Iqaluit’s Coman Communications offers free wi-fi, plans better internet in the future
“We know what’s motivating us”
Coman Communications, a subsidiary of Iqaluit’s Inuit-owned Coman Arctic Ltd., is offering free wireless internet to people around Iqaluit at the Northmart store, Nunavut Arctic College and other places.
The owner, president Heather Coman and vice-president operations and corporate development, Chris Callahan, want to prove that internet services in Iqaluit can be faster than what is currently offered.
That’s why they want internet service providers, such as Northwestel, to buy bandwidth from them.
Their services are ready to go.
They’ve teamed up with Juch-Tech, a Hamilton-based global satellite broadcast service and teleport facilities company to work on creating a new “highway for information” to Nunavut.
“Everybody’s going through Telesat. This is a new opportunity, these satellites are not currently servicing the North,” Coman said.
She wants her company to provide Iqaluit, and eventually all of Nunavut with “efficient and affordable internet to the territory without caps.”
“This is not videos… this is not pre-rehearsed, we are going through a blizzard right now and it’s hard to believe,” Coman Arctic vice-president Chris Callahan said.
The faster service is made possible through the use of over 40 SES AMC-9 satellites. The SES satellites are competitive with Telesat’s.
Having another satellite operator is a first for Nunavut, Callahan, Coman’s husband, said.
Telesat is the fourth largest carrier in the world and Coman Arctic is dealing with the second largest carrier in the world “and they have a lot more satellites than Telesat,” he said.
Coman Arctic has been doing research on the project for the past four years.
Walt Juchniewicz, president and CEO of Juch-Tech, said it doesn’t matter why nobody else is using a second carrier.
“It doesn’t matter why. We can’t explain why they’re not using this technology. We’re just showing we are more effective than they are,” he said.
Juch-Tech held a demonstration of its internet service last October in Iqaluit.
Since then, Coman Arctic has used private money to make the project happen.
“Why is it they keep going back to the trough for more money when we can make this work on our own, without having to tap into any infrastructure money from the federal government?” he said.
The company had to do a lot of training, working with the staff in Hamilton, and getting equipment to Nunavut, which is, as Juchniewicz put it, “Telesat-centric.”
Neither Coman Arctic nor Juch-Tech would comment on the cost of the project, or offer any financial details.
“We’re not worrying about cost right now, we’re worrying about being able to prove that it works,” Callahan said, adding that it was a big investment for both companies.
The high cost of bandwidth is one of the big obstacles carriers face in the North.
Because of a lack of bandwidth, most ISPs in Nunavut are providing “minimal services.”
“We want to be friends with everybody, whoever wants to buy bandwidth in [our] pipeline,” Callahan said.
Coman wants to get into the cellular phone market as well, by offering 4G service.
And, if people are still fed up five years down the road, the company might look at becoming a DSL provider to individual consumers.
“That’s our plan right now,” Callahan said.
But right now there aren’t any deals on the table.
“We’re in the process right now of talking to various stakeholders that are already in existence to add capacity,” Juchniewicz said.
Northwestel’s recent announcement of $233 million modernization plan of better telecommunications for the North doesn’t directly affect Nunavut.
Nunavut deserves the same services as far as infrastructure goes, Callahan said.
“We don’t know what’s motivating them, but we know what’s motivating us,” he added.
“On a blizzard day you’re at home, and you look at all the social problems we have in the North, if you give 10 per cent more effectiveness or 20 per cent more effectiveness to an individual at home, as a family to play games, to surf the internet, to watch movies, then we’re giving a better life to people in Nunavut,” Callahan said.
That means a person could be “walking around with a tablet watching the National.”
Coman and her husband call the idea an “Inuit brainchild” to help better Nunavut’s communities.
Coman Arctic is also celebrating 50 years in business this year.
“What he did [Coman’s father, the legendary businessman Fred Coman] he helped the community, he was for the community, he was for supporting the community,” she said.
In the long run, Coman Arctic plans on bringing in fibre optic services and the president of the now 50-year-old company said it is an exciting time.
Both Callahan and Coman felt the IT business is a viable plan for the company.
“It only makes sense for Coman, the next generation, to evolve,” Callahan said.
But convincing people that better high-speed internet services that will be accessible across the territory will be a challenge.
“It takes time for people to believe,” Callahan said.
However, more bandwidth for Nunavut is something that’s necessary.
Callahan referred to the telecommunications blackout that hit the Eastern Arctic in 2011.
“For the first time in history, we have a redundancy now. That’s never been here before. People’s lives were at stake,” he said.
Coman Arctic wants to work with governments to deploy high speed to other Nunavut communities.
Juchniewicz, whose company provides high speed internet to communities in Africa, said the North should embrace fibre optics.
“We’re trying to have a precursor until fibre gets here,” he said.
But that’s likely to take at least a few more years.
“We would work in conjunction with fibre. If fibre comes in five years, we better work collectively with fibre,” Callahan said.
“Our experience in Africa is, even with the fibre optics, we still have satellite services. Fibre optics does not hit every community. The smaller the community, the less chance of the fibre optics getting to it,” Juchniewicz said.
And if a fibre optic line is cut, “then we’re back to the Stone Age again,” Callahan said.