Grand Manan – Crave Technologies, based on Grand Manan Island, was founded in 2007 with the express purpose of bringing high speed internet to communities under serviced by larger ISP’s.
They began operations as a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP), which uses equipment operating in public spectrum frequency bands to distribute internet service to their customers. This “last mile” of a customers internet connection is considered to be one of the most expensive portions of the network, and smaller communities are usually ignored by incumbent ISP’s in favor of more dense – and profitable – areas.
“We started with just one customer on Whitehead Island off the coast of Grand Manan,” said Don Leclair, who runs FrameFlow, an IT software development firm, and who was an early investor in Crave Technologies.
“From there it led to bigger and bigger things, and we now have upwards of 200 different radios deployed.”
While WISP’s have become one of the ways that rural areas solve the problem of high speed internet access, the technology comes with some difficulties. Terrain, trees, and to a lesser extent weather can all affect signal quality.
“Just basic things like if you install a radio at this time of year and there is a tree in the way, come spring all of a sudden the tree is in a full leaf and you have no signal.
“There are cases literally where you can provide services to one customer, but their neighbour can’t get service” because of obstructions between the radio and the tower.”
But even with the difficulties that come with line of sight issues, WISP’s are usually heralded as a shining example of local solutions to local problems.
But Crave has higher ambitions than simply providing wireless internet to Grand Manan, though it’s an admirable goal. They believe that rural fiber to the home isn’t just a pipe dream for some technologically advanced future, they are building it right now.
Their new offering, called Proximity Fiber, will be bringing high speed internet to homes in just a few weeks. “Fiber eliminates so many of the issues that a WISP faces, and it has potentially almost unlimited bandwidth, because it’s really like internet at the speed of light when it comes down to it,” said Leclair.
“It’s exciting, because if you get internet from Bell Aliant right now, which is the only other option other than satellite internet, the maximum speed you can get is 7 mbps, which I had in Ottawa in 1998. It’s like going back in a time machine.”
There are different economies of scale that apply when you’re in an urban area that don’t work very well for rural areas. The densities are one factor, but there are other considerations as well – like how you get from point A to point B. Crave Technology has developed a model that uses new fiber technology in order to make it economically viable in more rural areas.
“There is a lot of technology that has come on the market in the last few years – the last six months even – that has made a lot of these things more affordable,” said Leclair, adding that larger carriers move slowly and have less flexibility when upgrading equipment due to large supplier contracts and the scale of their business.
As for the differences between their deployment of fiber and conventional deployments, “It’s the same glass fiber being used, but it’s a matter of how you connect it, what the fiber counts are, and how often – if at all – do you split those fibers amongst different clients,” said Leclair.
“We’ve put together something that provides a potentially higher capacity to what you would find in an urban environment, but it also allows us to cross long distances in a cost effective way.”
Proximity Fiber has a Phase 1 deployment happening in North Head right now, with construction crews there over the course of this week and the next, laying fiber. Phase 2 is planned for later this year which will expand to other areas of Grand Manan.
Phase 3 is where things get exciting, if you find networking exciting that is. Leclair believes that the technology they are leveraging is useful even in denser communities like those that make up large swaths of Charlotte County.
The plan is to expand to the mainland and begin offering fiber internet to a broader base of customers who are limited in their choices to outdated and slow DSL, or satellite internet which is expensive and comes with restrictive data caps, which in the age of wire cutting and Netflix binging is unacceptable for many customers.
“We view Grand manan as a testing ground,” said Leclair. “We’ve met with a variety of people who have said ‘why on earth would you deploy in maybe the hardest place in the Maritimes?’, but of course if they can get it to work in an isolated island community, it can work anywhere.”
For more information on Proximity Fiber visit them on the web at www.proximityfiber.com