To say that government wastes gobs of taxpayer money is about as controversial as asserting that George Lucas can’t write decent dialogue. From Adrian Clarkson’s Scandinavian boondoggle to the ongoing sponsorship scandal, the feds have proven no one knows how to spend money for nothing like public officials.
Occassionally though the government does pour its money into worthwhile projects. One shining example is CANARIE, the not-for-profit corporation that operates Canada’s super high-speed research network. CANARIE, which also gets help from the private sector, aims to advance the adoption of more efficient networks by enabling next-generation products and applications.
Some might think that CANARIE’s recent announcement about upgrading its network, CA*net4, to support speeds of up to 50Gbps is overkill. 50Gbps is a staggering amount of bandwidth. What could anyone possibly use it for?
Quite a bit it turns out. On the application side, CANARIE is allowing violin students at McGill University to get instruction from their teacher in Ottawa through high-definition videoconferencing sessions.
That may sound more like a luxury than a necessity, but for a country like Canada, with a widely dispersed population, the implications of videoconferencing are tremendous. Medical students in schools across the country could get in-depth training from experts in their field. Patients in remote areas could have medical procedures overseen by top-flight doctors in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver (this is already happening through the efforts of NORTH Network, a telehealth initiative).
CA*net4 also allows research institutions to share huge amounts of data so they can work cooperatively.
CANARIE is also pushing the boundaries of how organizations use their networks. For example, the group allows outfits using the network to provision their own wavelengths on CA*net, including changes to the topology or bandwidth on the fly.
Imagine the implications of such a system in the private sector. Firms would be able to order a high-speed pipe for a last-minute videoconferencing session, set their own quality levels and tear it down after they were done, paying only for the bandwidth used during the session, instead of wasting money on a seldom-used, dedicated high-speed link.
Of course it might take time and a lot of convincing for carriers to implement a bandwidth-on-demand system.
The bottom line is CANARIE’s work is helping Canada stay on the cutting edge of networking technology and improving access to health and education services. The next time the government considers sending a chauffeur on a trip where there’s no driving involved, it might reconsider and put its money somewhere useful like CANARIE.