SaskTel Fibre Optics

A fibre-optic cable containing 12 very thin glass fibres is compared with a conventional cable composed of copper wire. The fibres carry pulses of light instead of electronic signals, and about 670 conversations can be carried on just two fibres.

In 1984 SaskTel completed construction of the world's longest commercial fibre optics network, which covered 3,268 km to link fifty-two communities at a time when the previous longest fibre optics network had been less than 10 km. This achievement propelled SaskTel towards building an all-digital communications network and spawned a subsidiary to market SaskTel's telecommunications expertise to global markets. SaskTel International was formed in 1986 to market the corporation's expertise in advanced telecommunications technologies, particularly fibre optic systems, to clients around the world; since then the company has done business in dozens of countries as a contract consultant or equity partner. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan residents continue to benefit from the fibre optic network. This technology converts all forms of messages to symbols of light and then transmits the messages on hair-thin strands of ultra-pure glass. Each strand of fibre optic cable could originally hold 672 telephone conversations or one video channel or 45 megabits of data per second; over the years this has increased a hundredfold.

SaskTel engineers have also developed technology that requires a repeater only every 50 km rather than every 3 km for the coaxial cable. In 1986 SaskTel and Northern Telecom began testing the world's first fiber/coax hybrid (FCH), which was followed by field trials in 1987; this resulted in the world's first FCH network being introduced with pick-and-play Video-On-Demand (VOD) in 1988. This technology is now used by cable TV and telephone companies around the world. The service called MAX offers standard cable television pay service and VOD to SaskTel customers across the province. SaskTel has also launched a partnership with several schools: by using fibre optics and touch-tone phones, students have instant on-line access to almost 200 educational videos. The expertise gained through this program was used by the Hospitality Network Canada Inc. in 1995 to bring videos and video games to hospital and hotel guests throughout Canada and internationally.

Joe Ralko