Forget the foreboding over budgetary deficits and long-term debt. Forget the endless debates over shale gas and resource extraction. Some entrepreneurs in New Brunswick are actually looking forward to the future, even embracing it with open arms, mind and hearts
A company that could cement New Brunswick’s status as a telecommunications hub and draw major data-driven Internet companies like Google and Amazon to the province began with a joke to an old friend.
Or, as serial entrepreneur Hunter Newby tells his tale, when his business pal, Uri Litvinenko, a Kiev-based telecom entrepreneur, was looking to start a new life in Canada and thought he could goose his chances of success by acquiring a Canadian enterprise, the former quipped: “You mean besides a bar across the street from Maple Leafs Gardens? That’s what I would do, I would own a bar and would watch every Leafs game.”
Why anyone would offer such dubious advice (given the Leafs’ straight shot to sporting perdition, lo these many decades) is anyone’s guess. But hope springs eternal in Newby’s heart, and always has. Now, he and Litvinenko are coowners of Fibre Centre, a Monctonbased company which will provide, according to the firm’s website, “an important and strategic access point to the numerous fi bre-based submarine and terrestrial carrier networks that pass through the province of New Brunswick.”
The two telecom veterans are in the middle of a $2-million closing on a facility, and have been busy collecting letters of intent and meeting with local offi cials to explain the importance of the project. Not that any of this should surprise anyone.
One online biography of Newby declares that he is a 15-year veteran of the telecom networking industry. Certainly, as the founder and CEO of Allied Fiber, he commands broad and deep knowledge of the industry. Before Fibre, he was the chief strategy offi cer and a director of the Telx Group, Inc., one of the major carrier hotel interconnection facilities in the United States.
What’s more, the brag assures, “Newby has been involved with various industry councils and associations including the Pacific Telecommunications Council (vice chairman of PTC Advisory Council), VON (advisory board member) and the International Engineering Consortium.” He has also written monthly columns and has been featured in numerous industry publications.
All of which may only say that Mr. Newby isn’t from around these parts, a fact which may point to a welcome and growing trend for a province that has too often lionized its past, lamented its present and ignored its future. Happily, he’s not the only defiant entrepreneur, foreign or domestic, who imagines a sparkling tomorrow for a province that otherwise endures a $300-500-million annual deficit and a $12-billion long-term debt.
There is, for example, Cirrus9, a leader in data centres and cloud computing solutions, established in 2010. In its brief life, this Saint John company has become a regional leader in helping companies with their data storage needs. What’s more, it’s poised to play a vital role as more and more companies look to the cloud to spare them the cost of running and maintaining their own data storage servers. The firm maintains two storage facilities in the Saint John area, one of which has been described as “Canada’s version of Fort Knox.”
Cirrus9 has also had a banner year. After merging with Halifaxbased Cloud A computing, It followed up recently with news that they’ll broaden their customer base. Fredericton’s municipally owned fibre optic network GoFred will be gaining access to the f6 network’s high capacity long haul fibre optic cables, offering residents access to gigabits of data and Cirrus9’s cloud computing services.
Then, there’s the decidedly lowtech, but equally innovative, Go-Go Gymnastics, also of Saint John. There, the young founder and owner Kara Hachey Angus has, according to one account, grown her business from a basement enterprise in 2004 to a going concern employing “upwards of 70 full-time and parttime employees” by focussing on literacy, leadership and physical activity for southwestern New Brunswick’s youngsters.
All of which points to a growing, if still nascent, culture of techand service-based ingenuity. The independent, not-for-profi t New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, an investment pool for private sector go-getters, reports that since its inception in 2003, it has helped create more than 50 companies and fund 350 applied research projects. Indeed, says its 2013-14 annual report, in that year, the Foundation “increased its annual investments in start-up companies and research by 60 per cent, our biggest year to date. As a result, our clients were able to raise $43 million more from other capital advisors … double what it was last year.”
For Newby, bad jokes about sports and under-performing hockey teams notwithstanding, the future is just beginning in New Brunswick, just as it did elsewhere in his far-ranging orbit.
As he explains, Allied Fiber, the company he created in 2008 just as the “Great Recession” preyed all over the developed world, provides customers with neutral connection sites to “dark fibre” telecommunications cables throughout the United States. Dark fi bre refers to unused optical cable.
In the dot com economic bubble of the late 1990s and early 2000s, many telephone companies invested in large, global fibre-optic networks under the assumption that the size of data would keep increasing. As technology radically improved fi breoptic capacity, however, the cost of data decreased, and many companies that invested hundreds-of-millions into submarine cables, went bankrupt. This later presented a huge opportunity for other companies to tap into these dormant networks.
Allied Fiber was one of them, and Newby has built a network of commercial success in the United States connecting to intercontinental submarine cables. Allied also helps design prefabricated “carrier-neutral” sites where customers can pay for access to the network. These colocation centres are referred to as “carrier hotels,” in which links to the network are, in effect, “rooms” rented out to tenants, including telecom companies and others who wish to gain access to powerful network speeds and data capacities.
Back to Moncton.”You gotta pick the right location,” Newby says. So, to help his friend Litvinenko start a business, Newby did what all location specialists do: he looked at a map. Not just any map, however. Though Newby knew that data centres already existed in Toronto and Vancouver, he told Litvinenko he knew of one company in particular which ran a submarine, high capacity network cable between Europe and Atlantic Canada: Hibernia Networks.
Newby discovered that the cable in question, initially laid down in 2000 by the now-bankrupt company 360networks and later purchased by Hibernia, connected London and Dublin with Nova Scotia at a point near Halifax at Herring Cove. From there, he traced the cable’s route in search of a more inland point to set up a carrierneutral access point.
“The first dot after Halifax was a place called Truro,” he says. “And then the next dot was Moncton. And I said, well I wouldn’t pick Halifax because it’s right on the water, and I wouldn’t pick Truro because that’s also in Nova Scotia. I would pick this place called Moncton.”
Soon after, Newby found to his astonishment that, in telecommunications terms, all roads lead to the Hub City. Moncton was also a junction point where another underground fibre optic cable owned by f6 Networks connected down into Maine through to Boston.
“That was pretty amazing,” Newby says. “And that’s how I found it, on that map. And within 30 minutes I had sent an email to some friends of mine at Hibernia to find out everything there was to know about that end point. I wanted pictures, location, street address, capabilities, everything.”
Thus began Fibre Centre. Newby is hopeful he can secure the site within the year with some financial assurances. “I hope we can close on this property,” he says. “It’s a good property. We’re still looking through that. The challenges are education, awareness.”
The potential for economic development in Moncton and New Brunswick, with access to the faster, higher-capacity network that Fibre Centre could provide, is clear. Yet while there are already several true believers among the Moncton business community, Newby goes further. He warns that improving network infrastructure isn’t just about creating jobs, but ensuring existing jobs don’t move elsewhere.
“People are always so laserfocused on how many jobs you are going to create,” he explains. “Listen, if you don’t build this infrastructure, you will not be able to attract or retain the businesses that you have. They will leave, they will go away. They will go to a place where this infrastructure exists.”
Newby also spells out what Fibre Centre could mean for New Brunswickers in more basic terms. “Do you have a mobile phone? Do you want it to work? Yes. Do you want it to work faster? Yes. Do you want it to cost less? Yes. That’s what I mean. Everybody wants the same thing. Businesses want networks, high speed and lower cost. Individuals want networks, high speed and lower cost. That’s what this does. A facility like this is a nexus and it allows for all the other networks to come and congregate there.”
His experience with Allied Fiber also gives him an edge in designing network access points like Fibre Centre, which require the right building, air conditioning, special power supplies, and strong security. He emphasizes that he designs the sites to the specifications of his tenants.
Newby also notes that sites like Fibre Centre are often situated within major economic centres. He mentions 151 Front Street West in Toronto, a colocation centre which bills itself as “Canada’s premier telecommunications hub and carrier hotel.”
Should Moncton become one of these … well, that’s no joke.