The City of Ottawa could be blanketed by broadband wireless within two years of receiving funding from an Ontario government initiative, an Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) representative says. A joint venture between Inukshuk Internet Inc., Allstream Inc. and NR Communications has applied for funding from the Connect Ontario: Broadband Regional Access (COBRA) funding program. The joint venture filed its request at the beginning of the month following a request for proposals (RFP) issued by OCRI’s ORCnet initiative. A decision by Ontario’s Ministry of Enterprise, Opportunity and Innovation on whether the joint venture wins funding from the COBRA program is expected within the next few weeks, Chris Cope, executive director of ORCnet, tells Report on Wireless. A total of eight applications were submitted to the RFP, says Cope, adding that the organization ultimately selected the Inukshuk proposal. ORCnet, or Ottawa’s Rural Communities Network, has a goal to bring broadband connectivity to the region’s rural communities. The city would be covered by unique technology from Minneapolis MN-based NextNet Wireless that would expand broadband connectivity to not only rural and remote regions, but also to the more densely populated regions of the nation’s capital. The joint venture is taking baby steps in its rollout and recently introduced service in Cumberland ON, a community about 30 minutes east of downtown Ottawa. That follows a similar launch in Richmond BC and two others in the Far North, both of which are part of Inukshuk’s national rollout plans (RoW Update, March 15/04). The expansion of the network would piggyback on Inukshuk’s parent company’s existing network in the region, says Cope, adding that Microcell Telecommunications Inc. has 16 towers located throughout the greater Ottawa area that will be used to expand the network to cover the entire region. Five additional towers would need to be built, but the City of Ottawa has agreed to allow the use of public lands where possible, Cope says. He doesn’t foresee too much difficulty in securing tracts of public land since OCRI has an established relationship with the city. During the launch at Bearbrook Farm Bed and Breakfast on March 13, Dean Proctor, VP of regulatory affairs with Microcell and special projects leader for Inukshuk, said that the service represents a new choice for residents in the region, but for most residents in Cumberland this is a first choice for broadband. He notes that this is only the beginning for the Ottawa region and a larger deployment is imminent. The joint venture remains mum about a future rollout plan only to say it will be aggressive. Proctor tells RoW that the national strategy "will see the light of day." He adds that there are a number of issues the company is working through before it can go public with the plan. "Bottom line is the partnership right now is finalizing the deployment models…There’s a different cost model right now than we had when we first put in the application (for funding)." Proctor says much of the push for expansion stems from interest expressed by a number of ISPs, which want access to the network. "There are priorities coming from the various ISPs for buildout. A lot of the deployment push is coming from the numerous ISPs (interested in using the network). We already have Fido and Allstream onside, and we announced AOL (on March 10), SSI Micro up north and Nunanet in Nunavut. Each one of these ISPs is providing input for the deployment. "Inukshuk, as a wholesaler, has to have clients, but I suppose it’s a combination of where Inukshuk believes that there will be demand in certain markets. It’s always nice to know when you know there will be demand in certain markets and we actually have wholesale customers who are ready to start retailing as soon as we can get up and running." Allstream and Microcell are the only two service providers currently in the region offering service over Inukshuk’s MCS network. While Allstream is targeting the small- and medium-sized business market, Microcell is focusing on the consumer market with its iFido service (see box for pricing options). Mike Kologinski, executive VP of marketing at Allstream, tells RoW that depending on the success of the offering, the company could make a much greater push in the SMB market. "We may find that the economics of this technology, the ease of use and the capabilities to add in Internet and over time voice, this could really be a springboard for us to get back into this segment. But that’s going to be one of the outcomes of getting a little bit of market information from this. We’ll be using it to re-think how aggressive we’ll be in that segment."