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Beaming Gigabits Across Canada-U.S. border

Ontario’s and Michigan’s advance research networks will soon start transmitting gigabits of data over radio waves across the Canada-U.S. border, using wireless links instead of fibre optic cable. The new connection will support a massive 1Gbps back-up link between ORION and the Merit Network in Sault Ste. Marie, a distance of over six kilometres above the two cities.

The new laser-guided line-of-sight link, being turned up next week, links ORION’s Point-of-Presence (PoP) at Sault College and Merit’s PoP at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

The wireless link uses Bridgewave Communications’ new 80GHZ Radio Frequency transmission technology. This project represents the first large-scale deployment of the new gear at this frequency.

The purpose of the new link is to provide path redundancy to users in Sault Ste. Marie in case of primary fibre or equipment failure. ORION member traffic out of the region will be routed on the Merit network down to the Detroit-Windsor tunnel fibre connection, to be delivered to the rest of the ORION network.

This link is also great news for Merit, the State of Michigan’s research and education network, which needs a secondary path to the state’s Upper Peninsula. Merit will use the new link to get secondary access through ORION to the Windsor-Detroit tunnel connection.

The decision to proceed with the wireless link came after several fibre and power outages on the Sault Ste. Marie – Sudbury route, says Sam Mokbel, ORION’s Senior Director of Engineering and Network Operations. “ORANO, in consultation with its members, decided to invest into shielding the Sault PoP from the frequent storms and accidents affecting the electrical and fibre cables and causing total PoP isolation.”

Longer-lasting UPS at the intermediate repeater sites between the Sault and Sudbury have already been installed to protect against power outages. In addition, existing and new ORION members can use the new link as a secondary path in case of outages on the primary path to the Sudbury PoP.

According to Mokbel, this technology is much easier to provision and maintain than a traditional fibre link. While this solution would not be effective for multiple GigE connections, it is significantly more economical than a comparable fibre-based solution, he says. The link will provide 1 Gbps under normal operating conditions, with fall-back to 100 Mbps under severe weather conditions or heavy interference.

The total solution cost, shared equally between ORANO and Merit, is $60,000. ORION Engineering is the project lead with support from Merit Engineering, and IT staff at both Sault College and Lake Superior State University.

network connection photo