Whistler is already one of the most wired towns on the planet with cable, ADSL, dialup, wireless and even microwave wireless connectivity, and with the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games on the horizon the coverage is about to be enhanced to a level that few cities can match.
At a press conference on Thursday, July 6, Olympic sponsor Bell Canada broke ground on a new 120 km fibre optic line from Vancouver to Squamish and Whistler that is expected to be completed by November. The main purpose of the line is to provide live high definition broadcast feeds from events in Whistler to Vancouver, where it will be broadcast around the world. The line will also handle official Olympic communications and services, while facilitating wireless Internet at various locations connected to the Games.
According to Norm Silins, the line is part of a $32 million commitment by Bell to wire the 2010 Games.
"In terms of the commitment we made to the Games, and to connect Vancouver and Whistler, this is one part of it," said Silins. "I cant say how much of that money went into this line, but its a big investment to bring connectivity to all the Olympics and Olympic communities."
The line itself is made up of 144 fibres, each capable of performing 40,000 data transmissions per second. Together, according to Silins "theres enough capacity in the combined line to carry the entire Internet traffic for Canada."
Part of the reason for this capacity is the need to broadcast the Games for high definition television, which has about four times the resolution of normal television broadcasts as well as a higher rate of frames per second and digital audio.
At the same time the line has to carry traffic from the Olympics, PCS (person communications service) carriers, and from businesses in Squamish and Whistler that sign up to use the system.
While the Olympics are the main reason behind the fibre optic line, Silins says Bells service will be offered for the long term.
"Weve built and deployed wireless handheld covered in Squamish for June 1, and when the system is completed to Whistler for the beginning of 2007 well build a PCS with unprecedented coverage," he said. "And heres why we want to serve, the spectators, fans, athletes and communities at Games time, but its also a major corridor. Were here to serve the Games, yes, but well be here before, during and after the Games to serve business, build customers, and expand the network.
"Starting late this year well be able to offer services, and there will be a legacy."
The service wont compete directly with Whistler companies offering broadband Internet at first, but will instead focus on creating a hub in Whistler with voice and data networking for local businesses.
Theres no word on how much it will cost to subscribe, but Silins says it will be competitive with others in the marketplace.
And while it may seem like the market is flooded, Silins says that will only work to customers advantage.
"When you have a choice of service providers, like you do in Whistler, theres greater market pressure for lower prices, better service, and that only benefits customers," he said.
Part of the fibre optic line is already complete. Crews have been laying the housing for the line under the railway track between North Vancouver and Whistler, making use of the existing infrastructure.
"We used existing infrastructure for 90 per cent of the build, so we didnt disturb much land," said Silins. "Building under the railway is a technique were very familiar with and very good at."
The next step is to run the fibre optic line through the pipes, splicing sections together every five kilometres. There will be central offices and switching equipment in both Squamish and Whistler that will serve as hubs for spreading the signal.
In 2004 Bell Canada beat out Telus to become the Games national partner for the Games in the telecommunications category. The deal was worth $200 million, with $90 million in cash, $60 million for equipment (including $32 million to wire Whistler and Vancouver), and $50 million for Games-related marketing.
The deal has helped Bell make inroads in the western provinces, where Telus has been the dominant telecommunications company. Telus was also a partner in the bid to bring the Games to B.C. starting in 1996.
Fibre optic lines use light rather than electricity to transfer data through tiny strands of glass or plastic. Its far more expensive than conventional wires, but offers higher speeds and bandwith with less degradation or maintenance.