TECH­NOL­OGY

Lightning-fast 5G In­ter­net is on its way. The ques­tion is how long it takes to reach the com­mu­ni­ties off B.C.’S beaten path

BC Business Magazine - - Contents - By Jes­sica Natale Wool­lard

For many pro­fes­sion­als in B.C.’S re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, high­speed 5G In­ter­net can’t come fast enough

Self-driv­ing cars. Aug­mented re­al­ity glasses. Surg­eries per­formed re­motely.

Fifth-gen­er­a­tion wire­less con­nec­tion is com­ing, and with it tech­nolo­gies that are the stuff of sci­ence fic­tion. With broad­band speeds es­ti­mated to be 100 times faster than the cur­rent 4G ser­vice, 5G is poised to con­nect bil­lions of de­vices around the world—phones, watches, com­put­ers, fridges, even cloth­ing—in real time, open­ing end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties for the In­ter­net of Things.

In March, the Govern­ment of Canada an­nounced that it, along with the gov­ern­ments of On­tario and Que­bec and five global tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, will in­vest $400 mil­lion to create a cor­ri­dor of linked 5G re­search hubs. The ENCQOR project—evo­lu­tion of Net­worked Ser­vices through a Cor­ri­dor in Que­bec and On­tario for Re­search and In­no­va­tion—will give busi­nesses in Canada’s two largest prov­inces the op­por­tu­nity to ex­per­i­ment with 5G tech­nol­ogy to un­lock in­no­va­tion and eco­nomic growth.

Mean­while, out west, B.C. is work­ing to bring its out­ly­ing com­mu­ni­ties up to speed with bet­ter, more re­li­able In­ter­net ser­vice. Days be­fore the ENCQOR news hit the me­dia, the Min­istry of Cit­i­zens’ Ser­vices, re­spon­si­ble for in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, an­nounced ad­di­tional pub­lic and pri­vate fund­ing to im­prove con­nec­tiv­ity in ru­ral and re­mote ar­eas of the prov­ince, never mind that new in­fras­truc­ture will be re­quired once 5G be­comes avail­able.

The woes of slow, low-band width In­ter­net are well known to Pa­trick Shan­non, a Haida Gwaii–based photographer and the founder of In­nona­tive, a graphic de­sign and videog­ra­phy firm spe­cial­iz­ing in brand­ing for Indige­nous or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“It was a big chal­lenge,

try­ing to do dig­i­tal work in a ru­ral com­mu­nity,” says Shan­non, who spent 10 years work­ing with a high-speed con­nec­tion in Van­cou­ver be­fore re­turn­ing to the is­lands. Some­times he mailed his clients their high-res­o­lu­tion files on USB drives be­cause he couldn’t trans­mit them by email. Shan­non, who won Young En­trepreneur of the Year in 2015 at the BC Abo­rig­i­nal Busi­ness Awards, was pay­ing be­tween $300 and $500 a month for In­ter­net, and depend­ing on the time of day, it “wasn’t even us­able,” he re­calls. “I had to do most of my work in the mid­dle of the night.”

Shan­non joined the board of Gwai­itel, which man­ages the In­ter­net in­fras­truc­ture on the is­lands, help­ing the com­pany ap­ply for grants that ul­ti­mately al­lowed it to in­stall un­der­ground fi­bre links in more pop­u­lous ar­eas of Haida Gwaii. Re­mote ar­eas still struggle with slow, un­re­li­able con­nec­tions and low band­width.

B.C.’S ge­og­ra­phy has played a role in hin­der­ing ru­ral ac­cess to broad­band In­ter­net. Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ants like the Big Three— BCE, Rogers Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Telus— didn’t have the busi­ness case to in­vest mil­lions to dig trenches and lay fi­bre lines through vast, dif­fi­cult ter­rain to bring ser­vice to small com­mu­ni­ties, ex­plains Jinny Sims, B.C.’S Min­is­ter of Cit­i­zens’ Ser­vices.

“In places where they have fi­bre, we have seen amaz­ing things hap­pen in sup­port­ing tra­di­tional in­dus­tries and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the new dig­i­tal econ­omy,” Sims says.

When fi­bre to the home was rolled out in Tum­bler Ridge in 2012, Steven Tory, an IT con­sul­tant, founded Dino High Tech So­lu­tions, of­fer­ing com­puter ser­vic­ing, web de­sign and tech sup­port. “I would never have thought about run­ning a tech com­pany in this com­mu­nity when we didn’t have fast or re­li­able In­ter­net,” Tory re­marks.

The town of 3,000 peo­ple now has what Tory calls an “ac­cept­able level” of In­ter­net ser­vice, but the de­lay in get­ting broad­band caused “a mas­sive prob­lem with dig­i­tal lit­er­acy.” He points out, “You have to have a solid grasp on tech­nol­ogy, oth­er­wise you’ll get left be­hind.”

Ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try ex­perts, we’re a few years away from a full 5G wire­less roll­out. A net­work of new base sta­tions needs to be built across the coun­try to dis­trib­ute the 5G sig­nal, which uses a dif­fer­ent fre­quency than cur­rent tech­nolo­gies. Sims ac­knowl­edges the prov­ince is com­mit­ted to work­ing with the fed­eral govern­ment and pri­vate in­dus­try to stay on top of fu­ture tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments so ru­ral and re­mote B.C. doesn’t fall be­hind again—for ex­am­ple, when it’s time to in­stall 5G in­fras­truc­ture. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion has also es­tab­lished a work­ing group to iden­tify op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove con­nec­tiv­ity in pub­lic li­braries.

In the in­terim, the ENCQOR project could have a B.C. com­po­nent. A spokesper­son for the fed­eral Min­istry of In­no­va­tion, Sci­ence and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment replied in an email that the 5G test cor­ri­dor in On­tario and Que­bec may even­tu­ally in­clude com­pa­nies across the coun­try, which could ac­cess the in­fras­truc­ture vir­tu­ally.

When 5G ar­rives, it will ex­pand em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in the tech in­dus­try in ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas, says Karl Swan­nie, CEO of Vic­to­ri­abased Echosec, a so­cial me­dia ge­ofenc­ing plat­form. Swan­nie has a prop­erty on Saturna in the Gulf Is­lands and would love to work there, but the is­land does not have the con­nec­tiv­ity speed and band­width he re­quires. With 5G, not only would he be able to work from Saturna or any­where else, he says he wouldn’t hes­i­tate to hire em­ploy­ees who live in ru­ral ar­eas as long as they can con­nect to the high-speed net­work. “If they have the skills and the tal­ent, I would bring them on in a heart­beat.”

WEB WOR­RIES Pa­trick Shan­non, a photographer based in Haida Gwaii, wants bet­ter con­nec­tion for the coast

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