A Canadian technology company is betting there is more to the Arctic Circle than just cold and snow. They are planning to take advantage of a short polar route to link London and Tokyo with an optical fibre network that should be up and running sometime in 2016. Arctic Fibre plans to start construction on the 24 TB network next spring.
The plan has the network travelling through the North-West passage as it links London with Tokyo. The company will spend USD $620 million to build the network, including a number of 100 GB spurs that will provide high-speed Internet access to remote parts of Alaska. The main emphasis of the network, however, is to decrease latency to speed up financial transactions between Europe and Asia.
In a world where milliseconds can mean the difference between financial loss and gain, the lower latency provided by the shorter and more direct route will have investors lining up to use the network when it's complete. Arctic Fibre is expecting big-name stock traders to be willing to pay whatever cost necessary for access to the network.
In addition to its business benefits, the new network will also have some strategic benefits for the US Defence Department. Network communications between the department and strategic positions in Alaska are somewhat limited due to the inherent weaknesses of satellite technology. In latitudes above 70°, satellite communications are too slow and undependable for defence purposes.
The installation of fibre optics will change the game by allowing for consistent networking at a much higher rate of speed. The US is especially interested in the service that the network will provide to Eareckson Air Station.
Eareckson is a US Air Force base and home to an advanced radar system used to detect both space debris and potential missile launches originating from China or Russia. Having high-speed data communications through the network makes the base that much more effective for both Canadian and US defences.
As far as the spurs are concerned, there are plenty of Alaskan locations with no Internet communications to speak of. The network will bring access to places like Barrow, Prudhoe Bay, Wainwright, Kotzebue, and Nome. The Aleutians are also part of the plans.
Pushing the Limits
The harsh Arctic environment is the last place many people would think to install a high-speed fibre-optic network however, in order to overcome the limits of satellite technology, there is a need to push the limits of what is currently available through terrestrial networks. It's not enough to rely on relatively slow satellite communications that can be dependent on weather and other conditions.
A successful installation and deployment could set the stage for similar networks in other remote parts of the world. It appears to be just the next step in eventually linking the entire world, even in the most out-of-the-way places. At any rate, the network is an ambitious project that will certainly yield benefits for generations to come in Europe, North America and Asia.