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Calgary’s Smart City and Dark Fiber

An interview for this story was conducted via email at the request of the City of Calgary. UK English spellings such as “fibre” have been converted to their U.S. English counterparts, with all due respect to our northern neighbors.

As a part of its Smart City approach, the City of Calgary views fiber as a key technology to enable businesses, entrepreneurs, and communities to create solutions along with delivering services and solving community problems. The city currently operates around 800 kilometers of fiber at 1,000 locations, with demark points ranging from office buildings accommodating hundreds of employees to control cabinets necessitating machine-to-machine direct connections and backhauls to specialized control centers.

The primary function of the city’s fiber network revolves around supporting various specialized city-owned networks and emergency services. It also plays a pivotal role in bolstering the Smart City program and facilitating the city’s LoRaWAN® network, crucial for IoT applications. “Smart Calgary Strategy,” a white paper released in February 2023, says the city has been investing in digital infrastructure to delivery Smart City initiatives since 2003, with the Information Technology Department leading its Smart Cities initiative since 2017. 

Calgary leverages other city construction projects to deploy its own fiber. (Source: City of Calgary)

“The City of Calgary’s demand for network connectivity continues to grow significantly,” said Ryan Angelo, Information Technology Leader – Fiber Optics, City of Calgary. “There has been a notable surge in the deployment of fiber to city infrastructure, including high-bandwidth connections to critical systems like traffic control, water and waste networks, security and safety locations, as well as wireless towers.”

Deploying fiber in Calgary has had its challenges, particularly with escalating construction and deployment costs, given the vast size of the city. City planners have implemented a strategy of integrating fiber deployment in large-scale city construction projects to keep costs in check. For example, building an airport tunnel included incorporating direct connections to a mobility operating center and Calgary fire and water services.  

But, like most cities, there’s always extra cable capacity available once the enterprise WAN is enabled and all the government buildings, traffic lights, cameras, and IoT devices are up and running. “Recognizing the importance of fostering innovation, economic growth, and competition within the community, the city licenses its excess dark fiber to businesses and organizations,” said Angelo.

According to the city’s website, “The City of Calgary’s dark fiber network stands as a testament to its commitment to technological advancement, operational resiliency, community empowerment, and fostering collaborative partnerships for a more connected future.” The city’s dark fiber enables new options for organizations to expand their high-speed networks within Calgary, but to be clear, the city is not providing internet access or any other sort of public access to its mission critical or regulated assets. It is, however, more than happy to lease available dark fiber not actively used to connect city buildings, facilities, or other assets. 

Calgary’s dark fiber is also helping research groups in town develop new technologies and innovative services and wider connectivity with the rest of the world, including collaboration with the Calgary Internet Exchange (YYCIX) while partnerships with entities like Cybera and the University of Calgary further amplify the network’s impact. Cybera, a not-for-profit agency helping Alberta advance IT, operates CyberaNet, Alberta’s publicly funded high-speed network connecting the province’s educational institutions, researchers, and IT entrepreneurs, and provincial, national, and international research networks. The University of Calgary uses the city’s dark fiber and space in some facilities to conduct quantum encryption research and enable its research with fiber-as-a-sensor technology.