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Focus on Leadership Shaws network keeps digital life moving during pandemic edit

Damian Poltz, left, vice-president of technology strategy and networks at Shaw, and Chima Nkemdirim, vice-president of government relations.
Photo credit: Wil Andruschak © Postmedia Network Inc.

Joel Schlesinger © Postmedia Network Inc.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed many things in our world, including how we work, learn and play.

Much of what we used to do in the real world is now done online. For the most part, this dramatic shift happened seamlessly.

Yet, this transition certainly didn’t occur by accident. It was the result of unprecedented investment in communications infrastructure in Canada.

Calgary-based Shaw Communications, one of the nation’s top network providers, has been at the leading edge of this push for a more connected nation.

“Over the past seven years, we have spent more than $20 billion on improving our networks and services,” says Damian Poltz, vice-president of technology strategy and networks at Shaw.

In late May, Shaw launched its Fibre+ Gig internet plan, the largest deployment of gigabit speeds for residential internet customers in Western Canada.

Certainly, Shaw’s timing for these network improvements, and the launch of its Fibre+ Gig internet plan couldn’t have been better.

“If anything, COVID has served to underscore the importance of our investments,” Poltz adds.

Demand from Shaw’s internet customers — stretching from Victoria to Sault St. Marie, Ont., — soared after the pandemic put the brakes on life as we know it this past March.

“Broadband use jumped dramatically in mid-March,” says Poltz, adding that Shaw saw a 50 per cent increase in wireless network usage as well as extended peak hours. “We effectively saw two years of demand growth on our network in a matter of two weeks."

Fortunately, Shaw’s Fibre+ network — which provides ultra-high-speed internet service to its customers — has been more than up to the task.

“The capacity we built into our network right ahead of our Shaw Fibre+ Gig product debut helped us manage the growth we saw during COVID-19,” says Poltz.

What’s more, Shaw’s coaxial cable has proven to be the perfect fit with its broader fibre-optic infrastructure, with fibre making up more than 99.9 per cent of the route travelled for an individual customer’s internet traffic. With today’s modern technologies, Shaw is able to provide the speed of fibre combined with the versatility of coax. 

“Coax is in people’s homes already, and the big benefit is that coax today can handle multi-gigabit speeds when paired with our fibre network,” said Poltz.

As such, Shaw customers can experience ultra-fast network connections without disruption. What’s more, Shaw can offer its fastest speeds without having to tear up lawns or drill into homes to install new wiring, Poltz adds.

Shaw’s investment in its network infrastructure hasn’t just made life at home easier during the pandemic. It has also been a boon for the economy.

“When businesses are looking to relocate and grow their operations, they look to this kind of critical infrastructure,” says Katherine Emberly, Shaw’s president of business, brand and communications.

Emberly notes that companies looking to grow and invest in their businesses are looking at environments like Calgary that provide widespread access to robust networks and gigabit download speeds.

Of course, it’s not just strong network capabilities for the office that are attractive to businesses. It’s also the fact Shaw’s Fibre+ network reaches virtually every home in the city.

“This pandemic has really highlighted just how much the internet has become the backbone of the economy as more and more people have been working from home,” Emberly says.

“Businesses of all sizes have really relied on the internet to connect their workers and their customers.”

The realities of the pandemic aside, the world increasingly operates on high-speed networks. Businesses and consumers now expect and demand a network that can keep up.

Change may not happen overnight, but consider the shift over the past 10 years. As noted by Chima Nkemdirim, Shaw’s vice-president of government relations, top speeds a decade ago were considered extremely fast at 100 megabits per second.

“But today, we’re offering speeds 10 times faster, and that’s really a seismic shift, which is creating whole new industries that weren’t here a decade ago,” Nkemdirim says.

Think cloud computing, artificial intelligence and streaming digital services. Indeed, the launch of Disney+ and the latest Call of Duty video game, available only by download, would not have been possible just a few years ago. While these new products and services recently put network capacity to the test, Shaw’s Fibre+ network and its new Fibre+ Gig internet product have easily handled the added load. 

As Poltz notes, users could download the 80-gigabyte Call of Duty game in a few minutes whereas previously it would have taken all day on a 10- or 15-megabit connection.

That said, Shaw’s Fibre+ network is not just designed to meet the needs of today.

“We are still scratching the surface of what it can deliver down the road,” Poltz adds.

Shaw is constantly working with government and other stakeholders to prepare for an increasingly digital future.

“We’ve had a really good environment to make big investments to transform Canada into one of the most connected countries in the world,” Nkemdirim says. “However, in order to stay one step ahead of the latest innovations, we need the government to maintain a regulatory environment that encourages investment.”

That includes 5G wireless technology. 

“Shaw is at the forefront of the development of 5G networks that will profoundly change our world yet again,” Poltz says. “We are building a network that can deliver not only incredible speeds today, but also in the future, for Calgarians and millions of Canadians.

“At Shaw, we are truly on the leading edge of connectivity and change.”

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Calgary Economic Development.

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