Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic October 06, 2011 - 9:29 pm

Northern telcom service restored after 16-hour Telesat Canada satellite glitch

Nunavut residents lose most forms of satellite communication

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
Telesat Canada satellite customers like Northwestel lost contact with Telesat's Anik F2 satellite at around 6:00 a.m. Oct. 6, producing a day of chaos across northern Canada. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Telesat Canada satellite customers like Northwestel lost contact with Telesat's Anik F2 satellite at around 6:00 a.m. Oct. 6, producing a day of chaos across northern Canada. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
ATMs, like this one at the Iqaluit branch of the Royal Bank of Canada, were made useless Oct. 6. Cut off from their internal corporate networks, many chartered bank branches closed their doors. In Iqaluit, residents were borrowing money from each other to buy groceries. But in Rankin Inlet, the RBC bank remained open, taking deposits and providing cash.  (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
ATMs, like this one at the Iqaluit branch of the Royal Bank of Canada, were made useless Oct. 6. Cut off from their internal corporate networks, many chartered bank branches closed their doors. In Iqaluit, residents were borrowing money from each other to buy groceries. But in Rankin Inlet, the RBC bank remained open, taking deposits and providing cash. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Telesat Canada's earth station in Iqaluit. The Nunavut territory is totally dependent on only three Telesat Canada satellites for all forms of electronic communication. Telesat Canada, a former Crown corporation that is now privatized, holds a monopoly over satellite services in Canada. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Telesat Canada's earth station in Iqaluit. The Nunavut territory is totally dependent on only three Telesat Canada satellites for all forms of electronic communication. Telesat Canada, a former Crown corporation that is now privatized, holds a monopoly over satellite services in Canada. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

Vital telecommunication services used by tens of thousands of northern Canadians vanished for most of the day Oct. 6, due to a major glitch that put Telesat Canada’s Anik F2 satellite out of service for more than 16 hours.

Service went down at 6:36 a.m. eastern time Oct. 6, and was restored at around 10:00 p.m eastern. Some Nunavut residents said that as of the early morning hours of Oct. 7, long distance service had yet to be restored.

Every community in Nunavut and off-road communities in the Northwest Territories and Yukon lost long distance telephone, cellular, internet, and automated banking services. Long distance phone service in Nunavik was also knocked out. Other affected regions include northern Ontario and Newfoundland-Labrador.

In a press release issued Oct. 6, Telesat Canada said only that its Anik F2 satellite experienced a “technical anomaly.”

With all connections severed between their northern branches and their internal corporate networks, many chartered bank branches shut their doors.

Kyle Sheppard, account manager with the Royal Bank of Canada branch in Rankin Inlet,, said in a tweet, however, that his bank stayed open after about 10:30 a.m. Oct. 6 to serve customers.

“We know our clients so well we were able to take deposits and provide cash. Transactions will be posted tomorrow,” Sheppard said.

The RBC bank in Iqaluit shut down for the day at 8:30 a.m., saying they wouldn’t open until after communications were restored.

Retail store debit and credit card devices, along with ATMs, were rendered useless.

Meanwhile, airlines grounded most commercial flights departing Nunavut, because of the loss of radar and weather service, and only a few incoming flights managed to arrive at destinations inside the territory.

First Air cancelled 48 flights, stranding about 1,000 passengers, the Globe and Mail reported.

Unlike NWT and Yukon, where large towns like Yellowknife and Whitehorse are connected to the outside world by fibre-optic landlines, every community in Nunavut is entirely dependent on satellite.

First Air and Canadian North delayed dozens of flights, stranding hundreds of passengers. One Canadian North aircraft did land in Iqaluit at around 3:00 p.m., then depart for Ottawa later that afternoon.

All this prompted the Government of Nunavut to move into emergency mode, as they sought to establish alternate channels of communication based on Iridium satellite telephones.

To that end, Premier Eva Aariak, speaking on CBC radio Oct. 6, issued the following requests:

• all health centres and wildlife offices should turn on their Iridium satellite phones;

•  satellite phones should be used only in emergencies;

• hamlet governments should convene their emergency committees;

• medevac flights continue to be available;

• the government retains the ability to respond to health emergencies and search and rescue situations.

“Certainly it is huge challenge and I believe we responded effectively,” said Emily Woods, press secretary to the premier.

Aariak also gave out two satellite phone numbers on the radio: one for use in medical emergencies and one for use in non-medical emergencies.

Supt. Howard Eaton of the Nunavut RCMP used CBC radio to issue instructions to RCMP detachments outside Iqaluit, ordering members to contact headquarters in Iqaluit by way of a satellite telephone number.

During the outage, CBC radio was transformed into Nunavut’s communications lifeline, when it provided the only cross-territorial communication service available to most regular people.

Pat Nagle, the manager of CBC Iqaluit, said CBC North switched over to another system at the beginning of the crisis and maintained internal email and other applications.

Workers at the station issued regular updates on the service outage and made air time available to government officials and police.

The problem arose when Telesat Canada lost control of the Anik F2, which lost its orientation and ended up turned in the wrong direction.

To fix the problem, technicians rebooted the satellite, a lengthy process that took between 12 and 18 hours.

Northwestel, northern Canada’s biggest telecommunications retailer uses the Anik F2 satellite to serve all off-road communities in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Old Crow, Yukon.

The Anik F2, launched in July 2004, is designed to offer higher speed satellite internet to customers living in remote or northern communities, and other services. It’s expected retirement date is 2019.

The F2 is one of only three satellites upon which northern Canada is utterly dependent for all forms of electronic communication. The others are the Anik F1R and the Anik F3.

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