Bundled fibre build a hit with cities

Richmond Hill, Ont.’s Universe2U Inc. has used a bundled approach to building Internet infrastructure networks to secure another community-based contract.

The company announced last month it will be designing and building a municipal fibre network for the City of Vaughan, Ont., located just north of Toronto. The announcement came one month after Universe2U signed an agreement with Grimbsy Hydro Inc. in Grimsby, Ont. to develop a community network for residents and companies in the utility company’s coverage area of the Niagara region of Ontario.

Since its inception in 1998, the management team behind Universe2U has used strategic purchases of Internet infrastructure companies to offer an array of network services. The company says its turnkey solutions includes everything from consulting on and designing of fibre networks to the actual laying of the fibre conduits and deployment of network gear, such as vendor switches and routers.

“By coming in and offering that extensive package, right from the consulting to the actual installation and provision of the network makes a great deal of sense,” said Mark Quigley, an analyst with The Yankee Group in Canada in Brockville, Ont.

“I think there is a tremendous demand for it out there as well,” he added, citing a specific need in smaller communities that don’t already have broadband infrastructure. “It’s getting to the point in those communities where there’s a competitive advantage to having high speed networks available to attract business.”

Frank Miele, the commissioner of economic and technology development for the City of Vaughan, said he chose Universe2U because of their proactive approach to attracting municipalities.

“They are the first group that I saw with a smart community network strategy,” Miele said. “They’re really focused on what my community is looking for.”

Miele said Vaughan had already been using Universe2U’s consulting services to help develop an application for the province’s Connect Ontario initiative, which will award funds to communities that demonstrate a need and a sound business plan.

The partnership was extended after Vaughan began to explore a municipal network to connect the databases stored in public sector facilities.

“We liked the fact (that Universe2U is) an all-in-one, encompassing company,” Miele said. “We don’t have the staff that is required to do all the running around.”

Kim Allen, Universe2U’s CEO, said comments like Miele’s are the reason his company is getting 50 per cent of its business from community network initiatives.

Rather than merely charging municipalities to build out their network design, Allen said Universe2U first looks for ways to reduce the amount of money the municipality needs to pay for the network build. That includes securing funding partners such as the various levels of government; examining what legacy infrastructure is already available to operate certain applications; and jointly owning the fibre conduit with the access (right-of-way) owners.

The company is also committed to providing universal access to the fibre for service providers.

“We don’t want to be a service provider, because we can’t compete head-to-head with our customers,” said Allen, comparing his company to a toll highway operator.

“We just want to carry the traffic. We don’t care what kinds of trucks or cars are running on it.”

Like most fibre builders, Allen said Universe2U also works as a contractor to lay fibre for carriers as well as themselves. Along with “smart” communities, the company focuses on building fibre networks for buildings and providing links from under-served cities to the Internet backbone.

Allen suggested that two-thirds of Canadian communities are without connections to the backbone networks, but Quigley said that number seems far too high.

“Look at Ontario and Quebec,” Quigley explained, “where Bell Canada has covered 75 per cent of their (telephony) footprint with DSL services.”

Universe2U can be found on the Web at www.universe2u.com.