By: John Stoesser

Ciena’s senior vice-president and chief strategy officer, James Frodsham, speaks to college staff and students about a collaboration that brings state-of-the-art networking equipment to the school’s photonics and laser lab.

The push of a button earlier this month in Algonquin’s photonics and laser lab established a network connection that can transmit huge amounts of data across transcontinental distances.

In a recent partnership, networking giant Ciena donated two pieces of advanced photonic telecommunications equipment, to update the college’s photonics and laser lab. Photonics is essentially the science of light. How it is generated, emitted and manipulated. The “6500” takes any digital signal, turns it into light and then sends it through a fibre optic cable.

“We’re very excited to work with the staff and faculty and the students of Algonquin and we’ve provided some very state-of-the-art technology,” said Ciena’s senior director, external research, Rodney Wilson. “There’s no other education institution that has this kind of teaching lab.”

Wilson displayed a small length of yellow and white fibre optic cable at the Nov. 2 event for an audience of politicians, Algonquin executives, faculty, and students. He said the donated equipment is able to transmit the equivalent of 2,300 simultaneous high-definition Netflix downloads as light signals through fibre optic cables. These signals travel through the glass core of the cable, which is thinner than a human hair.

In addition to the two pieces of networking equipment, Ciena also donated 160 km of fibre optic cable. Photonics and laser technology students now can work on a network based on real distances rather than simulations.

It is estimated the equipment is worth up to $500,000.

The new 6500s provide a much needed update to the lab. The previous equipment was based on technology developed in 1993.

“This is extremely reliable equipment,” said Wilson. “This stuff goes in and keeps working for years and years and years.”

Ciena’s senior vice-president and chief strategy officer, James Frodsham, said during the unveiling of the networking equipment the donation will benefit both parties.

“We can provide industry context to enable educational institutions like Algonquin to better train their students and to prepare them for opportunities in the marketplace.

“A well-kept secret is that our largest R & D facility and our centre for excellence for our packet and optical technology innovation initiatives [are] actually headquartered here in Ottawa,” said Frodsham.

Algonquin’s vice president, academic, Claude Brulé, praised the deal.

“This is beyond an equipment donation,” said Brulé. “It’s a partnership in the truest sense where learning and research can take place and benefit both parties…And it is just the beginning; it is just the tip of the iceberg of what this technology will do for us as humanity and for our society.”

Algonquin president Kent MacDonald said his role in this deal was supporting his faculty and that credit goes to the program staff.

Algonquin research coordinator and professor, Dr. Wahab Almuhtadi, was one of the staff members involved in the donation. Almuhtadi said the new equipment is involved in a range of industries and sets students up for work in many fields such as telecommunications, defence and healthcare.

Bob Chiarelli, Ottawa-West Nepean MPP and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the new partnership is important for Algonquin and Ottawa’s technology industry.

“Over the last number of years some people have expressed concern about Ottawa’s technology sector,” said Chiarelli. “It is alive and well… I’ve said on many occasions, high tech is back in Ottawa and growing.”