Robust and Resilient: Canada’s Telecom Networks in Focus: Ghiz
Robert Ghiz, CWTA President & CEO
Keynote Remarks: Robust and Resilient: Canada’s Telecom Networks in Focus
***Check Against Delivery***
STAC 2023 Conference & Exhibition
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
9:25 to 9:50 a.m. Eastern
Thank you all for coming. It’s wonderful to see so many familiar faces and we’re happy you could join us. I’m Rob Ghiz and I’m pleased to be here today to speak on behalf of CWTA and our members.
Merci à vous tous d’être venus. C’est merveilleux de voir de nombreux visages familiers et nous sommes heureux que vous puissiez vous joindre à nous. Je suis Rob Ghiz et je suis heureux d’être ici aujourd’hui pour parler au nom de l’ACTS et de nos membres.
CWTA works to ensure the continued growth of the wireless sector in Canada. We do this by advocating for policies that encourage continued investment in telecommunications infrastructure and by running programs that support the wireless industry such as Canadian Common Short Codes, the Mobile Giving Foundation, wirelessaccessibility.ca, and STAC.
I’ll be speaking today about the strength and resiliency of Canada’s telecommunications infrastructure So really, I’m here to talk about how great of a job you all do building and maintaining that infrastructure and the incredible impact this has on Canadians’ lives.
It’s thanks to your hard work – as well as the billions of dollars facilities-based service providers invest each and every year – that Canadians benefit from world-class telecommunications networks. I know it’s also thanks to all you here today that those networks are strong enough to handle the surging demand for data we’ve seen over the last few years.
And it’s also thanks to you that they’re resilient enough to withstand all the destructive forces they face routinely. Since we last all met in Montreal at STAC 2019 Canada’s telecom networks have faced and overcome an incredible number of hurdles. This includes the rapid change in Canadians’ consumption habits at the start of the pandemic, as well as other more threatening challenges, such as hurricanes, floods, fires, and even intentional sabotage.
Thanks to you and your colleagues across the country, our networks may buckle, but never break, and Canadians are accustomed to having any service disruptions restored as quickly as circumstances permit.
As we’ve seen in recent years, telecommunication services have become an essential part of the way we live, work and play. During the pandemic, when governments, businesses and individuals had to shift most of their economic and social activity online, it was the people in this room and your colleagues who helped ensure Canada’s digital infrastructure could support the transition. Faced with a year’s-worth of traffic growth in just a few weeks, our networks rose to the occasion, with 90 percent of consumers saying their service provider met or exceeded their COVID response expectations.
It was the innovation and years of investment made by our members that enabled all of us to stay connected.
As the demand for telecommunication services has grown, our industry has responded to the challenge. To meet the growing demand for internet and mobile wireless services, Canadian facilities-based service providers continue to make massive investments in building and enhancing network infrastructure in every region of Canada. These investments not only deliver world-class telecommunications services, they also help drive economic growth, enable innovation and create jobs across all industry sectors.
According to PwC research CWTA commissioned last fall, the telecommunications sector invested $12.3 billion in capital expenditures in 2021 alone. This represents 19% of the sector’s annual revenue, a number that’s higher in Canada than the average across all G7 countries plus Australia. Facilities-based wireless providers alone invested $3.45 billion in capital expenditures to help expand and enhance their networks in 2021. That was on top of the $8.9 billion spent on acquiring mid-band spectrum licenses. And let’s not forget the $9.25 billion invested in high-speed broadband networks.
These investments supported the employment of more than 650,000 Canadian workers across industry sectors in 2021, including many of the people in this room. They were also responsible for an estimated $74.9 billion direct contribution to Canada’s GDP, according to PwC. Importantly, these investments have also helped ensure Canadians can benefit from some of the best telecommunications networks in the world.
But as many of you know, Canada’s carriers aren’t just investing in network expansion, they’re also investing in resiliency. And for good reason.
Severe and destructive weather events and other natural disasters are becoming more frequent, with hurricanes and other high wind events, snow and ice storms, flooding, and wildfires being just some of the natural catastrophes that have struck communities across Canada in recent years. Not only do these events affect personal safety and property, but they also threaten the operation of critical infrastructure, like telecommunications networks.
As Canadians have become increasingly reliant on telecommunications, Canada’s service providers have made it a priority to improve the resiliency of their network infrastructure and further strengthen their preparedness for extreme weather and natural disasters. Hurricane Fiona, for example, was the most extreme weather event ever recorded in Atlantic Canada, and the worst-ever hurricane in Canada. Its impact on Atlantic Canada was unprecedented.
As an Islander, I witnessed the affect it had on my family, my neighbours, and my community. Homes were lifted off their foundations and wind tore roofs off buildings. Trees and utility poles were uprooted while others snapped in half, leaving over 80,000 electricity customers without power in PEI alone, equal to roughly 95% of the island. Many were without power for days.
In addition to individual residents and homeowners, the storm also affected key industries. Farmers suffered significant crop and infrastructure damage and fishermen experienced catch losses. The telecommunications industry was also significantly impacted by Hurricane Fiona. But thanks to the investments and hard work of the people who own, build and maintain the network infrastructure, the networks survived and services were restored in days, not weeks. That hard work included preparation and restoration.
Pre-storm preparations began in the days prior to Hurricane Fiona making landfall, with service providers activating all available measures to protect their networks. A non-exhaustive list of measures taken by our members include:
- Activation of internal emergency response plans and processes.
- Proactive network reviews to resolve any outstanding issues.
- Inspection of fibre and cable routes and where possible removal of trees and limbs that posed risks.
They also stopped any non-essential network changes to avoid disruptions.
For cell sites, measures were also taken to reduce power consumption so that batteries and generator fuel would last longer. Teams fueled and tested generators and vehicles and fuel reserves were enhanced. Additional personnel and generators were also dispatched to key locations and repair teams were positioned based on the expected path of the storm and critical parts of the network. Our members also participated in meetings with the Canadian Telecom Resiliency Working Group, which includes ISED and EMO, to prepare for the storm and its aftermath.
These extensive preparations ensured that throughout the storm and its aftermath, our members’ core networks, the central element of the networks that provide services to customers, remained fully operational. This is key. Had core networks failed, services would not have been available. The majority of network distribution sites and cell sites also remained operational due to pre-storm preparations, which included the presence of back-up batteries and generators.
So why did some customers experience service outages? Most home internet and phone service outages were the result of general power outages affecting residences and businesses. Without power, customers’ internet modems and cordless phones did not work. Once power was restored, these services were automatically restored.
However, some customers’ services were impacted by damage to poles and cables that connect their home or business to the service providers’ networks. This type of damage was the worst we have ever seen in Canada and required extensive repairs following the storm. Some homes and businesses also lost service due to damage or loss of power affecting local network sites that distribute services to their area. For example, a cut cable that required repair or loss of power at a local network node.
It is important to note that in many cases it was not possible to identify which locations had lost services until after commercial power was restored. Only after an area had power restored could it be determined if internet or home phone loss was due to the lack of power or some other issue.
As mentioned earlier, wireless service providers’ core networks and overall wireless communication systems remained operational throughout the storm. Cell tower sites were equipped with back-up batteries and back-up generators were deployed to keep cell sites operating. And let’s give some credit to the tower engineers in the room, as not a single cell tower was felled by the storm.
However, there were a small number of sites that could not be safely accessed to refuel generators until debris was removed from blocked roads or downed power lines were safely cleared by the power utility. Even where a tower was temporarily offline, it did not mean that a customer could not receive service, since the networks are designed with numerous, overlapping cell sites that provide continuity of service even when an individual site is inoperable.
While wireless communications remained operational, the level of service was impacted by several factors. The first was network congestion. With power being lost across the province, most individuals were unable to use their home internet and home phone. This resulted in a surge in demand for wireless services. Mobile data services were also impacted by proactive emergency measures taken by service providers such as prioritizing phone calls over data traffic. And finally, while not surprising, it is also important to note that customers were not able to use their mobile device if its battery ran out and they were unable to recharge it.
Once the storm had passed and it was safe to do so, crews were dispatched to assess damage and to initiate repairs and deploy back-up power and refuel generators. In most cases, customers’ service outages were due to a general loss of commercial power. Once power was restored by the power utility, their internet and home phone services came online automatically.
Where services were impacted by damage to network infrastructure, repair and restoral efforts began immediately based on public safety priorities and the ability to safely access impacted locations. This work was aided by an unprecedented degree of cooperation across the industry, with service providers assisting each other in making repairs and enabling workarounds. Additional personnel resources were also brought into priority areas, with many workers raising their hands and volunteering to travel all across Atlantic Canada to assist with the restoration work.
In addition to the inability to safely access some sites, one of the major challenges our industry faced in the aftermath of the storm was access to gas and diesel fuel. Fuel supply depots had also lost power and without back-up generators were unable to pump fuel. In some cases, our members had to line up at gas stations to obtain fuel to keep generators running. Members even had to import fuel supplies to some provinces.
Repairs were also largely dependent on power utilities to remove power hazards and other debris before being able to safely access sites to inspect, refuel or repair. Our members worked closely with key partners such as Maritime Electric and Irving Oil to coordinate and prioritize these activities and we commend our partners for their efforts under very difficult circumstances.
We also commend all your efforts to help with the recovery following Hurricane Fiona and so many other natural disasters that have threatened Canadians and our critical infrastructure in recent years. We know that so many of you have assisted in this type of recovery project, and I think you all deserve a round of applauds for your work to help keep Canadians connected in times of need.
I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge members of the STAC Steering Committee and everyone else who volunteers their time to help make STAC such a huge success. While we know how hard you and your colleagues all work to help ensure Canadians stay connected, we also know it’s equally important that you’re all able to do your work safely, and STAC is a big part of that.
So please join me in another big round of applauds for the STAC Steering Committee, the STAC committee leads and everyone else who dedicates their time to helping protect their colleagues and even their competitors for the prosperity of all Canadians.
I hope everyone has a fantastic couple of days here in Niagara Falls and that you all learn a lot and enjoy all the incredible sessions today and tomorrow at STAC 2023.