Carrier brings high-speed to Haida Gwaii  In late September Telus Corp. announced it was working on connecting Haida Gwaii – also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands – to high-speed Internet service. While reaching a new region with high-speed Internet hardly qualifies as news these days, Telus will be connecting Haida Gwaii via the world’s longest over-water radio Internet transmission. The project is part of Telus’s Connecting Communities program – a joint venture with the British Columbia government through which Telus has invested $110 million to connect remote BC communities to high-speed Internet and to expand broadband services. And as far as remote communities go, perhaps none fit the bill as well as Haida Gwaii. An archipelago of more than 150 islands, Haida Gwaii is located between 50 and 130 km off the northwest coast of BC. To deliver service to the island, Telus is investing $1.3 million to build a series of mountain-top data transmitters on Mount Hays, located near Prince Rupert, whence the service will be beamed 115 km over water to a station at Masset, the largest town on the islands. High-speed Internet service will then be delivered to other points on the islands through fibre-optic cables. However, as Haida Gwaii has a population of only about 5,000, Telus clearly isn’t doing this to turn a profit anytime soon. "The benefits are mostly intangible," says Telus spokesman Jim Johannsson. "A lot of these areas are very difficult to serve economically because of rugged terrain and distance, but there’s still very valued Telus customers out there." In fact, Telus won’t even be the high-speed Internet service provider on Haida Gwaii; it’s simply bringing the service to the islands, which will then be distributed by the local ISP, the Gwaii Trust Society. "We only take it that far because we don’t want to drive out of business," continues Johannsson. "We’re trying to do this to create some economic opportunity in these remote rural areas." Of course, delivering the longest over-water radio Internet transmission is easier said than done. Telus, which partnered with Alcatel SA on the system’s design and construction, is using microwave radio to beam signals from the mainland to Masset. Although microwave radio has been around since the 1960s, Johannsson says the distance of the transmission to Haida Gwaii presents some problems for Telus. "You run into some atmospheric things that happen with microwave radio hops over water," he explains. "You get some of them over land as well, but more over water." Specifically, Johannsson explains that water is a good reflector of microwave radio signals. As some part of each signal scatters en route to Haida Gwaii, those rogue signal bits essentially bounce off the water and rejoin the main beam. As a result, part of the signal takes the shortest distance by travelling in a straight line, while some of it travels farther by bouncing off the water. This part of the signal is slightly delayed. "And with very, very high-speed data transmissions, those differences become material," says Johannsson. He adds that microwave radio signals are prone to fading and being bent off course by various atmospheric conditions like humidity, temperature fluctuation, wind or fog. In all cases, Johannsson says, the engineers were able to predict the challenges that would occur, but it’s only been within the last year or so that the technology has come available to correct these issues, and make an Internet transmission such as this one possible. Now that it will be proven – Johannsson says Telus is on schedule to deliver the high-speed service later this year – it could provide a model for other remote communities in Canada and around the world. As for the residents of Haida Gwaii, they will be getting an upgrade over their existing dial-up service, and the benefits of this step up could be innumerable. "It’s critically important for the people who live in those communities because society has evolved to the point now where families almost need to have high-speed Internet," says Johannsson. He points to education as a primary benefit of increased communications services. As well, by delivering high-speed Internet to remote areas Telus is enabling the possibility of video-linked remote visits between doctors and patients, which decreases expensive and potentially unsafe travel. Telus, however, is also trying to receive some monetary return through its Connecting Communities program. "Even though the local ISP is providing the last mile, we have other products that would be available to over high-speed Internet that create a marketing opportunity for us as well," says Johannsson. "So it’s not just a lose situation, not just from the goodness of our hearts. It’s partially that and partially there is a small business opportunity with it as well."