A wifi hotspot at the coldest spot on earth

Israel’s Alvarion makes rugged routers that facilitate communication in some of the most challenging environments — like Alaska’s North Slope

An Alvarion router, mounted outdoors (Photo credit: Courtesy)
An Alvarion router, mounted outdoors (Photo credit: Courtesy)

There is civilization at the end of the world, and its people need to talk on cellphones and surf the Internet. To their rescue comes Israel’s Alvarion, which will be installing fast wireless broadband service for the use of residents and workers of the North Slope of Alaska, one of the remotest and harshest places on earth.

Alvarion, based in Tel Aviv, has sales offices in 15 countries, with equipment deployed in some of the roughest rural environments in Africa and Asia, as well as in the US, Europe, and Asia.

The North Slope is about as north as you can get without going to the North Pole; it’s at the top tip of Alaska, and totals 94,763 square miles, larger than the land mass of 39 US states put together. It’s got about 7,500 permanent residents (most of them indigenous Eskimos), as well as thousands of workers at oil and gas rigs on and offshore, in Prudhoe Bay, one of Alaska’s biggest oil producing areas. Hundreds of roving exploration camps move throughout the area, looking for the next big oil gusher.

The sun doesn’t even rise four months of the year in the North Slope, and winter temperatures are way below zero Fahrenheit, with bitter winds blowing throughout the long, dark winter. Getting any supplies up to the hostile climate of the North Slope is a challenge, but perhaps most challenging of all is setting up a communications system. While food and supplies can be transported and stored, phone and Internet service require physical or wireless connections. But stringing wire throughout the North Slope is impractical, because of the distances and the rough terrain and weather. Constructing a network of cellphone towers is also not viable, for the same reasons.

Working together with ASTAC (Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative), a North Bay alliance of telephony service providers, Alvarion will be setting up its long-range broadband wifi equipment to provide connectivity to workers and residents across the North Slope region.

Among the goals of the oil producers is to expand Internet service for workers in Prudhoe Bay. It’s hard enough to recruit workers to for the big rigs, even with enormously high salaries and schedules that allow them plenty of rest and relaxation two weeks a month. The sense of isolation and being away from family and friends, as well as the grueling work, is too much for many potential employees. By offering broadband service to allow wider use of the Internet, as well as streaming video, Skype, and other communication services, the producers hope to make life more tolerable.

Not all broadband equipment is rugged enough or has enough of a reach to provide effective communications — but ASTAC officials, after a lengthy search, decided that Alvarion’s did. With Alvarion’s technology, ASTAC said, the organization will be able to deploy fewer access points in the roving oil industry and production camps that dot the North Slope, significantly reducing the labor costs and cabling associated with installations in such intense environmental conditions.

“Wireless broadband is critical to the well-being and morale of remote workers and residents in the rural communities we serve. Alvarion’s solution has changed the way we deliver Internet services,” said Jens Laipenieks, Manager of Sales and Business Development, ASTAC. “Even when the arctic winds blow and temperatures drop well below zero, we know that Alvarion’s equipment will hold up to ensure our users stay online and connected 24/7.”

Alvarion couldn’t agree more. “Serving the oil and gas industry in Alaska is just one example of how Alvarion’s technology can be applied to help improve connectivity reliability and save overall wireless deployment and operation costs,” said Chris Daniels, vice president of sales, North America. “In a region of Alaska that truckers can only access in the winter via ice roads, providing reliable solutions plays a critical role in helping the workers and business to communicate and thrive.”

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