MTS to upgrade Manitoba’s data network

Government offices, hospital boards and some school districts in Manitoba will soon see a dramatic increase in online speeds after the province awarded MTS Allstream Inc. a $100 million contract to upgrade its data network.

“Most of the locations will have 10 times the bandwidth capability they might have had previously,” MTS president Kelvin Shepherd said Wednesday.

Some 400 locations, including provincial and offices, most hospitals and a few school boards are on the existing seven-year old network, dubbed the Provincial Data Network.

Although it’s IP/MPLS-based, the network is showing its age: Most rural areas connect at 2 megabits per second (Mbps), while urban areas have at most connecting speeds of 100 Mbps.

The upgrade – to be called the Manitoba Network — will mean rural areas could coast along at up to 100 Mpbs, Shepherd said, while in cities subscribers could get up to 1 Gbps.

As a result MTS can offer all Manitoba Network subscribers quality of service (QoS) and multi-class services for enhanced capabilities such as voice over IP, video conferencing and remote access.

“We see adding new capabilities which will add more security and secure inter-organizational communications,” Shepherd added.

The contract is for 10 years, which covers not only the upgrade – which won’t take that long to complete – as well as network management.

Most of the network is already fibre optic, so the bulk of the upgrade will come in the form of new routers, switches and optical electronics. The core of the existing network is based on equipment from Cisco Systems Inc., and Shepherd said it will remain the main supplier for the upgrades.

Optical equipment plus gear for providing high speed access over copper lines comes from other suppliers.

The contract also provides for the possibility of adding fixed wireless connectivity in the future if needed, either from MTS or third-parties if the telco’s network can’t reach.

One of the side benefits MTS hopes to get from the deal is signing up more hospital and school boards to the provincial network. They have the freedom to choose their own providers.

In announcing the deal the province emphasized the benefits of the Manitoba Network to rural and northern parts of the province.  “The network will especially benefit communities where distance and geography have made it difficult to share information,” said innovation, energy and mines minister Dave Chomiak in a news release.

The upgrade is part of Manitoba’s broadband policy and comes at a time when thefederal government is still formulating its digital strategy.



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