Sarnia eyeing dark fibre ring for better connectivity

Originally published by the Sarnia Observer
Author: Tyler Kula

Sarnia could be getting its own dark fibre ring, paving the way for things like high-speed public wi-fi, better vehicle traffic management, and a way faster municipal network.

City council is being asked to authorize paying another $39,000 per year to Bluewater Regional Networks – currently building a fibre optic network in Sarnia and Point Edward – to make it happen.

The dark ring would basically be strands on the network that the City of Sarnia could light up itself to transmit data, rather than relying on a provider, said Mark Dillon, head of IT.

“The analogy I use is imagine you rent the pipe and push your own water through,” he said, as opposed to the typical cost per cubic metre.

Current connections in Sarnia are about 50 megabits per second (mbps), he said, noting that’s similar to what most mobile phones have.

The dark fibre plan would boost that to 8,900 mbps, he said, and let the city send information directly from city hall to fire halls, the police station, public works or pumping stations without using internet service providers.

“Most municipalities implement this as soon as they can,” Dillon said, noting the plan, if it happens, will put Sarnia in an enviable position.

“The reason everyone doesn’t do it is because not everyone has a partner like Bluewater that allows you to lease out the pipe, because they’d like to split it out across as many customers as they can,” he said.

The move is about preparing for things like smart cities and the internet of things, he said, making space for massive data exchanges.

Things like real-time monitoring of parking availability, pumping stations and traffic flow become possible with the dark fibre ring because it enables so much more data flow, he said.

“The very core foundation is the dark fibre network, and from there we need to build up on the pieces.”

Part of that buildup is happening simultaneously, he said, including a planned $4.4-million Sarnia Police communications system replacement project, and studies into free public wi-fi in areas of the city.

By teaming up with police and fire, sharing towers, and building on the fibre backbone for any public wi-fi plan, early cost savings have been estimated at $256,000.

There’ll also be some additional costs for scheduling and potentially reinforcing or replacing towers for extra weight, he said.

The dark fibre project could be complete, he said, by next June.

Council deliberates July 16 raising the annual fee to Bluewater Regional Networks to $110,000 from $71,000 by June 2019.

The 10-year, current-$725,000 contract started in 2017.

Even if council votes to increase the cost, it’s still cheaper than what other bidders put forward in 2017, Dillon said.

There are no capital costs to build the dark fibre ring, he said, as Bluewater Regional Networks is setting aside strands in the network they’re already building.

The city plans to talk with Lambton County, Bluewater Regional Networks, and Aamjiwnaang First Nation in July about ways they can collaborate on using the network and data, said Marg Misek-Evans, Sarnia’s chief administrative officer.

“I believe in the future fibre-optic backbone will become the most scarce resource … you’ll probably never have enough,” Dillon said.

“We are embracing what I consider to be the future direction and what our future need will be at the right time because we’re in the ground anyway.”

Read the original article on the Sarnia Observer