Small town Ontario to get wireless broadband

OmniGlobe Networks Inc. of Montreal is using fixed wireless technology to provide high-speed Internet access to customers in rural areas in Eastern Ontario near Kingston, including the counties of Frontenac and Lennox and Addington.

Utilities Kingston, which provides electricity, water, sewage and some telecom services in and near the city, is building five towers, in which OmniGlobe plans to install wireless equipment, said Jason Neale, OmniGlobe’s chief executive officer.

This is in addition to 11 towers Utilities Kingston has already built to serve the Limestone District School Board and other public sector organizations in the area, said Campbell Patterson, Utilities Kingston’s project manager in charge of the rollout.

“As soon as those towers are up we will start to put infrastructure on them,” Neale said. “We envisage service being available towards the end of the summer.”

The total cost of the project will be $1,743,745, Patterson said. Utilities Kingston is contributing 766,088. The Kingston Economic Development Corp, is kicking in $18,000 while the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is contributing $480,000 through its Rural Connections Broadband program, which is budgeted to spend $30 million over four years to provide high-speed access in rural areas of southern Ontario. Another organization – the Frontenac Community Futures Development Corp. – is pitching in $75,000, Patterson said.

“We partnered with Utilities Kingston because their mandate was to get broadband into the schools,” said Anne Prichard, executive director, of Frontenac CFDC. “We wanted to be able to get some access in to residents and business in the area.”

Patterson said Utilities Kingston provides networking service for 60 sites at LDSB and each school connected by fibre gets 100 Mbps while those connected by wireless networks get 10 Mbps.

But schools in the communities of Mountain Grove, Plevna and Cloyne still don’t have broadband access.

“The OMAFRA project is helping us get broadband connectivity to the schools and in turn by virtue of that broadband being available in those communities, OmniGlobe is able to provide service in those locations,” Patterson said.

Prichard said in rural areas, Internet service providers cannot recoup their investment on high-speed infrastructure because the population is too sparse.

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“A lot of the businesses we work with are sole proprietors and they don’t have access to broadband in the rural areas but it also allows rural communities to have access to health care services and educational services more easily.”

Neale said rural businesses with a Web presence essentially need high-speed.

“Think back to when you had a dialup system and how painful that was,” he said. “Web pages are designed on the presumption people have broadband.”

Michelle Warren, senior research analyst at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, agreed.

“One of challenges is (rural companies) face is the Internet connection running through the phone line,” Warren said. “Wireless broadband Internet is something small businesses need in order to be competitive with other like-minded companies in their area or if they wanted to compete with companies in larger urban areas.”

Neale said the price has not been determined, but the cheapest version of the service will likely cost less than $50 per month.

Depending on the package they buy, users will get download speeds of anywhere from 1.5 or 3 Mbps, he added.

OmniGlobe plans to use a variety of customer premise equipment and base stations, though most of the equipment will come from Trango Systems Inc. of San Diego, Calif. and Proxim Wireless Corp. of Milpitas, Calif., Neale said.

He described the equipment as “pre-WiMax,” meaning it is similar to fixed wireless equipment meeting the Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Access standard, designed to allow transfer rates of up to 40 Mbps per channel over a wide-area wireless network.

“WiMax has been garnering a lot of buzz in last few weeks and I expect we’ll hear more about it in the next two months,” Warren said. “As we become more of a knowledge based economy, where we have to rely more on communicating with people around the globe, this provides a lower cost option.”

OmniGlobe has three other projects in Ontario, Neale said.

Service is now available in rural areas surrounding Stratford, Ont. while similar projects in Durham Region (east of Toronto) and Manitoulin Island will be ready in about two months, he said.

He expects customers will use the broadband wireless for electronic commerce, voice over IP and other Web applications.

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