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Why New Brunswick is Wired to Lead in Connectivity

New Brunswick has always been first to market in providing access to leading connection technologies like fibre connectivity, high-speed data, rural broadband access and 4G satellite data provided through multiple suppliers. In today’s post, we introduce a key player in that telecommunications infrastructure: F6 Networks.

F6 Networks is the only New Brunswick-owned facilities-based telecommunications company in the province. Its Co-Founder and CEO Tom Rivington previously created New Brunswick’s first wireless Internet Service Provider (ISP)—Aernet Wireless—one of the first rural high-speed ISPs in the Atlantic region. Aernet was sold to another New Brunswick company, Barrett Xplore, in 2008.

Opportunities NB (ONB) recently spoke to Tom Rivington to learn more about the company’s latest initiatives, and his thoughts on economic development in the province.

ONB: Let’s start with an overview of F6 Networks.

Tom RivingtonRivington: We’re an open access provider of dark fibre and lit services throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. We’ve recently completed an international telecom backbone between the US border in St. Stephen and the Hibernia landing station in Halifax, which is about 600 kilometres (km). This fibre route is a key component for telecommunications from Europe to the northeastern United States.

We also recently finished a new build into northern New Brunswick which is approximately 500 km and was supported by both the Province of NB and Canarie, Canada’s leader in supporting digital infrastructure.

We have approximately 1300 km of fibre optic cable throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and are the third largest telecom user of the pole infrastructure in the province. Our unused fibre is dark but the F6 active fibre network is currently being lit with advanced Ciena optical transmission equipment with the capability to provide 100 Gb connectivity to our customers. We are proud to own one of the most advanced fibre optic networks in North America.

ONB: Can you expand on the company’s open access philosophy?

Rivington: What we mean by open access is that our fibre network is available to any entity; it’s not a closed private network. If there are other telecommunication companies that would like to buy our fibre optic cable they can. For example, a telecommunications carrier outside the region that would like to get better penetration into the New Brunswick market can use us. Existing telecom carriers like Bell and Rogers can use it as well. If they need capacity in a certain area they can purchase or lease our fibre.

It’s open to government and large enterprises, and in the metro areas even small businesses can take advantage of dark fibre. Long-haul dark fibre is really the area of large industry and government. Metro dark fibre, where distances are much smaller and generally less than 20 km, are more affordable and cost effective to the SME market.

So for us, open access means its open to everyone with capacity to buy. If you went to a large traditional telecom carrier, they likely wouldn’t sell their dark fibre because that could mean introducing a competitor into their market. Our corporate philosophy instead focuses on increasing the competitive telecom marketplace. Bring competition, lower prices, increase services.

ONB: Let’s rewind and talk about 2014’s announcement with the city of Fredericton. Tell us about that.

Rivington: Over the past year and a half we’ve developed a more cooperative arrangement with the city of Fredericton. They’re really trying to develop the city network and increase its capacity, and the products and services they can deliver over it. We’re excited to work with the city to help expand their municipal network, which was previously an island of fibre in the middle of the province. It’s now connected to our regional network which in turn is connected globally.

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. We can bring larger customers to the city network, utilize more of the fibre they have in-city, and enhance the city’s network to bring it lower cost and higher capacity services; like our new Gigaburst offering.

Gigaburst will officially make Fredericton one of the first cities in Canada to have a Google Fibre type gigabit service for small and medium-sized businesses. Gigaburst enables SME’s to have an affordable, burstable internet service up to 1 Gbps. So if they have really large files that need transferring or operating systems that need updating, their capacity is burstable to 1 Gbps, anytime, at no additional cost.

ONB: One of the three key areas of focus on your website’s front page is Regional Development. Tell us about the importance of economic development to F6.

Rivington: Most economists and economic development professionals believe that a highly-competitive telecom marketplace is a key component of further economic development. You can see that in a place like Moncton where there’s a number of different telecom carriers and they all compete, prices are generally lower, and the products and services they offer are top-notch.

We’re trying to bring the same type of service availability to the entire region. We’ve been able to do that with Fredericton in particular, and now with our network built in the north we can bring that same diversity of telecom services to areas like Bathurst, Miramichi, Campbellton, and any smaller communities in between. Towns and villages along our route now have access to national providers of telecom services, we need to work with organizations like ONB to get them there.

Additionally, when we travel we try to promote those northern communities as very safe, secure locations for data centres. Cool temperatures, good hydroelectric power, safe and secure geography, all attractive for the establishment of a data centre. There aren’t a lot of earthquakes or tornadoes in New Brunswick, and not a lot of severe hurricanes here, particularly in the northern part of the province. This is a very good, safe region for data centre development — we don’t talk about that enough. An individual data centre may not mean a huge number of jobs but it builds clusters, and I think many people agree these clusters help motivate and develop the provincial ICT industry.

We’re trying to connect all the different data centres in the region together to really solidify our competitive advantage. The data centre of Cirrus9 in Saint John we’re in, that’s a big player. Because of the association with the City of Fredericton, the Government of New Brunswick’s data centres are now on our network too. So we have a whole data centre-to-data centre play that we’re now starting to develop.

ONB: Let’s get into some thought leadership. As 2016 begins what do you see as trends your industry should focus on in the coming year?

Rivington: It’s interesting, when we started this business we thought we would be selling mostly to telecom carriers, but it turns out our biggest customers are the largest content providers in the world. That’s been driven by the capacity requirements of the internet, and how people have changed their communication requirements and preferences.

You see a leveling out of more text-based platforms like Twitter and an increase in more visual applications like Instagram, Snapchat, and streaming video services. Those content delivery networks have to be able to manage all that. Then there’s the question of where all that data has to be stored. So we think 2016 will be a more of a year for data storage, and the Internet of Things (IOT). Those are going to be key areas of focus for us.

I’ve become increasingly interested in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT); how we create these monitoring devices and how they are powered. One of the big challenges they mentioned at the Big Data Congress, however, was that question of where we are going to store all this data the IIOT generates. We’re creating massive amounts of data exponentially, and we’ve got to make decisions on whether we are deleting it or storing it. Are we analyzing it and then deleting it? Where are we storing that analysis?

I think there’s a real opportunity for us to develop a large storage facility in the province that just stores data. It could be connected via fibre optics to central Canada, Europe, and the US northeast. We are working with partners on this now.

ONB: We recently launched our NB Proud campaign. In your view, what do we have to be proud of here?

Rivington: I think—and I’ve heard others echo this—we undersell ourselves here a bit. I feel we often get impressed with people that come from afar and tell us how things should be; how they’re doing things. We don’t get on our soapbox and talk about all the great things happening here and what a great place it is to live.

It’s gorgeous here, crime rates are low, and commutes are short. I commute from Woodstock to Fredericton, and I do it in an hour on a great highway. The quality of life here is fantastic as far as I’m concerned.

Our biggest challenge is population, and we need to do a better job attracting thousands of people here to enjoy this quality of life. They’ll enjoy living here and still be close to major US centres like Boston, New York, and Washington, as well as central Canada and Halifax. Plus you’re closer to Europe than other parts of the continent.

It’s a great place to live and do business from. If you need to speak with say, the mayor of Fredericton, you can probably do it. If you need to talk to a minister or your own CEO Stephen Lund or even the Premier, it’s a real possibility. If you have a serious idea for economic development you can likely get in front of those people, which in bigger locations would be difficult. That access to decision makers for pitching your ideas or story, that’s essential.

ONB: We often talk about that entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region. Past interviewees certainly feel the resources are here for the people with the right idea.

Rivington: We see it here from our offices in Knowledge Park. It’s fascinating to watch all these companies spring up around us. Of course we all know not every startup will take off and have staying power, but many will. We’ve got great people here like Gerry Pond in the background helping mentor all these companies. Not to mention the great people at UNB, Peter Jacobs as a great example. Not enough of us know names like his and what they’ve accomplished here in New Brunswick; it’s stuff like that we should be more proud of.

So I really support the whole NB Proud campaign, and your terrific video; it’s a great idea.

ONB: Glad to hear it! To wrap up, what has F6 Networks’ relationship been like with ONB?

Rivington: It would be a very difficult for companies like us and other smaller business to see the kind of export success we’ve had without the support of Opportunities NB. I’ve been involved in trade missions to Boston and had ONB accompany us to events in Chicago. We’ve got great relationships with the Business Development people there. Your team checks in with us frequently to see how we’re doing and how they can be of assistance. They help connect us with executives at companies we can partner with and/or sell to. I’ve even been able to get time with your CEO, Mr. Lund. ONB is a fantastic resource and we try to utilize your expertise whenever and however we can.

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