Next-generation network to bolster Ontario’s innovation economy

When it comes to advancing innovation, continuous investment by government in improving digital infrastructure is key.


As indicated in the World Economic Forum’s comprehensive 2014 report, Delivering Digital Infrastructure: Advancing the Internet Economy, digital economies are growing at an average rate of 10% per year among G20 countries, and government support is integral to this growth. When governments continually invest in adequate digital infrastructure, they allow digital service sectors to stay robust and be job creators, talent magnets and drivers of social and economic progress.


So it was very encouraging to hear last week’s announcement by the Honourable Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science, that the government will invest $63 million in an initiative that will give a major boost to Ontario’s digital economy. Through the Next-Generation Network Program, a new ultra-high-speed network will be built to interconnect Ontario’s regional innovation centres, industry and academia through cloud infrastructure, allowing them to remotely share services, knowledge and resources.


The NGNP’s two partners, the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks and the Ontario Centres of Excellence, will also support the proof-of-concept projects of small- and medium-sized enterprises, and allow government and post-secondary institutions to test new technologies and software in order to bridge the gap between research and commercialization. The program expects to create more than 3,400 jobs by stimulating growth in emerging and transformative technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, big data, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing.


A look at the data on these fast-growing technology areas suggests the NDNP is on the right track. The global AI market is forecasted to be worth up to $126 billion by 2025. Self-driving cars, meanwhile, will present a $7 trillion (USD) global economic opportunity by 2050. On the employment front, among the most in-demand jobs these days are technology-oriented positions such as data scientist, software development and operations engineer, mobile developer and analytics manager. Altogether, the trends suggest strong growth in high-tech sectors that are driven by data-intensive research and supported by robust broadband networks.


Here at ORION, we well know how such powerful digital infrastructure contributes to innovation in Ontario by the over two million researchers, educators and innovators at the 110 organizations who rely on our network everyday.


For example, University of Alberta researchers are making key advances in medicine using Canada’s fastest supercomputer, the Blue Gene/Q, which is operated by research and development consortium SOSCIP. While Blue Gene/Q is based at the University of Toronto’s supercomputer centre SciNet, a dedicated high-speed network connection provided partly by ORION allows the researchers to access it, and use its significant horsepower to shorten the process of identifying life-saving drugs from years or month to just weeks. The arrangement has already led to promising insights about drugs to treat hepatitis and cancer.


This type of connectivity is also behind the emerging field of neuroanalytics.  Researchers at the SMART Lab at Ryerson University use ORION’s advanced data-sharing services to study the body’s physiological reaction to music. They can as easily and securely share data within their own team, as they can collaborate with partners at other institutions and businesses. This groundbreaking research is being used to develop more intuitive music software that can be used to enhance music’s emotional response.


The objectives and methods of the Next-Generation Network Program align closely with various expert views, including those put forward by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation in its 2015 report, Developing a digital research infrastructure strategy for Canada: The CFI perspective. It says comprehensive government investment in network infrastructure is one of the main ways to nurture the kind of data-driven research that propels innovation.


The NGNP dovetails with our mandate of digitally connecting big ideas, big thinkers and big data in order to promote innovation. We look forward to seeing how the Next-Generation Network Program creates new opportunities for collaborative research and innovation, and how these developments spark even more social and economic advancement across the province.