New Westminster is getting a new highway.
But this one won’t pour even more vehicles off and on the ageing Pattullo Bridge.
This highway moves data.
And, it’s hoped, move British Columbia’s oldest city well into the future.
Tuesday, the City of New Westminster launched its new BridgeNet fibre optic network. When it’s completed in five years, the network of fibre optic cable encased in bright orange plastic conduits buried in the ground will bring gigabit internet to businesses, agencies, industries and residents from Queensborough to Sapperton.
The initiative is the backbone of New Westminster’s “intelligent city” strategy to drive its economic growth over the next 20 years, said Bill Harper, the co-chair of the task force that developed the program in consultation with business, industry and residents.
“You’re going to have to have an intelligent city if you’re going to survive in the modern world,” said Harper.
Gigabit internet capability over fibre optic cable means data can be downloaded at speeds up to 940 megabits per second; conventional internet speeds over existing copper cables range from 10-50 Mbps.
That means more than being able to watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix without pixellating or participating in a multi-player video game without buffering, said Harper. “It’s a process of getting to the next stage of economic development.”
That development will bring new knowledge-based jobs to the city in health care, high tech, innovation and even the film industry.
Nicholas Boughen has been champing at the gigabit since he opened his CG Masters School of 3D Animation and VFX in the Shops at Westminster Station four years ago. Creating digital effects for film, television and games takes a lot of computer power; a single frame of an explosion can take 1,000 gigabytes of data. Moving that amount of data over existing copper cables to massive “rendering farms” where stacks of thousands of powerful computers transform digital ones and zeros into orange balls of flame and roiling smoke is impractical. So Boughen built his own rendering hobby garden of 80 computers in house. Still, rendering a student project can take days.
Having a high-speed connection to the remote rendering farms will “mean our training program becomes more capable,” said Boughen. And that’s attractive to VFX giants like Sony Pictures, Imageworks and Industrial Light & Magic, who he foresees could one day occupy the empty floors of the Anvil Centre’s office tower.
That’s not just fanciful thinking said Alvin Chok, BridgeNet’s Chief Information Officer.
As young workers that drive the technology industries get priced out of the Vancouver housing market, they’re looking to more affordable cities like New West that also offer the big city amenities they value like access to transit and walkability. So are their employers.
“They want to stay connected to the world,” said Chok. “Their big motivators are rents and affordable real estate compared to Yaletown.”
The City will build and operate BridgeNet as a utility. It will install, maintain and own the network, leasing capacity to private Internet Service Providers that will then provide access to business and residential customers; to date four ISPs have signed on.
The network’s backbone will be completed in two phases; the first will connect Uptown, Downtown and Sapperton and next year’s second phase will extend to the West End and Queensborough. The ISPs will then connect businesses and multi-family residential complexes to the backbone. The ISP’s at Tuesday’s launch event, like UrbanFibre, were advertising Gigabit internet connections for residential customers for $79 a month.
But it’s in the business sector the city hopes BridgeNet will really connect. High speed fibre will be an allure for upcoming developments at Sapperton Green, the Brewery District and Queensborough, as well as existing office space Downtown and Uptown, said Chok.
“We’ll have enough capacity so we can scale up,” said Chok. “We can accommodate future needs.”
Including the demands of a redeveloped and expanded Royal Columbian Hospital which will rely on high speed internet to move vast amounts of data like hi-res X-Rays, MRIs and even remote robotic operations.
“Jobs are being created in technology,” said Harper. “The innovation curve is huge; it’s going straight up.”
For more information about BridgeNet, including an interactive map of where and when it will be available, go to www.bridgenetnw.ca