Sergey Nivens - Fotolia

Nordic states collaborate in Arctic IT projects

Nordic countries are working together to introduce advanced communications networks in the most isolated Northerly regions

With large Arctic territories to manage, the governments of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark are already collaborating in a broad range of project areas, including taking advantage of untapped commercial opportunities that may arise due to climate change.

The expanding nature of inter-state Nordic cooperation includes the building of advanced communications networks in Arctic areas. The technology-led push will aim to deepen cooperation across the satellite, broadband and transport communications spectrum.

In one such project, Norway is looking to deploy satellites to make broadband communications coverage available in the most remote regions of the Arctic’s most northerly region, known as High North.

The initiative is intended to support local communities, land and sea transportation, cold climate research stations, and air and sea rescue services. The project has opened the door to a possible co-venture between Sweden and Finland.

Although the expected melting of the Arctic ice-cap has the potential to cause serious environmental disruption, it will also present commercial opportunities in the shape of a new shipping corridor between Europe and Asia.

Moreover, it will inevitably trigger an unprecedented level of oil and mineral exploration and investment activity in vast tracts of the Arctic that are largely inaccessible at the present time.

Nordic countries are not among the climate change doubters. The pan-Nordic accepted view on climate change is based on accepting collated scientific data that temperatures in the Arctic have been rising twice as fast as the global average over the last 100 years. If the climatic data is accurate, the Arctic summer ice cap may completely disappear by the year 2050.

Nordic plans to improve communications in the Arctic are being driven by projects to develop a new important trading route, the so-called Northern Sea Route (NSR) between Europe and Asia. As the ice retreats, the Arctic countries will no longer be divided by that ice but connected by an ocean. By extension, the sea will become a highway not a barrier connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans through a sea passage around the North Pole.

Norway, whose Arctic territories extend to 334,373 square km has established a project to build stable broadband-based networks in the Arctic to support future commercial activities in the region.

The end-objective is to roll out reliable broadband communications networks across its Arctic territories in the far North. Around 95,000 square km of Norway’s total area of mainland lies above the Arctic Circle. Some 393,000 Norwegians, out of a population of 5.3 million, reside there making this area the most populated Arctic region in the world.

“We are planning for change and expanding demand now. It will become increasingly important to provide communities located in the High North, and commercial enterprises operating there, with reliable internet. The demands from the oil sector, shipping, defence, fisheries and research continue to grow at a fast pace,” said Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, Norway’s Trade and Industry minister.

The Space Norway project

The government is backing the Space Norway run project that plans to launch satellite-based broadband communications capacity in its High North in 2022. The communications platform comprises a system of two satellites that will provide 24/7 year-round coverage in the area.

The Norwegian government is contributing an initial NOK 1bn (€103 million) in equity capital to the Space Norway project. The funding is being provided on the basis that the project can secure long-term operating profitability by attracting a broad array of commercial users.

The need for reliable communications systems and networks in the Nordic High North was identified in a 2017 research study jointly conducted by Sweden’s Luleå University of Technology (LuoT) and the Finnish University of Oulu’s Centre for Wireless Communications.

The study, which examined mobile communications architecture in the Arctic, found serious shortcomings in existing telecommunication coverage and infrastructure in the High North.

“Communications networks in the Arctic are sparse and unreliable,” said Rickard Nilsson, a senior researcher at LUoT. “This means enterprises cannot hope to sustain their business in the absence of high-quality communications – and small communities suffer too. These communities continue to diminish in population size and are served by fewer and fewer private or public services.”

The Arctic Connect project

On the NSR front, Norway and Sweden are showing interest in Finland’s Arctic Connect project being run by Cinia. The project, which is being funded by Finland’s Ministry of Transport and Communications, is tasked with building a digital bridge between Europe and Asia along the NSR route.

Specifically, Cinia will assess the current availability of data cable capacity, and future needs for additional fibre-optic connectivity, linking southern Finland to Kirkenes in northern Norway and onwards to Murmansk in Russia’s Arctic region.

“The project has the potential to greatly increase international Internet traffic passing through Finland and strengthen Finland’s position as a place for data-intensive operations,” said Ari-Jussi Knaapila, Cinia’s CEO.

Finland and Norway are already collaborating to establish a network of industrial parks on the NSR route that will be developed as hubs to create an ICT ecosystem to attract Nordic tech enterprises in general, and international datacentres in particular.

“The proposed trans-Arctic data cable connection, when completed, has the potential to turn Kirkenes in Norway in to a Marseille-style hub by making it a key landing area for data traffic.

“The project positions both Lapland and Kainuu as the nearest land-based access points to international markets,” said Juha Seppälä, CEO of Rovaniemi Development, the investment promotion arm of Rovaniemi City.

Nordic cooperation

A high degree of Nordic cooperation is also envisaged for the TrafficLab project which is testing different technologies to deliver digital transport services in Arctic conditions.

VTT, Finland’s state-run technology and innovation research institute, has joined the venture as a co-partner with project lead managers the Finnish Transport Safety Agency (FTSA) and the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

“As a starting point, we see the project as also promoting cross-border cooperation with our Nordic neighbours and Russia,” said Juha Kenraali, director general of Data and Knowledge at the FTSA. “Our aim is to start testing new digital communications transport services using a business-led approach.”

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