Manitoba operator races to open new WiMax coverage

For many Manitobans, this summer’s floods were tough. They were also an annoyance for a Manitoba fixed wireless service provider racing to expand service to people who can’t even get dial-up Internet from their phone company.

However, since July Manitoba NetSet Ltd. – a partnership of seven provincial fixed wireless operators — has erected nine of 50 new towers for its antennas in 200 communities and hopes to launch a new WiMax-based service in December.

Eventually the $14 million network expansion, which is half funded by the federal government’s rural broadband program, will cover 22,000 homes and businesses.

“It’s quite an extensive build,” said Dean Hardy, NetSet’s chief technology officer and director of IT for iNetLink, one of the seven partners. “There’s over 175 links over 303 new sectors going up.”

When finished, the combined network will cover 32,000 people over 125,000 sq. km. of southern Manitoba.

The expansion will be use the latest version of WiMax, 802.16e, which will give download speeds of up to 40 megabits per second under ideal conditions. That’s much faster than some part of the existing network that run on the older 802.16d technology.

In addition to the towers, fibre optic lines and wireless backhaul is also being installed.

This week NetSet announced that Tellabs Inc.’s [Nasdaq: TLAB] SmartCore 9100 network management platform will be used in the packet core of the new network, which runs on spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band. In July it announced the access network and base stations will come from Huawei Technologies Co. Routers and switches are being bought from Juniper Networks Inc.   [NYSE: JNPR].


Hardy said all three were chosen in part because the new part of the WiMax network can be eventually upgraded to the faster LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology. While 802.16e is the mobile version of WiMax, Hardy said NetSet will deploy it as fixed wireless.

Wireless backhaul radios come from SAF Tehnika. The network gets tied together using fibre optic lines from Manitoba Hydro.

Subscribers will have to install a roof-top antenna, which will lead to Wi-Fi/WiMax modems from ZyXel communications Corp.

The federal funds came from $225 million set aside in 2009 for economic stimulus. The biggest part of that is the Broadband Canada program to subsidize operators wanting to expand their networks to unserved or underserved areas of the country.

As the largest fixed wireless provider in the province, iNetLink was interested in applying for the funds, Hardy said, but didn’t want to fight other independent wireless providers for the money. So it proposed they form a consortium to make a joint bid. Eventually their operations will be merged into NetSet.

Many of the operators use proprietary fixed wireless solutions, including Motorola’s pre-WiMax Canopy technology, on unlicenced frequencies. Because iNetLink uses WiMax 802.11d it was chosen to be the lead company on the expansion.

The expansion will reach out to homes and business in areas including Carrot Valley, Swan River, Lac du Bonnet, Reynolds, Victoria Beach, as well as the Selkirk and Interlake and Whitehorse Plains regions.

Under federal rules, the new build has to be finished by the end of the year, but Hardy hopes NetSet can get an extension because work was delayed by the floods.

When the other service providers merge their networks into NetSet’s there will have to be some heavy lifting. “We will not have to replace the core at all,” Hardy emphasized. “The core we’ve built for NetSet is large and capable enough not only to handle the new traffic we’re going to generate from these new communities, but also existing traffic.” But other equipment including local tower antennas and subscribers’ modems will have to be upgraded.

He hopes the savings from the consolidation won’t mean price increases.

Aside from the floods, he says the hardest part of the project has been dealing with Industry Canada – although in a good way.

“The level of detail they required far exceeded anything I anticipated,” he says. “When I sent in my technical details, they came back with very intelligent questions – ‘Are you sure you want to route this way?’ It really surprised me the level of detail they used to evaluate the applications.

However, he adds, once NetSet was awarded funding it knew exactly what it wanted to do.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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