BCNET goes back to school

For more than 10 years, the province of British Columbia had been working toward a dedicated network that would link its higher education institutions and put the province on Canada’s map of innovation leaders. Last month, at an inaugural switch-throwing ceremony, the work finally paid off.

BCNET, a non-profit society for the development of advanced networks within B.C., announced the completion of its Optical Regional Advanced Network (ORAN), which connects Vancouver, Victoria and Prince George to Canada’s Advanced Internet Development Organization’s (CANARIE) CA*net4 national research and education network.

The provincial network offers speeds of up to 2.5Gbps and will allow B.C.’s five post-secondary institutions to share research and to co-develop programs, while posing as an on-ramp to national and international research nets.

According to Michael Hrybyk, president and CEO of BCNET in Vancouver – which started as the first regional network in Canada in 1986 with a connection from the University of British Columbia (UBC) to the University of Washington before becoming an ISP – the society made a decision to go back to its university roots and dedicated itself to building out the ORAN.

“It has taken two years of planning and financing, but we have managed to obtain dedicated fibre – as much as 16 to 20 fibres to each university and institute site,” Hrybyk said. “Why we have done it this way is that it turns out it is easiest to get high-speed inter-city circuits if you are connecting the downtowns together.”

He explained that in Vancouver, Simon Fraser University (SFU), the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) and UBC now have one giant local area network (LAN) that acts as an extension of their campus LANs. However, he noted that BCNET faced a problem when trying to connect the University of Victoria (UVic) and the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) to the Vancouver institutions.

“If you look at the lay of the fibre that the CANARIE network is using, it runs across the water to (Victoria) and then down to Seattle,” Hrybyk explained. “CANARIE agreed to give us a gigabit of capacity on the link to Victoria to connect the sites together.”

For UNBC, which is about eight kilometres outside the Prince George downtown core, BCNET purchased a 2.5-gigabit link from Telus Corp. The link not only connects the UNBC campus, but also acts as a metro area network of sorts, allowing the city of Prince George, its library and health district to take advantage of the facilities.

“We could have been university-centric, but we wanted other folks in the downtown core to take advantage of it,” Hrybyk added. “We have purchased dark fibre there in the metro area, and we have purchased leased facilities to hook the three cities together. That becomes our network.”

And although still early to tell just how much of an impact the dedicated fibre and increased capacity will have on academics at the universities, UNBC President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Charles Jago said he anticipates great things for the school’s estimated 3,500 students.

“(The ORAN) gives us capabilities that larger universities in Canada have had for some time,” Jago explained. “It brings us up to speed…and gives us a significant opportunity for future development and collaboration with other institutions.”

Jago added that although UNBC is a new university, it has already established itself as a major centre of teaching and research.

“Most of our research is connected to research done by other teams at other universities. [It] requires high-speed broadband networking to be effective. Now we have a high-speed broadband network that really ties us in with the international university community. It is terrific.”

UNBC is venturing on a project to develop a medical education program in conjunction with UBC and UVic, which will involve telelearning, telemedicine and the transmission of digital materials like X-rays, all of which require a high-capacity line to work.

“We have had a connection, but it has not been anywhere close to the capacity of what we have now with the ORAN,” he said. “Having the ORAN infrastructure in place will really allow us to develop this very sophisticated medical program and expand the use of technology throughout Northern B.C.”

For more information on the ORAN project, visit