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Education and fiber-optic

Canadian network consolidates distance learning projects

In Canada, the Internet has consolidated itself as a powerful instrument for distance learning (e-learning), boosted by ventures such as Canarie, a consortium made up by the Canadian government and business, which is responsible for “Canada’s National Research and Innovation Network”. CA*net, as it is known, is a high speed optical fiber network of 8,000 kilometers, which connects more than 80 universities, 50 colleges, 2,000 schools and about ten research centers, from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific. CA*net has a very similar structure to the network that will be built in the ambit of the Information Technology in the Development of the Advanced Internet Program (Tidia), sponsored by FAPESP. In partnership with private enterprise, the project is going to implement a state-wide optical fiber network, with a speed of up to 400 gigabits a second, for the development of optical communications research and special Internet applications.

Besides investing in the construction of the network, Canarie has US$ 28 million in cash to finance programs for the distribution of contents on the Internet or for forming a Learning Object Repository – LOR. The Belle (Broadband Enabled Lifelong Learning) project, for example, which is being used in the province of Alberta, is going to make it possible for health science students to use the database of the electronic microscope of the University of Lethbridge. Its images are so big that they cannot be observed using the conventional network, but with the support of the advanced network, they become accessible. “Our role is to help the development of the advanced networks and to support the next generation of networks, both in industry and in the universities”, explains Rafiq Kahn, Canarie’s director for strategic development, who took part in a parallel session of the 9th Congress of the Brazilian Association of Distance Learning (Abed), held at FAPESP’s headquarters.

High speed
Tidia is also going to support programs for learning over the network, and to finance the development of tools content production, as well as the generation of educational content itself. “Although our network is for research and not for production, the difficulties in its implementation are the same as those faced by Canarie, and their experience has an inestimable value for us”, says Luis Fernandez Lopez, Tidia’s coordinator. He informed that the Foundation has now started an understanding with the Canadian company, with the objective of signing cooperation or partnership agreements in the future.

Canarie went into operation in 1993, with CA*net1, a network that had a data transmission capacity of 56 Kbps and would only allow the transfer of e-mail. Nowadays, CA*net4 is already in operation, with speed of 40 gigabits a second. It cost US$ 110 million, but it makes it possible, for example, for the network to be controlled by the user. This means that universities, institutions, companies and local administrations can, for example, construct their own optical fiber ducts, take part in optical fiber condominiums, and even control the wavelength and the configuration of the network. The advantage is that the costs are very low, since the spending on the services of the operating companies is eliminated. The University of Quebec, for example, now has an optical fiber condominium with 3,500 kilometer, at a cost of US$ 2 million. This is possible because, in Canada, the telecommunications operating companies allow users to manage their optical fibers by right of use contracts.

Third wave
The new technology, with high speed data transmission and the possibility of controlling the use of the optic fiber, allows the user of CA*net4 to have access to applications and services of the third wave of the Internet. “At this new moment of the Internet, data and applications are distributed in cyberspace will have multiple providers, with distributed delivery”, exemplifies Rene Hatem, Canarie’s chief engineer.

Hatem believes that the new network will enable what he calls e-research. He cites the National Ecology Observatories Network (Neon), supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), made up of ten institutions, which is going to act as a platform to integrate research in the field of biology.