Inukshuk and partners put MCS technology to the test

Inukshuk Internet Inc. wants to be a welcome guide for travellers on the Internet.

Inukshuk and its partners are completing trials of multipoint communications systems (MCS) wireless networking technology and aiming for a commercial rollout this spring.

“We thought it was particularly appropriate to use the Inukshuk as our symbol as a guide across cyberspace, rather than across the north,” Dean Proctor, vice-president of regulatory affairs with Microcell Telecommunications Inc. (one of the partners in Inukshuk), said.

An Inukshuk is a guide or beacon made by Inuit out of stone, in the shape of a person, that served as a guide for travellers in the remote north because there are few terrain features to navigate by.

Inukshuk is a consortium which includes: Cisco Systems Canada Co., Microcell, Image Wireless Communications Inc., Look Communications, and Nunanet Worldwide Communications Ltd.. The companies banded together to apply to Industry Canada for two-way radio spectrum in order to develop commerical two-way wireless data facilities. Inukshuk was created to reduce the costs and time involved with the submission process that would normally cost each company by applying separately, John Grimmett, network supervisor, Internet services with Look Communications, said. Look is acting as host for the MCS trial.

Industry Canada has allowed a limited 2500MHz test spectrum for wireless Internet to be conducted at Look facilities in Milton, Ont. Look is already providing 1000 subscribers, in the Greater Toronto Area, with commercial Internet product over a broadcast network.

“The idea is we want to marry our existing microwave broadcast system that we use to deliver digital video to homes to a two-way solution that will allow customers to receive a high speed Internet connection that is up to three Mbps,” Grimmett said.

The trials are being used by Cisco Systems Canada to demonstrate its Vector Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (VOFDM) air interface.

“Cisco’s role is to design Inukshuk’s core architecture to a wireless infrastructure to give it the ability to access the Internet without having to put in new wires,” Gino Coutre, project manager for Cisco, said.

Inukshuk has applied for 13 licences across Canada in each territory and province(except Manitoba where another company has already applied). Proctor said the tests have proven successful and all that is required is a licence from Industry Canada to begin the commercial rollout. The plan is to reach 580,000 high-speed Internet and voice-over-IP subscribers within five years of start-up. Most of the subscribers will be residential or small offices/home offices, Proctor said.

Proctor said that Inukshuk will be deploying the network and would be a wholesaler of the IP backbone. It will not have end-user customers and customers will not be buying Internet access from Inukshuk but from Fido (operated by Microcell), Look, or Image in Saskatchewan, and Nunanet in the North.

Rather than dialling through a conventional router the customers would have a microwave transmitter located on top of their houses. Outbound traffic from the customer would be picked up by a receiver and would then transmitted to Look’s Internet backbone connection.

A fully functional prototype has been developed in Milton where speeds of 22-to-44Mpbs were achieved. In point-to-point (multipoint) tests, speeds were 3-to-22Mpbs., Coutre said.

Grimmett said there is a need to develop wireless high speed Internet, because once outside of major metropolitan areas served by large land lines, the quality of Internet connection deteriorates.

“There is a huge need there for these technologies to exist, because, otherwise we’d be a bunch of different little islands of people separated by huge spaces that couldn’t readily communicate with one another,” he said.

The technology is rather inexpensive to provide because unlike land lines it does not require a large capital investment for both provider and end-user, Grimmett said.

“It’s a quick win for us, whereas in the U.S., for example, it’s not as attractive, because they’re well served by land line communications [and} there isn’t the same requirement basically,” he said.

As a requirement of government approval for the network development, Inukshuk is required to have a plan for on-line distance education.

“One of the key points of the application is that Canada being geographically disparate…the two-way wireless data is very attractive. One of the reasons the government is so actively involved in this area is to try and get on-line education out to these remote communities,” Grimmett said.

Inukshuk will provide network access, discounted computer systems and specialized education programs to meet its requirements, Proctor said.