Nunavut government backs away from Iqaluit-Nuuk fibre-optic cable

Focus is now on marine cable that will run past Nunavik to Chisasibi

This illustration from December 2018 shows the Government of Nunavut’s original marine fibre-optic cable plan. Now, the GN leans heavily toward dropping the Iqaluit-Nuuk connection and focusing solely on connecting to a cable that will run past the Hudson Bay coast of Nunavik. (Government of Nunavut image)

By Jim Bell

The Government of Nunavut’s $209 million plan for plugging the territory into an ultra-fast fibre-optic cable will likely take a big detour this year, a government spokesperson told Nunatsiaq News earlier this week in an email.

“There has been significant work on this project over the past year as the GN had an opportunity to examine a new and emerging alternate route,” stated Angela Petru, the territorial government’s director of communications.

That new route would eliminate the original plan: a subsea cable connection between Iqaluit and Nuuk.

Instead, the cable would start off in Iqaluit, take a big right turn at the mouth of Frobisher Bay, then curl into Hudson Strait toward Hudson Bay.

There, it would connect with another cable that the Kativik Regional Government will start installing this year between Puvirnituq and Chisasibi.

At Chisasibi, the Kativik cable links up with a land-based line that runs to Montreal, where it will hook up with the North American backbone.

“This will create a higher value option for the GN to connect into the existing North America fibre system,” Petru said.

“[It will also] allow the GN to have a fibre backbone in the south Baffin region and moving west towards the Kivalliq for a potential future connection of that region into existing fibre in Churchill, Man.”

The Nunavut government is now working with the Kativik Regional Government and hopes to have a final route design done by this summer or fall. The territorial government hopes to be ready put out a public procurement seeking a firm to design and build the system in late 2021.

In its 2018 project description, the territorial government said a link to the Kativik cable would be added during a later phase, to provide a backup for the Nuuk connection.

Last May, the Kativik government signed a contract with Alcatel Submarine Networks to lay a fibre-optic cable between Chisasibi and Puvirnituq, with branches leading to Kuujjuaraapik, Umiujaq and Inukjuak.

Salluit connection possible

The Kativik line could go further. The Nunavik organization has applied to the CRTC for funding that would extend its cable as far as the village of Salluit, which sits on Hudson Strait across from Kinngait.

Petru said if the Kativik Regional Government does get that additional funding, then the Nunavut government would plan for a connection to Salluit — which is much closer to Iqaluit and Kimmirut.

Another branch line would likely connect to Sanikiluaq.

In the future, the Nunavut cable could move west to the Kivalliq region, where it could hook up with a land-based fibre and hydroelectric line that the Kivalliq Inuit Association and a private firm called Anbaric Development Partners are now planning for.

The territorial government also expects it can afford to pay for the Kativik route out of the $209.5 million they’ve already budgeted for the line, Petru said.

According to its 2021-22 capital budget, the Nunavut government has already spent $4 million on the fibre-optic project. Between 2023 and 2026, it plans to kick in another $54.5 million, while the federal government will contribute $151 million.

KRG route avoids Huawei connection

The Nuuk-Iqaluit route required use of telecom hardware made by Huawei, which TELE Greenland installed in 2017. Petru said that won’t be the case with the Nunavik route.

Even if the Nuuk route were to go ahead, Petru said the territorial government could install its own hardware, allowing it to “pursue an alternate vendor to Huawei if we choose,” Petru said.

“The GN is carefully examining the national and international storyline relative to Huawei and relative security threats,” she said.

At the same time, she said the territorial government is working alongside the federal government in developing an official procurement policy related to Huawei.

Meanwhile, a new company called CanArctic Inuit Networks is a pitching a fibre-optic cable proposal of its own: a line running from Iqaluit to Clarenville, Nfld.

CanArctic has previously said it has reached out to the federal government to cover 75 per cent of the estimated $107-million cost of that cable, and hopes private financing will take care of the rest.

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(22) Comments:

  1. Posted by Darren on

    Take all that money and assist with StarLink system as the Pikangikum First Nation did in Northern Ontario and we could have fully operable internet by the end of 2021 for much less money.

    • Posted by No thanks on

      No thanks, enough with expensive short life satellite technology, fibre is long term, get ready done!

      • Posted by Nunavik resident on

        Hi “no thanks”,
        1) Can you explain why satellite is expensive? Starlink at 129$ is pricey but certainly not unreasonable.
        2) why are satellites short lived? I thought they lasted like 10 years or more?

        Starlink is changing everything, I suspect it’s going to be very hard for any fiber project to get financed. Let’s see if KRG’s project even gets going. I myself can’t wait to ditch Tamaani.

        • Posted by No thanks on

          10years is very short, we are talking about 50 plus years for fibre, fibre can hold more data than satellite technology.
          In the long term fibre is cheaper to operate and maintain.

  2. Posted by James on

    Interesting they want to connect with a Canadian fibre, the Nuuk fibre is from Newfoundland via Nuuk, a shorter connection then that of James Bay.
    It will be interesting to see how much longer this will be delayed and if it will cost more down the road.

    • Posted by Sceptical on

      It’s guaranteed to cost a lot more in the end.
      Since when do transient GN bureaucrats have the capacity to oversee such a technically challenging and specialized project as a marine fiber optic build?
      These guys just want to put something that sounds sexy on their resumes and don’t care what kind of a mess they leave for Nunavut, they won’t be around when the project is finally finished and the crazy bills come in.
      Anyone remember the Nunavut housing scandal? The bureaucrats can’t even build houses right.

      • Posted by James on

        I do agree with you on how the GN can operate, they tend to do things that make you scratch your head and also at a more expensive way with less to show for it.
        I agree this will be for someone’s resume to take back with them after a few years,

  3. Posted by Name withheld on

    I really like to see the financial statements, for one you can see what has been allocated and spent..

    I honestly believe that more has been spent on Nunavut-Nuuk Fibre project than what is mention in this story!!!! How many contractors were hired in the past two years ?

    Why can’t the Minister for CGS be questioned in regards to this ?

    I bet you the amount of the money spent to date could have been use on bridge to connect Nunavut to South, would definitely lower the cost of living in Nunavut!!

    Like come on, spend wisely on infrastructure and plan better.

    • Posted by Consistency on

      A bridge? could you give more info on what you would like that bridge to look like? where it would be? Not sure I understand what your are hoping for.

    • Posted by Bridge Technician on

      You know – A bridge. One that goes from oh I don’t know somewhere south like Ottawa and connects all 26 communities in Nunavut? And let’s make it a 4-lane expressway to Iqaluit but then a dirt road to the rest of the communities except maybe a paved road between Iqaluit and Rankin and Cambridge then the bridge will keep going to Inuvik

    • Posted by Joe Ptarmigan on

      Let’s revive the Iqaluit to Kimmirut road over the mountains while the Liberals are making new money out of thin air, so we can access Sealift a month earlier…GN put the deep sea port in the wrong community…lol

  4. Posted by Redferns last hope on

    Not looking good for Redferns latest “project”. No government is going to put millions into fibre now with so many much cheaper options literally on the horizon. Dozens of starlink sarellites were just launched to cover the poles, with dozens more coming. The fibre project will be obselete before any fibre even sees the oceab

    • Posted by Disagree on

      I disagree, fibre will be the top best thing for internet for a long time where satellite technology has its limits.
      For the long term fibre is the best option compared to that of satellites.

      • Posted by Cause science! on

        It won’t matter, the various fibre projects have been looking for funding since 2012 and still are no closer to laying cable. Different names, same story. Where has all the previous funding for these projects gone? And why partner with Huawei when most governments are refusing to have any dealings with China. Just more people putting their hands in the “fibre” money pot.

    • Posted by Chris M. on

      Only thing time has shown us is that we are still waiting for fiber.
      Again this argument that satellites are more expensive and not reliable. That’s so short-sighted.

  5. Posted by Stephen on

    The infrastructure of Fibre can be utilized with the ne ground arrays coming with the LEO sattlite systems everyone is developing and launching SpaceX .Telesat. Amazon. BLACKBERRY. so many big players after the leo systems of tomorrow

    • Posted by Jacob Gauthier on

      Actually Starlink is planning on using optical inter-satellite links, aka “space lasers” from one sat to another until it can reach a ground station and pass the packet onto a backbone. This is the only way it can work for polar and ocean regions. However if Iqaluit would be connected by fiber then it would make sense to setup a ground station there.
      Hey KRG, there’s another potential customer for you, lease some bandwidth to Starlink on your future fiber going up the Hudson side. They will also probably need your permission to build the ground station. Ironic, you would be selling bandwidth to your competitor.
      We should all be exited about this next generation of space based LEO satellites, this will revolutionize the north and can only be a huge benefit for all undeserved citizens.

  6. Posted by Nunavimmiuk on

    I wonder how Telesat will spend the $600M from the feds. Microwave towers?

    • Posted by ChrisM on

      Nope, they also plan on building a low earth constellation, same as starlink and the rest

  7. Posted by Tooma on

    To prove soverignty, quebecers are french, but nunavut as a whole its all business.

  8. Posted by Tooma on

    Also nunavut is fairly new territory, new age should make those decisions as they did reconciliate and gave them old happenings foegiveness. Now future holds those decision.

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