LRT transports more than just people

Not only do the LRT lines carry hundreds of passengers daily in Calgary and Edmonton, but they also carry hundreds of gigabytes.

Alberta cities created fibre optic connections in LRT lines to connect municipal services and buildings, and they are now being used to connect educational institutions and not-for-profit groups throughout and beyond the province.

Cybera is a non-profit organization that oversees fibre network connections, which are thousands of times faster than conventional networks, between publicly funded organizations and also offers affordable Internet bandwidth.

“You can’t do research if you don’t have bandwidth nowadays,” Cybera Network and Operations Manager Jean-Francois Amiot said.

The Cybera network connects Alberta institutions and is connected to the national research network through links to British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

High-speed connections are vital for research, but many Albertans are unaware that Cybera exists, Amiot said.

“We are mostly invisible,” said Amiot, who has been working at Cybera for 14 years.

“Most of the people who do research wouldn’t even know what we do and that they’re connected.”

In Calgary and Edmonton, the Cybera network makes use of municipal fibre optic connections, including routes in major roadways and transit lines.

Collaboration with the City of Calgary has allowed Cybera to access dark fibre connections, which are fibre optic lines installed by the city that are currently unused.

Amiot said the interactions between Cybera and municipalities across the province vary from city to city.

Calgary leases access to its fibre optic network, while Edmonton allows Cybera to build fibre infrastructure.

Cybera, which is funded through government grants and membership fees, also offers discounted Internet bandwidth by combining organizations’ buying power. This service has improved Cybera’s visibility by offering services to a variety of organizations throughout the province.

SAIT is connected to the Cybera network through the municipal connection in the LRT line, in addition to two private fibre optic connections.

Emrah Atil, manager of network and telecommunications services at SAIT, said the school connected to the Cybera network in 2013 and has since benefited through increased bandwidth and an additional connection for redundancy.

“We wanted to get more diversity of connections into campus because you may hear of these incidents where a truck hits a light pole and the fibre connection goes down,” Atil said.

“We want to have multiple paths and multiple connections through these paths.”

Amiot said Cybera is continuously looking into expanding its network when there is demand.

“The city has lots of fibre, but they don’t get to many buildings. That’s the big problem at the moment.”

In addition, connections between municipalities require a greater challenge — new infrastructure.

“City of Calgary fibre ends with city boundaries,” Amiot said.

“How do you connect Calgary and Edmonton together? And Calgary and Lethbridge? Those are challenging.”

Transporting gigabytes: The City of Calgary installs fibre optic connections throughout transit right-of-ways to connect city services. Cybera uses these connections to link research facilities and publicly funded organizations. (Photo by Jeff Wiehler/The Press)
Transporting Gigabytes: The City of Calgary installs fibre optic connections throughout transit right-of-ways to connect city services. Cybera uses these connections to link research facilities and publicly funded organizations. (Photo by Jeff Wiehler/The Press)
About Jeff Wiehler 6 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Jeff Wiehler worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2015-16 academic year.

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