Communications

Fiber to School

Broadband

Recognizing the Internet’s educational potential, schools have scrambled to get wired. Now a Canadian group has come up with a clever and affordable strategy to bring broadband Internet connections to whole school districts. Eventually, the initiative could help extend high-speed fiber-optic links to homes as well.

The scheme is the brainchild of Bill St. Arnaud, senior director for network projects at an Ottawa-based Internet consortium of companies and universities called CANARIE. The key, says St. Arnaud, lies in using high-speed versions of the Ethernet format originally developed for local-area networks to transmit signals over fiber from a central location to each school. That way, the costly equipment used to convert broadband transmissions from the Internet into a form suitable for local computers is required only at one site; from there fibers carry the Ethernet signal to inexpensive hubs in each school.

Using Ethernet, one district linked 70 schools and a dozen other buildings. The system cost almost $1 million, but the district now shares ownership of it with four local companies who paid half the bill for a cut of the network capacity. Had the district instead used digital subscriber lines, for example, it would have spent close to $1 million for just three years of service.

Soon, schools or other buildings could be jumping-off points for affordable neighborhood broadband access. Indeed, a handful of companies, including World Wide Packets and Western Integrated Networks, are adapting the CANARIE approach to extend high-speed Ethernet services all the way to homes over optical fibers.

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