews to take as much time as they need because there is no downtime.

Repair of fibre lines involves a complicated and very precise process called splicing.

“Each strand has to be linked exactly,” said Goulet.

The network will consist of five nodes located in five cities, Timmins, Foleyet, Chapleau, Sudbury and North Bay. 

Each of these nodes contain routers which control traffic on the network and operate within a collocation facility where other carriers and fibre systems can connect. The network itself will not be available to individuals. 
This is not “fibre to the home,” said Goulet. 

The network is designed to act as a backbone that other telecommunications companies will connect to so they can provide access. Goulet said the companies don’t need to connect from one of the nodes to connect to the network.  Fibre can be dropped off the main line in between nodes.

The ring will connect to a similar ring in southern Ontario through two connections, one in Sudbury, one in North Bay.

The fibre cables consist of 124 colour-coded fibres, some of which may be owned by individual companies. The large capacity cables will be able to handle large amounts of growth and should last 30 years before they need to be replaced.

Cables in between cities are typically placed on poles similar to power lines.  However, between Chapleau and Sudbury, the cables are buried underground along the old CP Rail bed.  Goulet said burying the cable is more economical, especially if they already own the land, as they do for a stretch of rail between North Bay and Timmins where fibre will also be buried. 

Along the rail line, markers identify where the cable is so in the case of a disaster, rescue crews will know to call Ontera. The location of every cable is plotted using GPS coordinates.

The network is able to handle 10 gigabits per second, that’s 625 times faster then a high-end residential Internet connection.

“It’s absolutely phenomenal what one strand of fibre can carry,” said Goulet.  “They’re improving that speed and that throughput capability all of the time with enhancing light techniques.”

The $12 million project is being financed entirely by the private sector. 
“It’s based on the logistics of the business case,” said Goulet.  An anonymous bank supplied financing which Ontera will pay back with revenue they earn from their customers.

Goulet said the fibre ring is being built “to empower the North.” While he does not know if anyone is planning a similar ring in Northwestern Ontario, fibre optics is “kind of where telecommunications is going today.”  So it is possible.

The ring is expected to be completed by June 1.

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