Toronto schools to get Gigabit fibre

The company formerly known as Toronto Hydro Telecom and now owned by Cogeco Cable Inc. has inked a $39 million contract to provide a wide-area network to the city’s school board.

Cogeco Data Services Inc. is expanding its fibre optic network in Toronto so it can give schools transfer speeds of 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) with each other and a 40-Gig connection to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) data centre, said the company’s president, Ian Collins.

“We would be in a position to bring in new businesses online that currently are outside our immediate reach,” Collins said of the new fibre buildout.

Within six months, he added, the first Toronto schools will be connected. The contract calls for 600 sites to be connected within three years.

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TDSB currently uses a 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) wide-area network (WAN) provided by Bell Canada, said Jacob Chan, the board’s general manager for IT services. The board decided to invite companies to bid for a new contract to upgrade the network to 1 Gbps to accommodate video traffic and prepare it for voice over IP.

Currently, 600 schools have access to the Internet and to Ontario’s Optical Research and Innovation Optical Network, Chan said.

He said initially the data centre will get a 20 Gbps link, with the ability to upgrade to 40 Gbps as needed. It currently has a 4 Gbps connection.

“Moving media-rich content is important for teaching and learning,” he said.

The WAN will support social networking for teachers and students, and allows students to publish assignments in video format.

“They can publish video assignments and get feedback from their colleagues on their work,” Chan said. “It will have Youtube types of functions.”

He added teachers will be able to access applications from the board’s data centre.

Cogeco Data Services said its network will help TDSB centralize the storage of documents and provide security.

Originally known as Toronto Hydro Telecom, Cogeco Data Services offers private lines, metropolitan Ethernet and storage and security services.

Chan said the board has petabytes of storage capacity, which includes an 85-terabyte storage farm.

Collins said the contract is “currently for the connectivity component to it” but the other services the company offers “would be of interest” to the school board.

“We will certainly be talking to them as we complete the rollout.”

The City of Toronto’s electrical utility announced nearly a year ago it planned to sell its telecom division, prompting speculation that large providers such as Bell, Telus or Rogers would buy it.

As it turns out, Cogeco bought the Toronto Hydro Telecom in July for $200 million. Analysts at the time noted the companies have completely different customer sets. While Cogeco offers cable television and Internet to consumers, Toronto Hydro Telecom’s target market was the large companies needing storage, backup, broadband connectivity and rigid service level agreements.

A year ago, it rolled out Managed Firewall, a security service designed to protect customers from denial of service attacks, along with Managed Wave, which provides 10 Gbps connections using dense wavelength division multiplexing.

It also operates OneZone, a wireless service using access points mounted on light poles that lets users connect using 802.11g cards for $29 a month, $9.99 a day or $4.99 an hour.

Though the Cogeco Data Services business is different from Cogeco’s traditional consumer unit, Collins said the two operate as separate entities.

“We operate as an independent business unit of Cogeco Cable,” he said. “From that perspective there’s not a lot of plans to integrate the businesses together. Essentially we operated independently out of Toronto.”

Collins, former president of FibreWired Hamilton, was Cogeco’s vice-president of operations, before being appointed president of the data services group in October. He replaced David Dobbin, who resigned to head up Data and Audio Visual Enterprises (DAVE), a company that bought frequencies in last summer’s Advanced Wireless Spectrum auction.

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