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Thunder Bay is well on its way to becoming a leader in information technology in the North

Gone are the days when Thunder Bay was limited by its distance from larger business centres, officials with Thunder Bay Telephone say. Northwestern Ontario's largest community is now on a level playing field with the rest of the country and is quickly becoming a leader for the region.

For years Thunder Bay has struggled with geographic obstacles, Timo Hiibeck, manager of business development and strategic planning for Thunder Bay Telephone says. But modern technology has helped the city overcome those hurdles and opened the door to new opportunities.

Perhaps one of the most important developments was the introduction of high-speed Internet to Thunder Bay last May. Now the city will act as a leader for the region when the service is expanded throughout the northwest.

"Thunder Bay Telephone, Dryden and Kenora primarily are the three main partners entering into a relationship to set up a regional-wide high-speed data network," Hiibeck says. "(The network is) supposed to stretch from Manitouwadge in the east, right through to Kenora, Fort Frances and Rainy River in the west and Thunder Bay (will) be the main hub and administrative site."

Hiibeck says Thunder Bay Telephone's success in winning a bid for a third-generation (3G) wireless communications licence has also put the city on the map as a technology leader. Thunder-Bay Telephone was selected by Industry Canada earlier this year to introduce wireless communications services to all of Northern Ontario, from Parry Sound north and west to the Manitoba border.

3G wireless technology can send a page to a wireless phone at 2,000 kilobits per second, compared to just 144 kilobits per second using second-generation wireless technology. Download times can also be reduced to fractions of a second.

Thunder Bay, in its bid for the licence, was originally aiming to operate only in northwestern Ontario, but Industry Canada decided to expand the service area.

Hiibeck says plans to implement the technology are now underway. "(The technology is) going to hook into Thunder Bay from a regional perspective, and we think that's a good thing," Hiibeck says. "Right now we're also trying to put some plans together to start deploying high-speed digital wireless for both wireless data applications and digital cellular."

But Thunder Bay Telephone isn't the only company leading the way in terms of technology. Lakehead University, in partnership with Bell Canada and Nortel Networks, is in the midst of installing more than 2,000 Internet telephones on campus, offering converged voice, data and multimedia information on one common network.

The IP network at the university will be the largest voice-over IP network in North America and the first site to support over 2,000 IP telephones.

The university will also be home to a new Advanced Technology and Academic Centre. Construction on the facility is scheduled to start this summer.

The $34-million, 8,400-square-metre technology centre will house a multitude of advanced technology applications, primarily in the area of engineering and computer science. It will create over 1,300 new spaces for students and will include "smart" classrooms, video conferencing facilities, multimedia productions/teaching services, Geographic Information Systems facilities and computer labs.

The building will act as the school's centralized computer facility.

The project is being made possible through a $13.4-million investment from the province's Superbuild Growth Fund with additional funding coming from fundraising initiatives and other community partners.

Hiibeck says projects such as these, combined with the work Thunder Bay Telephone is doing, are boosting Thunder Bay's reputation as a technology leader and will generate numerous opportunities for the local business community.

"Certainly on the Internet side, (these new technologies) are going to give local businesses an opportunity to network out at relatively cheaper rates and a faster speed," Hiibeck says, pointing to businesses that are headquartered in Thunder Bay with satellite offices in the region.

"From our standpoint, what it comes down to is if we can continue to con tribute dividends back to the city annually, while still offering what we consider to be world-class-type telecommunications services, then we can continually help to offset the tax base, and there's an indirect benefit to businesses there as well.

"Although we're a fairly small company, we're still trying to be innovative in trying to provide solutions that are available in other centres, both in terms of customer and network solutions, and we're trying to be the leader in that respect."
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Title Annotation:Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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