Kaslo - The rural digital desert that blooms

This story tells how Kaslo infoNet Society managed to succeed at a reasonable cost, all thanks to local initiatives, a resourceful community and a few good ideas from Sweden.

It does not get much more rural than this. The Village of Kaslo is 600 km away from Calgary and 720 km from Vancouver with a population of about 1000 in Area D of the Regional District of Central Kootenay in the Columbia Basin. In this remote area in the mountain region of British Columbia in western Canada you will find a thriving network, operated with Waystream switches and state of the art services to the community.


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Like so many other rural areas, the Kaslo region has not had more than a base level of services compared to more urban regions. For large telecommunications companies, the return on investment for a small rural area cannot compare to the urban city centers and this is often the reason why the latest generation of services comes late to villages such as Kaslo. But the local initiative Kaslo infoNet Society (KiN) was determined to change that.


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KiN spent a year looking at network methods in use worldwide

It all began in the Mid-nineties, in the early days of internet services, when the KiN built a “proxy” modem bank and web server in Kaslo, in the edge of the local call rate center to serve the local community.

This dial-up service was the only choice until 2005. During the next seven years KiN built a chain of towers and WiFi access points to serve the areas in the north still relying on dial-up internet access.

The amount of bandwidth was limited until 2012 when bandwidth arrived without restrictions. Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation (CBBC) offered the Village of Kaslo a 100 Megabit unlimited usage fibre connection for $750 per month, “if the Village would build a distribution network”. The Village said yes.  

In 2013 KiN spent a year looking at network methods in use worldwide. These methods vary considerably depending on who engineered, built and operated the network, and the goals of the engineers and builders.

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KiN decided to use fibre. Read the top 5 reasons why

KiN did a full engineering and cost analysis and discovered that in many other areas of the world buried infrastructure was the first choice. The notable leaders were found in Sweden, a country with similar terrain and climate to the British Columbia interior. Much of the fibre infrastructure in Sweden is used in buried ducts and directly buried cables. When KiN studied the costs of construction and maintenance, they concluded that in many cases it was less expensive both to construct and maintain than any attempt to use pole infrastructure. KiN based their decision to use fibre due to the following main reasons:

1. Lower Construction and maintenance costs 

Trenched construction costs per meter are comparable or lower than pole infrastructure, and buried infrastructure is resistant to weather damage, fire damage, and climate change issues in ways that pole mounted cables will never be.  In rural areas the construction costs are comparable to a third of the costs of new pole lines, and the long-term maintenance costs are much lower than maintaining poles and aerial cables. 

2. Fibre is cheap

The cost of trenched optical fibre is mostly reduced to the cost of trenching. In metropolitan areas this is expensive, in rural areas not so much. The fibre is cheap, and if you deliberately overbuild the required fibre count, we will likely never need to lay more.

3. Work force on board

Most rural communities have no shortage of local folks with a small trenching machine looking for work and trenching in rural areas costs are much lower than the costs of deploying and maintaining overhead lines and poles. Maintenance costs are very low and weather and climate risks are negligible.


4. Easy changes

In more populated areas KiN may bury plastic pipe and duct to allow the addition of fibre and make changes easily. In sparsely populated areas they lay direct buried cables and droplines to every taxable property boundary whether occupied or not, as well as extra dark fibre. This is insurance for the long term that we will not need to dig it up and lay more.

5. Flexibility is king

All of these decisions are aided by the flexibility of point to point ethernet over single mode fibre. The same single mode fibre can provide a bidirectional transport over long distances of 1, 2.5, 10, 40, or 100 Gigabit per second, and that’s with today’s low cost SFP and SFP+ optics.


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Research results

As KiN researched community fibre projects the Swedish group Robust Fiber were a great source of valuable information https://robustfiber.eu/ on practical deployments and well developed best practices. KiN thinks that they could this was the best ways to work and they have benefitted from their shared expertise and common-sense practices ever since.
The next major considerations were how to best build networks that gave the best value for the community and provided the best cost benefits for the project. They decided to design from scratch to exploit the maximum community value from the network investment.

The following steps were taken:

  1. KiN would deliver a direct dedicated buried fibre line to the served property. Build it once, with buried cables safely in the ground where tree falls, and forest fires simply cannot affect them.
  2. KiN would design the network such that they could serve any of fibre drops with speed and capacity as fast as the backbone lines into the region.
  3. The switching and routing systems are  built to support point to point connections within the community at the highest speeds the network could support so all connections would have the same capacity for both up and downloads.
  4. KiN would design the network such that by changing the switching and endpoint electronics the network could be upgraded for the foreseeable future without having to change the fibre itself.
  5. The network needed to be capable of absolute reliability without regard to power failures and weather events, as it would be the transport layer for data, E-911 service, voice communications, video, and sensors and instrumentation.
    In the Kaslo region weather driven power and communication outages are part of the landscape, and the region. This led them to design systems that would not be susceptible to failure for power outages or overhead line failures.

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Structure of the network

These considerations led KiN to design and build a Switched, Point to Point Active Ethernet network over single mode fibre, placed in trenched ducted or direct buried locations on land and underwater cable placed in our deep mountain lake chains.

At the Transport or Backbone level KiN lay a 24-fibre long haul cable from Point of Presence sites on the provider networks to their own internal POP sites, with the Transport lines broken out at distribution or Last Mile cabinets that support the routers and switches that serve each endpoint.

Between the Central POP site and Data Center and the Last Mile POP sites feeding local endpoint fibre lines support can be provided for;

  1. A private secured local network on each subscriber premises.
  2. Dedicated private multiple location networks for municipal, community, and corporate subscribers.
  3. Local managed storage and data processing systems.
  4. Modern digital voice communication systems. VoIP PABX
  5. Public WiFi access and mobile communications.


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The network components

In a subscriber’s home, we start with a Customer Premises Endpoint or CPE. This device is in the subscriber’s control. It’s a Genexis FiberTwist Endpoint. It’s where their own Local Area Network starts and where the ISP network terminates.

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The Fibre Termination unit where the fibre itself enters the building and ends in a connector that mates with Network Interface is installed inside the subscriber premises, and the 4 RJ-45 Ethernet Ports are configured to fit the requirements of the subscriber. In a minimum Internet Service, one or all of these ports are activated at the speed the subscriber contracts for, as internet access.

On the subscriber building exterior is what we refer to as the “Demarcation Point”. This is the point where the outdoor drop cable is spliced to the indoor connection cable. This is a standards-based requirement as indoor cable must pass Low Smoke Zero Halogen specifications for its insulation. Outdoor cable is heavily insulated with High Density Polyethylene and by code must not be used inside a building.

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These enclosures provide secure waterproof space to make the cable to cable splice and secure it from unwanted attention from weather and small furry animals.

The Outdoor Cable is a 2 Fibre “Flat Drop” cable that is spliced through to a distribution cable, typically a 24 fibre Flat Drop cable in a splice case. These can be buried or used in an underground or aerial mounting. They provide a clean, dry and secure enclosure for the splices from drop cable to distribution cables.

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The distribution cable of 24 Fibres will be routed to a powered enclosure we call an mPOP.

This is a secured outdoor powered enclosure that will contain power supplies, switches, batteries, and an Optical Distribution Frame (ODF). These enclosures support standard 19 -inch rack mount electronics. These cabinets come in sizes from 12RU, 17RU, 29RU, and 60RU capacity.

The pictures show the most commonly used 29RU that we typically use to serve up to 144 endpoints.

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The cabinets are built to be located and secured in outdoor environments with no other supporting services than electrical power. The top section contains a temperature -controlled fan system and heat block to shed solar heating and exhaust equipment generated heat. Under winter conditions the system is insulated to retain heat.

The mPOP layout

First a set of Waystream MS4000 24 Port Gigabit Fibre Switches. There is enough space for four units, each connected by 1-meter fibre patch cables to the Optical Distribution Frame holding Fibre splice cases that connect the buried distribution cable fibres to the ODF.

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Then an Uninterruptible Power Supply and Charger, and two 100 Amp 12 Volt Silicone Salt Batteries These ensure that even in the case of a 30-hour power outage the mPOP will do its job without hesitation.

The fibre from 144 subscribers can be connected to 1 Gigabit switch ports and the switches have 10 Gigabit switch ports for Transport fibres.

The Transport fibres connect to the main KiN POP site in Kaslo, and from there to the Columbia Basin Broadband network.

Investment and ROI

So, the question everyone asks; What does a service cost to build?

  • In Lower Kaslo where there are 12 to 24 sites per block ~$700 CAD (1 CAD apx. ~0.65 EUR), per site
  • In Mirror Lake with maybe three sites in the same space ~$1500 CAD, per site
  • In Shutty Bench with maybe two per kilometer perhaps ~$4000 CAD, per site
  • Trenching for distribution and drop lines costs probably $7000 CAD per kilometer.

In practice all networks are funded from two places;

  • With network operator and possibly government capital to construct
  • With subscriber revenues in the long haul to pay back the capital investment to build and the operating expenses of the network.

The “statistically Average Subscriber” spends the following on network services per household;

  • KiN Internet average $62 per month $744 per year
  • Television $60 to $130 per month for “cable” or $30 to $60 streaming
  • Telephone landline $40 to $60 per month

On Network Connection revenues alone it’s a 1-year cost recovery in Lower Kaslo, and a 2-year cost recovery in Mirror Lake, and a 4 to 6-year cost recovery in Shutty Bench or Argenta.

KiN responsible says:
“We believe that every citizen of the Province of British Columbia deserves to have and be served with Gigabit Fibre connections at prices that are comparable to the big cities. Some areas will take longer to recoup the costs, but we are all in it together, and we are all capable of digging a trench to lay fibre. For anyone with doubt lets state: this solution is entirely feasible that all communities can serve themselves and keep the money in the community."

The life cycle of the buried fibre outside plant is at least 30 years. KiN expect to be completed with all of Kaslo and Area D in a few years and for at least 30 years they will be able to deliver and scale connectivity to the region. Today KiN employs four full time and one part time employee in the community year-round and four more full time seasonal  construction staff.

KiN provides to the community:

  • Gigabit capable internet connectivity to every endpoint.
  • 1 to 10 Gigabit local data services, backup and LAN/WAN interconnectivity.
  • Digital VoIP Telephone services
  • Digital Wide Area PABX Services

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