Madeleine Redfern of Iqaluit, the chief operating officer of CanArctic Inuit Networks, holds a piece of fibre-optic cable. These cables are roughly the same width as a garden hose, yet capable of transmitting vast amounts of data at the speed of light. (CanArctic Inuit Networks photo)

New undersea fibre-optic pitch for Nunavut competes against territorial government’s plans

CanArctic Inuit Networks says it can bring high-speed internet to the territory more cheaply and without depending on Huawei gear

By Jim Bell

The path leading to a better Nunavut telecom system may well run under the ocean — through undersea bundles of fibre-optic cable.

But which route will Nunavut end up with?

The emergence of a $107-million undersea fibre-optic cable proposal late last December called SednaLink, unveiled by a new private firm called CanArctic Inuit Networks Inc., gives Nunavut another option for freeing the territory from slow, unreliable satellite networks and achieving parity with southern Canada.

It also might mean the possible demise of the Government of Nunavut’s $209.5-million proposal to install its own fibre-optic cable between Iqaluit and Nuuk, Greenland.

At least, that’s according to CanArctic’s two partners, chief executive officer Doug Cunningham of Toronto and chief operating officer Madeleine Redfern of Iqaluit.

Cheaper, more secure?

Cunningham and Redfern say their proposal requires no spending by the Government of Nunavut.

The GN, according to its 2021-22 capital estimates, has already spent $4 million in preparatory work on its Nuuk-Iqaluit cable project, and plans to spend another $54.5 million. The federal government is expected to contribute the remaining $151 million.

The territorial government has not issued a request for proposals on the project, according to its 2020-23 business plan.

“We can bring these things in at a lower capital cost than governments,” Cunningham told Nunatsiaq News in an interview.

CanArctic also says fibre-optic cables are a safer bet than the various proposals for low-Earth-orbit satellite systems. They say satellites come at a higher price and represent an unproven technology.

Marine fibre-optic cable has roughly the same width as a garden hose. But it’s capable of transmitting vast amounts of data at the speed of light.

Cunningham says he has worked for more than 35 years in the international marine cable business. Another company he’s involved with, Crosslake Fibre, has installed fibre-optic cable across Lake Ontario and is involved in projects in North America and Europe.

He was also the CEO of an earlier company, Arctic Fibre, which pitched a fibre-optic system for the Arctic in 2012. In 2016, an Alaskan company bought the assets of Arctic Fibre and built an undersea cable along the northern Alaskan coastline.

Doug Cunningham, the CEO of CanArctic Inuit Networks, stands at the Apex beach in 2012, when he served as CEO for Arctic Fibre Inc. (File photo)

Under the first phase of its scheme, CanArctic would install a 2,104-kilometre high-speed fibre-optic cable between Iqaluit and Clarenville, Nfld.

From there, Nunavut internet traffic would be directly connected to the networks in North America.

Nunatsiavut, Nunavik connections

Along the way, a company in Nunatsiavut would install branch lines to six locations on the northern Labrador coast: Nain, Voisey’s Bay, Natuashish, Hopedale, Makkovik and Postville.

Later, branch lines would connect with many Qikiqtani communities, as well as with Salluit, Nunavik.

CanArctic has reached out to a variety of federal government infrastructure and broadband programs to contribute roughly 75 per cent of the SednaLink project’s required financing of $107 million. It expects private sector investors will make up the rest.

Cunningham said he estimates the annual operating cost of the SednaLink cable at around $9 million.

Once it’s up and running, the company would generate revenue by selling wholesale bandwidth to existing companies like Northwestel, SSi Canada, Iristel — and even the Government of Nunavut, Cunningham said.

The Huawei connection

SednaLink comes with another potential advantage.

Under the government’s plan, internet traffic from Nunavut and Canada would flow through a marine cable containing equipment installed by Huawei Marine, a former subsidiary of the state-owned Chinese firm Huawei Technologies. The marine cable, called Greenland Connect, was laid between Nuuk and Newfoundland in 2008. It’s operated by TELE Greenland.

That Greenland Connect line was upgraded in 2017 — by Huawei Marine, which installed Huawei terminal equipment.

That means the GN plan may raise potential national security concerns, given the vast amounts of unencrypted data that would flow from Nunavut into the Greenland Connect line.

“I understand there may be some Huawei equipment attached to TELE Greenland and there are always, of course, concerns with Huawei equipment and security and privacy issues,” Redfern told Nunatsiaq News.

Many western countries fear equipment installed by Huawei Technologies, which has close ties to the Chinese government, could be used by the People’s Republic of China for various types of cyber-espionage.

For that reason, some countries have acted to limit or ban the use of Huawei equipment within new 5G next-generation cellular networks.

Huawei Technologies sold Huawei Marine in 2019 to a China-based firm called Hengtong Optic-Electric, which is partly owned by a member of China’s National People’s Congress.

But in 2019, the Washington Post reported that even under its new owner, Huawei Marine, is still perceived to be a potential threat.

Completion by 2022?

Meanwhile, CanArctic Networks hopes to get its Iqaluit-Newfoundland cable installed by November 2022 — but that’s only if financing comes together quickly.

“If we don’t get the support within the next two months, this project will be potentially delayed by another year,” Redfern said.

That’s because of the short Arctic shipping season. Laying cable and onshore preparatory work can only be done during ice-free months.

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(23) Comments:

  1. Posted by Questions on

    The closer we are to fiber, the better. But….
    Isn’t Arctic Fiber/Quintillion a big red flag? Redfern advocated for Arctic Fiber, and then Quintillion in Nunavut and it didn’t work out. Maybe that was for the better since the Alaskan communities who got on board got screwed:
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-10-08/quintillion-ceo-s-promise-to-wire-the-arctic-was-1-billion-scam
    .
    Honestly asking. I know Redfern is a good person who’s just deadset on fixing this issue and wouldn’t be the benefactor of a scam, but the whole subject of fiber in the north is exciting but at the same time many things were promised before. Someone in the know please feel free to set the record straight.

  2. Posted by Private pricing on

    I’m not overly optimistic given the private market in Iqaluit is all about gouging. Overpriced groceries, takeout, automotive etc. The only things reasonably priced are gov run – power, gas, dmv fees.
    .
    I can’t see anyone offering the internet for under $200/mo if no gov backbone forces them.

  3. Posted by Nunavut, yeah right! on

    This will benefit IQALUIT ONLY, not Nunavut
    How will this benefit people in Grise Fiord, Saniqilluaq or Kugluktuk and all other small towns in between.
    Iqaluit does NOT = Nunavut

    • Posted by Snappy 20 on

      Actually, this would be a huge benefit to all the small communities as Iqaluit is a bandwidth hog and getting them off the satellite will free up bandwidth for everyone else, making for faster speeds for those still on satellite.

      • Posted by web surfer on

        Freeing up Iqaluit from the satellite bandwidth roughly 8,000 people in Iqaluit and growing, that’s a lot of bandwidth being freed up.
        Makes other communities internet faster.

  4. Posted by Jimmy on

    StarLink is already up and running, and will be available world-wide within 12-18 months. Fibre optic will be a decade in the making, if it happens at all. An no help at all for people in the Kivaliq and Kitikmeot regions.

    My money is with Elon Musk.

    • Posted by Trapper Chan on

      Starlink is already up and running in some remote regions like northern ontario. Their experience has shown it isn’t a particularly valuable improvement given the price.
      I don’t care how we do it. I want reliable and affordable high-speed

      • Posted by Starlink on

        While I’m not sure what’s going on in Northern Ontario, every other article I’ve read about Starlink has shown it’s almost on par with DSL. Good bandwidth and low ping. The starting cost is high, but the service is far better than NWTEL or any of the other satellite based ISP’s we currently have.

  5. Posted by Peter on

    Fiber to Iqaluit sounds nice but what about the other communities? I sure hope the feds don’t invest our tax dollars. Starlink should start sending satellites into a polar orbit soon and be able to offer service in every recess of the tundra. Forget fiber, Elon will be our savior.

    • Posted by Peter on

      Why? Iqaluit being around 8,000 people, Fed, GN, other organizations and people using up bandwidth why shouldn’t the feds invest in Iqaluit for fibre? What’s your reasoning? Just because it’s in Iqaluit?
      So short sighted, this will free up bandwidth for the other communities and speed up your internet.

      • Posted by Peter on

        “Freeing up bandwidth for the communities” will soon be irrelevant, everyone will switch to Starlink even if it’s priced at a premium. Why stick with 800ms latency when you can go to 40ms. For bandwidth we’re talking a ten fold increase. Xplorenet and the rest are dead.
        As for Iqaluit I suspect once Starlink arrives, every residential and commercial customers will get on because it’s going to be a better service. At that point it’s going to be hard for the GN to continue pushing for fiber, or for the feds to invest.
        The people who are short sighted are the ones who keep pushing for more satellite bandwidth or for the fiber.

        • Posted by Peter on

          Satellite will always be more expensive with more limitations and short life span. Fibre is the way to go, less disruptions, more economical, faster and more room for data.
          Whats the lifespan of this Starlink? It won’t be as long as fibre that’s for sure.

  6. Posted by trapper on

    Will belive it when in arrive in the mean time this is just a on going story it will never arrive look at the highro line for the south with fiber talk’s for years and years will never see it it just a vote me so we can get this that all it is.

  7. Posted by Susanne Douglas on

    I like the CanArtic Fibre Optic idea. A home grown company, less costly and in our homeland hands.

    Green for good…😊

    • Posted by Home Grown on

      “A home grown company”…
      Really.
      Looks like a shell to me.
      Where is the Nunavut content?
      Will the fibre cable be made in Nunavut? No.
      Will the cable be laid by a boat built in Nunavut? No.
      Will the cable be laid by a boat owned by Nunavummiut? No.
      Will the cable be laid by a boat crewed by Nunavummiut? No.
      Will the equipment connected to the cable be built in Nunavut or by Nunavummiut? No.
      Will the capital come from Nunavummiut? No.

      One end of the cable will be in Nunavut, if it ever happens, no matter who does it.
      .
      Nunavut content? Yes, 25% NNI bid adjustment means 25% more costly and a few dollars will go into the pocket of a few Inuit, maybe.
      .
      Cunningham has experience with fibre across Lake Ontario. Good. But Lake Ontario has no iceburgs. It also has 10s of millions of people around it. Iqaluit, not so many.
      .
      As for the red herring also known as Huawei…
      .
      Does Redfern and company also propose to not use any Intel hardware? Intel hardware has been phoning home for more than a decade. Nothing on the Internet is truly private. It gets copied and copied and copied. Ms. Redfern seems to be saying its OK for the USA to receive copies of our “national security secrets”, but it’s not OK for China to get copies.
      .
      Canada has been a member of Five Eyes for many years. Five Eyes is the USA, Canada, Britian, Australia and New Zealand. They intercept each other’s data … and share it. That way they can honestly say they don’t spy on their own citizens.

  8. Posted by Nunavik man on

    I don’t know when Elon musk is planing to launch his spaceX program but when he does every one in the world would have free wi-if all over the world 🌎 so this big project is probably gonna cost a lot of money when we are placed to get free internet soon enough from spaceX . Look up spacex

    • Posted by What? on

      Free? Elon Musk has already started to launch Starlink. The cost of Starlink right now is sitting at $650 before shipping for the terminal of which each residence requires and $129 per month for the subscription cost.
      .
      Starlink / SpaceX / Tesla, etc. need to generate profit. The second SpaceX goes public to raise funds to complete such a project Musk will relinquish ownership of which he only has 54% to begin with. Shareholders will certainly not be allowing free WIFI as long as competitors are not allowing free WIFI.

  9. Posted by fiber on

    Wow! I did not realize Greenland has had fibre since 2008! How does Greenland have so much infrastructure? When I look at pictures and videos of Greenland I always notice the infrastructure over there. Makes me wonder how they do it and why we can’t do the same up here.

    • Posted by Easy on

      Their government can get things done the right way while our government can’t and have to find the longest way and most expensive way to do it and then it’s not guaranteed it will get done after spending millions.
      Difference in governments.

  10. Posted by John235 on

    How can Cunningham and Redfern say that satellites are more expensive? The customer only cares about what he pays for the service, not the total cost of the project.
    And saying that satellites are an unproven technology, of course they’re going to say that lol. The same was said about Tesla and SpaceX and look how well they are doing and how they transformed the industries they operate in.
    I hope they can secure the financing quickly because the first starlink satellites going into polar orbit are lauching VERY soon (Google it). They only need 500 of them in polar orbit and they can do that quickly, then it’s game over for CanArtic Inuit Networks.
    BTW, why “Inuit” in the name of the company, what’s Inuit about it? Or does it just look good? You are not fooling us, this is 0% Inuit.

    • Posted by Not shocked on

      The above is a poignant reminder of the racism and sexism brown women working in the technology sector experience every day of their working lives.
      Bravo.

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