Linking the Arctic with fibre optic

A line designed to link Europe and Asia could help northern towns

Linking the Arctic with fibre opticIn Canada’s remote northern communities, which depend on satellite for phone and Internet service, there are certain times of the year when connections are even spottier than usual. For several weeks during the spring and fall equinox, a phenomenon known as “sun transit” occurs, and radio waves from the sun overpower those going between the satellite and the earth station. Though it lasts for less than 20 minutes per day, the scratchy connections are a nuisance. But that may change with ArcticLink, a proposed 16,000-km fibre-optic cable through the Northwest Passage.

The project, which is being headed by the Alaska-based Kodiak Kenai Cable Company, involves laying a US$1.2-billion fibre-optic cable between London and Tokyo. According to company CEO Walt Ebell, the link would cut transmission times between Asia and Europe in half. But it could also alleviate the connectivity woes of Canada’s 43 northern communities currently served by satellite. Last month, executives with Northwestel, a telecommunications firm in northern Canada, met with Ebell to discuss patching into the line to link up Arctic communities, says Anne Kennedy, a spokesperson with Northwestel.

Talks are still in the early stages, but a fibre-optic cable would be a step up. On top of problematic phone service, Internet connectivity is limited by the bandwidth Northwestel leases from its satellite provider. If the project goes ahead, Kennedy says Northwestel’s involvement would largely depend on cost-effectiveness. In remote communities, where the population is often less than 200, she says, “it’s tough to make a business case.” But to those few people, the ability to make a call without worrying about the position of the sun would make a big difference.

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