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40 Years of Innovation

Some forward-thinking people at the Communications Research Centre deserve definite kudos for the work they have done.


January 1, 2010  


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Think about what the communications world was like in 1969, the year that the federal government established the Communications Research Centre (CRC). Many of the things that we take for granted today, in one of the best-connected countries in the world, simply did not exist.

E-mail, broadband Internet and mobile phones with data capabilities? Hah: we didn’t even have voicemail or the fax machine.

What we did have were some forward-thinking people who realized that in a geographically huge, but sparsely populated country, we were going to rely heavily on communications networks to maintain and build our nation.

As they watched the United States and the Soviet Union posture over putting animals and people into space and later on the moon, these people realized that what Canada needed to blast into orbit was a 650-pound barrel topped by an antenna that looked a lot like the logo for Pan-Am. The whole thing was 11 feet high and 6 feet in diameter and when it was launched in November 1972 it became the world’s first national domestic satellite. Two more would follow, in 1973 and 1975.

We called them “Anik”, an Inuktitut word meaning “little brother”, and each carried 12 C-band transponders that enabled the CBC to reach the far north for the first time.

Other satellites and systems followed, of course. Here are a few as highlighted in CRC’s Fall 2009 issue of Eye on Technology:

Hermes:

CRC turned the satellite communications network upside down in the mid-1970s with the Hermes Satellite. By equipping Hermes with a higher-powered communications package, the size of the receiving dish on the ground could shrink considerably. That made the dishes easier to move and set up — and led to today’s direct-to-home satellite TV services. But Hermes did more than that. Smaller dishes enabled practical new satellite-based applications, particularly valuable to Canada’s Far North. These included telemedicine and distance learning.

ARPANET:

This was a handful of room-filling mainframe computers, mostly in the United States, that were linked together as an experiment. In 1985, CRC created the first international connection to this network — and in the process gained a valuable tool for learning about network protocols, wired and wireless networking, and so on. That small network later evolved into the Internet. As a result of CRC’s involvement, Canadian researchers and companies are leaders in developing IP-based applications.

Additional research accomplishments directly related to the Internet include broadcasting commercial radio over the Internet in 1993 and mobile Internet access in 2000.

Broadband HDTV:

The potential of high definition TV goes well beyond being able to count the ice chips carved by the players during a hockey broadcast.

In 1998, the CRC worked with the Heart Institute in Ottawa and Japanese surgeons to use HDTV as a learning tool. Japanese surgeons demonstrated a procedure for reducing an enlarged heart, while Canadians showed off a new technique for bypass surgery. These demonstrations were taped in HD video and broadcast via a high definition satellite teleconference, allowing the participants to discuss the procedures and learn from each other in real time.

In these examples, and many others, the CRC played an important role — designing, building and/or testing technologies and hardware that made these achievements possible. For even more accomplishments, have a look at www.crc.ca/firsts.

And the CRC’s work continues. As an Industry Canada agency, the CRC is a Canadian centre of excellence for communications research and development.

Its researchers work to identify areas of the communications sector in which Canadians are, perhaps, falling behind.

The CRC then finds ways to close those gaps through partnerships with other research organizations and industry, technology transfer activities, helping early stage companies through the CRC Innovation Centre, and advising the federal government on public policies that promote a robust communications sector.

The CRC is one of Canada’s biggest success stories, yet, ironically, not one that we hear much about when discussing the wireless world. So, consider this a belated happy 40th birthday, CRC — and best wishes for many more. CNS

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CRC turned the satellite communications network upside down in the mid-1970s with the Hermes Satellite. By equipping Hermes with a higher-powered communications package, the size of the receiving dish on the ground could shrink considerably.