Ottawa’s Telesat secures 15-year Bell contract to improve Nunavut wireless connectivity

Deal comes on the heels of $50M federal government funding to Bell’s northern subsidiary
Telstar 19
Visualization of the Telstar 19 Vantage, which will provide higher broadband connectivity speeds to Nunavut communities through a Bell Canada subsidiary. Photo from Telesat.

Wireless connectivity speeds in Nunavut may see a 20-fold increase thanks to a long-term contract between an Ottawa-based satellite operator and Bell Canada.

Telesat announced last week it has signed a 15-year agreement with Bell to provide wireless spectrum capacity through its new satellite, Telstar 19 Vantage, when it launches next year. Northwestel, Bell’s northern subsidiary, will use this capacity to enhance broadband connectivity in Nunavut.

Broadband speeds are notoriously slow in northern communities, primarily because of infrastructure limitations. Telesat’s Telstar 19, however, has the ability to increase connectivity speeds 20 times more than traditional models.

“There’s no roads, there’s no means really of bringing fibre or microwave affordably to those communities, so satellite is it,” Michelle Beck, Telesat’s vice-president of North American sales, said in an interview with OBJ.

Ms. Beck said broadband speeds in Nunavut could be on par with urban centres in the south thanks to Telesat’s new satellite.

“I think this is going to be a game-changer, frankly,” she said.

Telesat has now signed long-term contracts allocating the entirety of the Telstar 19’s Northern Canada capacity.

The contract comes after the federal government announced last week it would allocate $50 million to Northwestel to construct a backbone satellite network needed to improve high-speed internet connections across the northern territory. As part of the agreement, Northwestel will spend an additional $73 million.

“Making high-quality broadband services available to remote communities across the vast expanse of Canada’s north is a huge challenge,” Curtis Shaw, Northwestel’s chief operating officer, said in a statement.

“Northwestel looks forward to utilizing the power and capabilities of Telesat’s new state-of-the-art Telstar 19 Vantage satellite as part of our commitment to connect 25 communities across Nunavut to faster and more reliable broadband over the next two years.”

Financial details of the Telesat contract were not disclosed.

The Ottawa firm’s satellite, currently under construction in California, will be launched in the second quarter of 2018 on the back of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A second satellite, Telesat’s Telstar 18 Vantage, is also slated for launch with SpaceX sometime next year.