K-Net realigns satellite dishes across the north

By Rick Garrick

Airsickness and bad weather could not hold back progress for K-Net’s community network.

After five days of hard work by a dedicated K-Net team of staff and community technicians and numerous flights crisscrossing the north, all but one of the community broadband networks connected by satellite to K-Net’s hub in Sioux Lookout have been realigned with the Anik F3 satellite in an effort to deliver more bandwidth to the communities.

Only the Neskantaga satellite earth station was left aligned with the old Anik F2 satellite, due to a fire that burned the earth station’s head end to the ground on the night of Nov. 20, just before the team was to arrive to complete its realignment.

“The good news about Lansdowne is that the dish has escaped the fire,” says Adi Linden, K-Net’s network systems analyst, explaining that there was no way to realign the satellite dish without the head end. “The outdoor components, antenna, SSPA, LNB, Heliax should be fine.”

K-Net brought together a group of technicians, including Jesse Fiddler from Muskrat Dam, Wayne Slipperjack from Eabametoong, Jamie Ray from Thunder Bay and John Moreau and Lyle Johnson from Sioux Lookout, to work with team leaders Adi Linden and Terence Burnard on realigning the K-Net hub in Sioux Lookout and 13 community satellite dishes located across northern Ontario, all the way from Attawapiskat and Marten Falls in the east to Fort Severn and Peawanuk in the north to Sachigo and Muskrat Dam in the west to Slate Falls in the south.

Crews were also assembled and trained in Manitoba and Quebec to realign the earth stations in their partner remote communities, which are part of a group of 45 remote Indigenous communities currently using the National Indigenous Community Satellite Network (NICSN) to access the Internet and other broadband applications. Go to http://smart.knet.ca/satellite.

The five-day realignment effort, which began on Monday, Nov. 19, was required to bring the satellite dishes into alignment with the Anik F3 satellite and enable the communities to access two more transponders and additional bandwidth. Jeannie Carpenter and her administration team made up the remainder of the K-Net crew, while Cal Kenny worked with everyone to produce a video report about the training and project. Go to http://knet.ca/video/satellite_realignment2.wmv.

“Congratulations to the team of very special people who made this very challenging effort such a great success,” says Brian Beaton, K-Net coordinator. “I am sure the folks in the north will appreciate your efforts once we have those two new transponders up and delivering the improved services.”

After four days of travel to nine different northern communities, Slipperjack was pleased with the experience and knowledge he gained while working on the realignment project.

“This has been a very positive experience for me and I have learned quite a bit,” Slipperjack says. “If given another chance like this, I would take it without hesitation. I love the challenge and the experience that comes with it. This week has been hectic with a lot of travelling, especially with the coastal communities, long flights between communities, and making it back home Thursday afternoon.”

Fiddler echoed Slipperjack’s comments, noting that it took a whole team effort to get the satellite dishes realigned in such a short time period.

“It took the local community technicians to coordinate things at the community level, the K-Net administration staff to work with them and arrange our travel around the weather conditions to get us here, and finally the tech staff to point the dishes and reprogram them with the help of Telesat SNOC and our own SNOC team in Sioux,” Fiddler says.

Slipperjack and Fiddler prepared for the week by training with Linden and the others at K-Net’s hub in Sioux Lookout on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

“The training in Sioux Lookout was quite an experience for me,” Slipperjack says, explaining that was the first time he had worked with a Spectrum Analyzer. “As for the realignment, I had no problems there as I have had experience from peaking the dish in Fort Hope.”

Fiddler adds that Linden had everything prepared for them in Sioux Lookout to ensure that the realignment would go as smoothly as possible.

“He prepared all the programs and boot files necessary so that our time setting the sites up was minimal.” Fiddler says. “He prepared all the DVB receivers ahead of time to allow for the changeover as well.”

Linden tested all the programs and equipment he had prepared during the Wednesday training session and then shared everything he learned with the Manitoba and Quebec crews so everyone was ready to complete all the realignments in each of the NICSN partner communities.

The realignment project began early on Monday morning as Burnard and Linden realigned the 7.3 metre satellite dish at K-Net’s hub in Sioux Lookout to the Anik F3 satellite. Once the hub was moved, all 45 communities on the satellite network immediately lost their signal and the ground crews kicked into motion with their realignment plans.

Slipperjack and Ray, who had chartered in from Thunder Bay on Monday morning, began their week in Slipperjack’s home community of Eabametoong by realigning the community’s satellite dish before heading for Webequie. Unfortunately, they couldn’t land due to bad weather conditions, so they continued on to Thunder Bay, where they noticed that Eabametoong was no longer online.

Fiddler began the week in Muskrat Dam, where he lives with his family and supports the local community technician while working on various K-Net initiatives. With help from the local technician, he had the satellite dish realigned by lunch. Although he was scheduled to travel to Sachigo, weather conditions were poor so he headed for Sioux Lookout instead but ended up in Round Lake for the afternoon due to more weather conditions. That was when Fiddler realized that Muskrat Dam was no longer online, due to a network hardware failure at the hub site in Sioux Lookout which created a technical problem for each of the sites that had already been set up.

“While I was in Round Lake I called up the technician (and special projects officer) Danny Kanakeesic, and we started working on the dish while I was in town,” Fiddler says. “We were able to re-point the dish and reprogram the receivers and get it working that evening. Since Adi had fixed the technical problem at the hub site, the dish went online and is still working. So I made my flight to Sioux Monday night.”

The third crew, Moreau and Johnson, flew into Slate Falls and Cat Lake on Monday to realign their satellite dishes and get both communities back online, but unfortunately the technical problem at the Sioux Lookout hub took both sites down later that afternoon.

On Tuesday morning, Slipperjack and Ray’s flight to Attawapiskat was delayed due to low clouds in the community, so Ray asked the pilot to fly them back to Eabametoong instead so they could attempt to get that community back online.

“We landed and quickly went to HE (the head end) to make the necessary changes to get them back online,” Slipperjack says. “We left for Attawapiskat shortly thereafter. The Cable guys met us at the airport and transported us to HE, where we found out that Fort Hope went back down for some reason. This wasn't good, not good at all, and there was nothing that we could do to find out what needed to be done. I knew this problem would have to wait till I got back home on Thursday.”

Slipperjack and Ray had only a small problem in Attawapiskat, due to a supporting conduit that was in the way of the satellite dish and needed to be shortened so the dish could be successfully realigned. Once the local cable network was up and running again, Slipperjack took the opportunity to visit some friends in the community before catching the charter flight to Peawanuck.

“Our evening didn't go quite as good as Attawapiskat,” Slipperjack says. “We could not find F3 at all, no matter how many times we went back and forth, up and down, we just couldn't find F3. We called it a night at 9 p.m.”

Freezing rain and poor weather conditions cancelled all the planned charter flights on Tuesday out of Sioux Lookout, so the crews found other means of getting the work done. Carpenter and Johnson drove on the bush road to Slate Falls to get that community back up and online. Slate Falls, which is the only community in Canada that operates its own IP phone network, depends on their satellite earth station to provide connections for all their IP phones.

Fiddler’s flight to Kasabonika and Webequie were also cancelled due to bad weather conditions, but he managed to get a scheduled flight later in the day to Kasabonika, where he worked with Keith Mason to realign the satellite dish in about two hours. Fiddler and Mason had to muscle the dish into place in order to connect the adjustment arm needed to successfully complete the realignment.

“Keith had experience with working with dishes and Telesat,” Fiddler says. “When we were on the phone with Telesat doing the crosspole alignment, he recognized the Telesat technician and had a chat with him while I was getting the equipment ready. Quite a small world, eh.”

Fiddler then caught a flight to Webequie, where he worked with the Webequie Telecom team, led by Telecom coordinator Paul Quisses, and realigned the dish in about two hours. Fiddler spent the night in Webequie, where the big joke was that everyone was having Internet withdrawals from barely 36 hours without the Internet.

“The effects of the Internet loss were felt in Kasabonika too as staff heavily use it for work and the finance department does a lot of their banking online,” Fiddler says. “Keith Mason mentioned that it was good to get it back online so they didn't have to cancel some Telehealth appointments. Even through Telehealth, doctors appointments are valuable and the effects are felt by patients when they don't get seen.”

Fiddler also noticed that the KiHS classes in Round Lake had been scheduled to be closed for two days due to no Internet services, but he managed to cut the closure to one day by getting the satellite dish realigned promptly.

“All in all, it's been a crazy couple of days and this experience has shown me how dependent people are on the network connections we have in the communities,” Fiddler says.

On Wednesday morning, Slipperjack and Ray still could not find F3 in Peawanuck. Because they had to continue on with their scheduled realignments in two other northern communities, Ray decided to reconfigure the community’s Ka Band Dish to provide them with some Internet services until they could return later.

“We left Peawanuck for Fort Severn, and once there, we went right to work with realigning the dish, crosspole and reprogramming the linkways,” Slipperjack says. “We did have a small problem with the Analyzer, it wasn't reading what we were seeing in previous communities, luckily for us, we hit the right buttons and we were dead on F3.”

They left Fort Severn at 4:30 for Shamattawa, Man., where they soon had the community’s two satellite dishes realigned thanks to help from band councillor Ernest Hill.

“It took some time to get used to the different dishes and how to realign them,” Slipperjack says. “Both were a bit smaller than the ones in Ontario.”

Slipperjack and Ray then flew to Thunder Bay for the night.

Moreau and Burnard realigned the satellite dish in Marten Falls and brought the community online on Wednesday. They were scheduled to realign the Neskantaga satellite dish next, but due to the fire all they could do was stop there to inspect the dish, take some pictures and then head back to Sioux Lookout.

Johnson flew into Cat Lake on Wednesday on a scheduled flight and was able to reload the boot files and get the community back online while the plane waited for him at the airport.

Fiddler returned to Muskrat Dam on Wednesday and brought the community back online before heading to Sachigo on Thursday to realign their satellite dish with the help of Angus Miles and bring the community back online.

Slipperjack and Ray flew to Sioux Lookout on Thursday morning to pick up a new LNB and a SSPA from the K-Net building before heading back to Peawanuck to finish the realignment they didn’t complete the day before due to an inoperable LNB.

“We changed the LNB and quickly found F2 so we could start realigning the dish to point to F3,” Slipperjack says. “It took a matter of minutes to get it to where we wanted it to be. After doing the crosspole and reprogramming linkways, we left for Fort Hope and quickly changed the SSPA and voila, here I am, sitting at home watching football.”

On Friday, Moreau flew into Neskantaga to set up a Ka Band dish at the school as an interim connectivity solution until the community cable head end can be replaced. The temporary dish provides students participating in e-learning courses with Internet access.

Slipperjack’s experiences over the past few days have reinforced his feeling of how important the community’s online services are to community members.

“This service provided by K-Net is very important to everyone in every community that we visited,” he says. “For instance, in Fort Severn, on their local channel they had a posting that we would be in at 7:30 a.m. to make the necessary changes, and we were told that a gentleman sat at the airport for three hours waiting for us to arrive from Peawanuck.”