About two-and-a-half years ago, 12 of Toronto’s leading post-secondary schools and teaching hospitals were presented with a rare opportunity: the chance to connect to cutting-edge research institutions around the world at 1Gbps, allowing them to exchange huge blocks of data or video in near real time.

Not surprisingly, they jumped at the chance and last fall launched GTAnet, a dark fibre network that connects the 12 institutions to Ontario’s provincial high-speed research network ORION, which in turn hooks into Canada’s national research network CA*net. CA*net has high-speed links to research networks in other countries.

“It’s a massive paradigm shift for our community in terms of what is possible and [members] are beginning to develop the projects and submit the proposals that are going to leverage the network,” said Bob Gagne, chair of the GTAnet board and CIO of York University in Toronto.

Previously, York and most of the other 12 members were connecting to CA*net over 15Mbps or slower links. At the University of Toronto, the school’s high energy physics group is using GTAnet to transfer large amounts of data between Toronto and the renowned Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, said Bob Chambers, manager of network development, implementation and operation at U of T.

GTAnet members are also using the network to participate in the Advanced Broadband Enabled Learning initiative, which allows teachers from schools across the province to benefit from direct access to scientists and professors at post-secondary schools, Gagne noted.

GTAnet was incor