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Faster, more reliable Internet
NorthwesTel wraps up $18-million project on fibre optic line connecting Yellowknife to Edmonton

Katherine Hudson
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 1, 2012

Downloads, streaming videos and surfing on the Internet will be a lot faster for Yellowknifers at peak-usage times now that the final link of NorthwesTel's fibre optic cable from Yellowknife to Edmonton - across the Deh Cho Bridge - is complete.

NNSL photo/graphic

NorthwesTel's fibre optic cable is now spanning the Deh Cho Bridge, connecting Yellowknife to Edmonton. Yellowknifers will notice more reliable videos, less buffering, and faster downloading through the Internet at peak usage times, according to NorthwesTel. - Mike W. Bryant/NNSL photo

The entire project, with fibre optic cable running to Yellowknife from Edmonton, started in about 2005 and cost a total of $18 million. The completion was announced Tuesday.

The cable - which is carried by a 1.25 inch plastic pipe - now spans 1,045 metres across the Mackenzie River along with the steel structure. Previously, a microwave radio system which was put in place in 1990 bridged the gap between the fibre optic cables on either side of the river, however, there have been different microwave radio systems built and replaced over the decades.

Now that data is transferred across one uninterrupted cable, Internet users should be experiencing higher speeds, quicker downloads and more seamless streaming.

"It provides a greater capacity for travel to flow through overall, but particularly during peak hours when people are coming home from work, around dinnertime and after dinnertime people will start to notice this. It adds a significantly greater capacity which means people will notice more reliable videos, less buffering, more capacities coming in. You're able to download things more quickly and more reliably," said Emily Younker, communications manager with NorthwesTel.

Fibre has significantly more carrying capacity than microwave technology for a variety of high bandwidth applications such as the Internet.

Younker said NorthwesTel recognized the need for additional bandwidth and began negotiations with the Department of Transportation more than a year ago for the rights to run the cable across the bridge.

"Previously the fibre ran from Yellowknife to the river and then the river to Edmonton because there was no path across ... Now it's 100 per cent from Edmonton to Yellowknife. It's 100 per cent fibre and that will significantly increase the carrying capacity for traffic," she said.

However, some Internet service providers in town think prices should change with the faster, unvarying link.

Laurie Li, manager of Arctic Data Systems, said getting a better speed from the fibre means people can do a lot more online - increasing the data they're using.

"The problem is NorthwesTel is charging people by traffic and the price is pretty high. If they don't change the pricing, then I would say the community would probably pay more for that. Eventually the bill will be higher because we'll use more with the speed," said Li.

Younker said there will be no price changes in the data packages provided by NorthwesTel, and that the fibre cable is solely an improvement in service.

"People are still responsible on how much data they use ... It doesn't necessarily mean people will change their using habits to download more, it means what they are downloading will be available more reliably," said Younker.

Younker said she encourages users to sign up for NorthwesTel's e-mail notification tool which informs people when they reach 50, 75, 95 and 100 per cent of their monthly Internet data usage limit.

The fibre from Yellowknife to Fort Providence was first installed in about 2007, while the fibre from the other side of the Mackenzie River to Alberta was installed in 2005.

The new fibre link affects Yellowknife residents, as well as the communities of Fort Providence, Behchoko and Dettah.

The $192-million Deh Cho Bridge is more than 90 per cent complete and while telecommunication traffic is currently crossing structure, vehicular traffic isn't expected to travel its span until fall.

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