Former NAIT students earn provincial honour for internet access for underserved rural areas project
16, Dec, 2022
EDMONTON, Dec. 16, 2022 – Two former NAIT wireless systems engineering technology students have earned provincial recognition for troubleshooting a way to provide internet access to an underserved rural area. For their Capstone Project, Patrick Potiuk and Jeanne Anselmo have been honoured as a finalist for the 2022 Capstone Project of the Year Award by the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET).
Their project, Design of Internet Access for Underserved Rural Areas, concerns an Indigenous community of approximately 150 residents located in northern Saskatchewan. Residents there have faced ongoing challenges with internet accessibility, which is difficult to attain and of poor quality or expensive. As a result, unreliable service, dead zones and limited data rates have put them at a disadvantage when participating in business and educational opportunities.
The primary goal of the former NAIT team’s project was to develop a solution for bringing reliable, affordable internet access to the residents of the community. They also hoped to make this project a blueprint for other underserved communities experiencing the same issues.
The former NAIT team members collected information about the locations of the residents who are dispersed over an eight-kilometre radius. The community’s administration office has a fiber optic feed from a nearby town, but the rest of the community has little or no internet access. The former team members used tools - such as Google Maps, Radio Mobile and Link Planner modelling software - to research and create a high-quality, cost-effective wireless internet service solution for the community.
Their solution focused on two main locations: the administration office and a summer residential area. Residents near the administration office could be served using access points installed on a nearby tower with the existing fiber optic link as a main backhaul to the internet. (Backhaul refers to the side of a telecommunications network that communicates with the global internet.)
The summer residential area could receive internet service through a mesh Wi-Fi system connected to a Starlink satellite terminal for the internet backhaul.
The former team members designed the entire system remotely in Edmonton with a complete prototype built and tested in the NAIT labs. The results were shared with representatives from the Indigenous community.
For Potiuk, who is Métis and was born and raised in northern Alberta, this was not only a passion project, but the heralding of the start of a second career. The NAIT graduate worked largely in the hospitality and tourism industry until the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns pushed him to make the choice to return to school.
“I was very excited to work with NAIT instructors and my former teammate, Jeanne, in creating a prototype that would make a meaningful difference in the lives of people in rural communities,” said Potiuk.
“This Capstone Project aligns well with the federal government’s commitment to providing affordable internet access for all Canadians,” said ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh. “The former NAIT team members should be applauded for addressing an important need that has been overlooked by too many for too long, and for aptly demonstrating how the work engineering technologists do often improves the lives of the people in the communities they serve.”
The former NAIT team’s project is one of eight finalists named by ASET for the 2022 Capstone Project of the Year Award. The winning project was recently announced.
The Capstone Project of the Year Award was established by ASET in 2017 in response to overwhelming member interest in back-to-school stories about Capstone projects undertaken by teams of engineering technology students from NAIT, SAIT, Red Deer Polytechnic and Lethbridge College as part of their end-of-program requirements.
ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. ASET currently represents over 17,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and more than 120 occupations across a multitude of industries.
Michele Penz, Calico Communications for ASET