by Ted Land
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska has long been connected.
Satellites have been used for phone calls, Internet and other data transfer.
But there’s something faster and more reliable out there.
We’re talking about fiber optics — and now companies in Alaska are finding new ways to wire the state.
If you have no idea what a company like Applied Microsytems does, you’re not alone. But chances are, the data passing through these servers has touched your life in some way.
Kaladi Brothers Coffee, the State, and Municipality all rely on this company to help organize and save their files.
“If you thought about it for a second, we could almost be considered the digital divide between Alaska and the Lower 48,” said Ross Toole with Applied Microsystems. “And that gap is being bridged.”
The gap is being bridged by AKORN, short for Alaska Oregon Network.
It’s a $175 million undersea fiber optic cable linking Alaska to the Lower 48.
“Just on the northern end of Fire Island it turns and comes ashore,” said Steve Gebert, ACS project leader.
ACS owns the line and fired it up in April.? It’s designed to move 2.6 terabits, or 35 feature-length movies, per second.
“Everyone says, ‘Well do we need that much?’” said Gebert. “And again, think about how much bandwidth we were all? using 10 or 15 years ago, think about where all that could go in 25 years, and the answer is yes.”
It’s actually two cables.? If one fails, say, due to an undersea earthquake, data would switch over to the second line.
“It’s what we call ring-protected service and it switches in milliseconds,” said Gebert.
The concept is hardly new to Alaska. GCI has operated a similar cable for the past 10 years.
And now, they too are looking to expand.
A plan to run fiber optics to rural communities in western Alaska, using riverbeds, is in the works.
“It’s a very large-scale project and very challenging for the engineers and the whole organization,” said Jimmy Sipes with GCI Network Services. “However, we believe it’s quite doable.”
According to ACS, Internet connectivity for businesses is growing at about 40 percent per year.
For the team at Applied Microsystems it could be an opportunity to expand.
Fiber optics could someday allow them to start handling work from the Lower 48.
“Effectively, it’s really an enabling technology that removes a major impediment that we face which is the high cost of bandwidth in Alaska,” said Toole.
Fast, reliable data transfer — it’s not so complicated after all.
Again, this is by no means a new technology in Alaska.
Fiber optics have been around for years, but the fact that companies in Alaska continue to expand is significant and shows the state’s connection to the rest of the country is growing.
People who surf the web from home probably won’t notice much of a change. Internet speed doesn’t accelerate dramatically when a new fiber line is put in place. But this technology does insure a reliable link to servers in the Lower 48, which host most websites Alaskans surf.
Contact Ted Land at firstname.lastname@example.org