It was the TELUS publicity machine at its finest.

Every heavy hitter in the city, from Mayor Don Iveson to Premier Rachel Notley, had been summoned. Huge video screens stretched across the Westin Ballroom.

When TELUS executive chairman Darren Entwistle, with his movie star looks and sonorous voice, made his entrance, the music reached rock band decibels. All that was missing was a cloud of dry ice.

Make no mistake. TELUS wanted to make last week’s announcement of its first big-city fibre-optic roll-out in Edmonton as big a deal as humanly possible. 

Indeed, it is a big, big deal.

TELUS will be the first telecommunications company in North America to make fibre-optic available to every household in a major city, the first to wire an entire city to Internet speeds and connectivity.

“It’s not a question whether TELUS can afford the billion dollar investment to fully wire your city and then others,” says Canadian telecommunications analyst Mark Goldberg from Toronto. “It’s whether TELUS – or the other big TV/Internet companies across Canada – can afford not to.”

Pencil-sized fibre-optic cable can carry virtually unlimited amounts of data – both ways – at the speed of light. TELUS and rival Shaw Communications already run fibre-optic cable to most city neighbourhood nodes. 

It’s from the node to your home that’s the hold-up.

TELUS uses copper-twisted phone lines from its old land-line phone days. Shaw uses coaxial cable.  No matter the tweaks, the current “wire” technology can’t move data much faster than at present, not without enormous cost. 

So TELUS will extend its fibre-optic network from the neighbourhood node to your house. (WiFi speed and capacity is also greatly enhanced, the closer your computer or mobile device is to a fibre-optic terminal.)

Over the next five years, TELUS will call you up, and ask, Optik customer or not, if they can run fibre-optic cable at no charge to the outside of your house, via a mini-trench some 30 centimetres deep. 

If you’re already an Optik customer, TELUS will move your cable TV/Internet to the new fibre-optic cable – at no extra cost if you want to keep current data speeds and capacity. 

But if you want  fibre-optic’s warp-speeds, it’ll cost you an extra $100 or so a month. Yikes.

In return, you’ll have a gusher of instantaneous data capability. Your daughters and your spouse can be watching four different Netflix stream-video movies at the same time, your son can be playing an interactive video game (tons of data needed) with four friends around the world. You could be in your home office, down-and-uploading mega-sized business documents.

“This is how the future will unfold,” says Goldberg. “It’s our kids’ world, their lifestyles, their expectations. As a fully fibre-optic wired city, Edmonton will be transformed.  It’s the way cities have to think now, to be attractive to young professionals, to plan for future transit, to be as green as possible.”

Fibre-optic will eventually be the norm. All coaxial and twisted copper will be gone. Every city will be fully fibre-optic wired. Edmonton, thanks to TELUS, will be the first.

Shaw has been very quiet about meeting the TELUS fibre-optic challenge, even as TELUS Optik TV/Internet has gained Edmonton market share at  Shaw’s expense.  

“Shaw could triple the speed on its existing coaxial cable,” says Goldberg. “But it will have to make a big capital investment and it won’t come close to fibre-optic speed down the road. Still, Shaw will have to have a competitive response.”

Why Edmonton?  Mainly thanks to civic attitude, say TELUS insiders. Our dynamic young leaders, such as Mayor Don Iveson and Edmonton Economic Development’s Brad Ferguson, immediately understood the power and impact of the TELUS fibre-optic proposal. The city has no skin in the game, but will work closely with TELUS to ensure a smooth fibre-optic rollout. 

That Edmonton was so chosen speaks volumes about our reputation as an innovative “Make Something Edmonton” city.

FACTOIDS 

Evolution of Cable TV/Broadband/Internet in Edmonton.

1970s – Shaw Cable and its predecessors introduce cable TV on coaxial cable.

Late 1990s – Shaw introduces Internet access via coaxial cable.  TELUS introduces dial-up modem Internet access via its land-line phone wires.

Early 2000s – Shaw introduces coaxial high-speed Internet, TELUS does the same via new ADSL technology over its land-line phone wires.  Both start building  out fibre-optic networks to neighbourhood levels.

2009 – TELUS Optik TV/broadband, Version 3, proves to be popular.

2011 - Shaw converts TV service to fully digital.

2014 - Shaw launches Open WiFi, giving Shaw subscribers Internet access in most public places

2015 - TELUS announces first city-wide 100% fibre-optic  TV/Internet/broadband network in Canada, to be built over five years in Edmonton