Nunavut Fibre Optic Feasibility Study

NBDC commissioned the Nunavut Fibre Optic Feasibility Study in order to have accurate and current information on the costs, challenges and benefits of fibre optic connectivity. NBDC believes that the resulting report will be useful in policy discussions on solutions for the long-term telecommunication needs of Nunavut and indeed Canada’s Arctic. The study was conducted in the fall and winter of 2011 and a final report was released in the spring of 2012.

The Nunavut Fibre Optic Feasibility Study concludes that the installation and operation of a fiber optic network in Nunavut is possible. The capital cost to build a Nunavut fibre ring, providing fibre service to 24 communities in Nunavut (with the assumption that Sanikiluaq is most economically served from a Nunavik network), is estimated at $1.05 billion. A fibre network serving only the regional capitals (Iqaluit, Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet) and extended to Resolute Bay, is estimated to cost $342 million. However, the report also makes the point that a concurrent investment in high throughput satellite is critical to ensure that non-fibre linked communities are served and to act as back-up in the event of a fibre break.

The final report is available for download:

Summary findings

From a technical perspective, the installation and operation of a fiber optic network in Nunavut is possible with existing fibre networking technologies, with some modifications to adapt to local conditions. This is not without risk and several key issues are identified, including:

  • The need for accurate and up to date nautical and geological information to determine undersea cable routings and landing approaches
  • The environmental review and permitting process
  • The limited installation window and changing ice conditions
  • The need for a long term maintenance and repair strategy, including back up alternatives in case of a prolonged outage

The report identifies several network design considerations for risk mitigation, including the use of a ring architecture, route diversity, the use of branching units and the use of alternative technologies as back up.

Options for a mixed telecommunications network in Nunavut are identified as well as socioeconomic considerations to take into account for such a mixed network. These include the possibility of a digital divide between connected and unconnected communities, the need for concurrent investment in high throughput satellite for non-fibre connected communities and the need to consider how to manage the difference in service levels between fibre and satellite served communities to ensure the socioeconomic prosperity of the entire territory. Four recommendations are made to address these socioeconomic considerations:

  • Investment in infrastructure must benefit Nunavummiut as it also seeks to benefit Canada
  • Reliability and system redundancy are paramount
  • Strategic concurrent backbone investment is required in satellite
  • Future revenue streams required to maintain and innovate  

Salter Global Consulting INC (SGC) won the competitive RFP to undertake the work. In turn, SGC engaged Ledcor Infrastructure Services and Imaituk Inc as sub contractors.

The NBDC Board has reviewed and approved the report as they believe it will be useful in the policy discussions in the future. However, the specific recommendations and conclusions are those of the consultants who prepared the report.