How Hiboo Networks is connecting Ottawa-Gatineau to a brighter digital future

Fiber optic internet and ethernet services in Ottawa and Gatineau

In the heart of downtown Ottawa, on Slater Street, stands a historic building that has served as a space of innovation for over a century. If you peered into the building in the early 1900s, you would have found a bustling operations hub complete with a horse stable and office. Decades later, the same space served as the head office for the Ottawa Hydro Electric Commission. Then, it was transformed into a Hydro Ottawa substation where electricity was prepared for distribution into the city. But when the substation was decommissioned, this once buzzing space stood empty—until last year.

In 2023, Hiboo Networks officially powered on their new data centre, housed in the historic Slater Street building. This state-of-the-art data centre hosts the core network equipment for the first fibre optic network built by and for Canada’s Capital Region. The moment the data centre came online marked the apex of a vision years in the making and the start of a new digital journey for Ottawa-Gatineau.

From electricity to connectivity 

Since its incorporation, Ottawa has been a place for revolutionary ideas. While it is now known as a global tech hub, the city has been leading the way for more than 130 years. In 1885, Ottawa became the first city in the world to have all of its streetlights lit with electricity, ushering in a new era of innovation.

Hydro Ottawa built a fibre network across the city to connect all the substations and offices
Image courtesy of Hydro Ottawa

Over the last century, Hydro Ottawa has illuminated the capital. Electricity transformed the way residents live and work and enabled the city to become a thriving metropolis. But in the digital era, Hydro Ottawa knew they needed to adapt to changing technological requirements. They soon realized the value of constructing a fibre optic network to manage their electrical grid.

“Hydro Ottawa built a fibre network across the city to connect all the substations and offices. They wanted to be able to accommodate things like smart grid, as well as create a robust, reliable, highly-available network to support critical infrastructure of the Ottawa electricity system,” explains Charles Berndt, Director of Technology and Network Operations at Hiboo Networks.

Prior to joining Hiboo, Berndt held successive leadership roles in Hydro Ottawa’s Grid Technology Department, playing a key role in the deployment of their advanced optical telecom network.

​​This robust fibre optic network was designed to accommodate the city’s present and future energy needs, from Ottawa’s growing population to developments in renewable energy technology. Yet this powerful network still had the capacity to support more. While maintaining Hydro Ottawa's priority focus on the city’s energy, new ideas emerged on how to maximize benefit for the people of Ottawa. Through utilizing the excess fibre capacity of this network, a new asset could be created for the community.

As Berndt explains, conversations began around “How can we leverage the unused portions of fibre to drive economic development and foster innovation in Ottawa? How can we harness the full potential of this underutilized infrastructure to support businesses and provide a differentiated service for folks in Ottawa?”

The idea for a brand-new company was born: a city-wide fibre optic network provider, who would deliver secure and scalable connectivity to support the growth and success of businesses, municipal governments, and universities in the National Capital Region.

But first, this new company needed the right place to house their core infrastructure. As it happened, a certain building on Slater Street was sitting empty, ready for a new beginning.

Revitalizing a historic space

In the past, Hydro Ottawa had to construct a large number of substations in order to distribute electricity to all its customers. But with the modernization of the electrical system, one substation can now serve a greater region of customers. As a result, many of the older substations at lower voltages were decommissioned.

One of these decommissioned substations is the building on Slater Street. This site includes the historic building in front, with a newer building in the back. While the back building is still in use by Hydro Ottawa for downtown distribution, the space of the legacy substation has been empty for decades.

It turned out to be the perfect space to host Hiboo’s core network equipment: a secure location with abundant access to power, in the heart of downtown Ottawa.

“Having a data center where your equipment lands is a very critical spot. You want to make sure that you have control over the site. You want to have your entire network protected and in a resilient location. Downtown is an ideal location for your core network,” explains Berndt. “As opposed to constructing something new, let's leverage this underused historic building that is there.”

The design and construction of the custom 450 square-foot data centre began in mid 2022. The team had to first clean up decades worth of dust and dirt and then build internal walls. After, they installed the necessary equipment and redundancy, as well as ensured the space had the right environmental conditions.

Their crowning moment, says Berndt, was installing a Hiboo Networks placard on the door, symbolizing the official transformation of this historic space into a modern data centre.

Hiboo Networks takes flight

Too often, businesses in Ottawa-Gatineau are forced to choose between disappointing services from the same rotation of telecommunications providers. What if there was finally a true alternative option, located right here in the region? The idea for Hiboo Networks began to hatch.

“Hiboo” is a play on the French word “Hibou,” meaning owl. Owls are symbols of intelligence and wisdom, two qualities that Ottawa’s newly created business connectivity provider embodies.

Hiboo Networks, an affiliate of Hydro Ottawa Holding Inc., has a clear vision in mind: to create an exceptional, differentiated connectivity experience for the Ottawa-Gatineau region. With a 600 Gbps optical ring over their own 100% fibre optic network, Hiboo is confident in their ability to provide secure, reliable high-speed internet throughout the region. Their class-leading technology is matched with equally outstanding local expertise and personalized support.

As a locally run business, enhancing the community is also part of their founding philosophy. Hiboo’s mission is to support the region’s global technology leadership, as well as invest back in the community through social programs and city infrastructure.

Adds Berndt, “We created Hiboo Networks from an underutilized network to what it is today, which is a growing company that is offering enterprise internet, Ethernet and Wavelength services across the city.”

Paving the way for innovation

With its official network launch in 2023, Hiboo Networks may be one of the newest players in telecommunications, but they are continuing a 100+ year legacy of empowering the citizens of the region.

Similar to how electricity once revolutionized life and work a century ago, Hiboo hopes fibre optic connectivity will ignite innovation in today’s digital economy. Through supporting local businesses and the growing tech sector in Kanata North (also home to Hiboo’s head office), Hiboo Networks hopes to make a real difference in the region.

Hiboo Networks Team

“We're enhancing our connectivity, growing our capacity and capabilities, and bolstering our service offerings,” says Berndt. “We also are developing our customer experience to become a customer-first telecom.”

Their local support and expertise, Berndt adds, enables Hiboo to provide the best possible support to businesses across the region. As Ottawa-Gatineau continues to grow, the team hopes to nurture local talent and help build a strong digital future for the National Capital Region. It is this steadfast commitment to their community that truly sets Hiboo Networks apart.

“People are depending more and more on technology. We take it for granted that we have ubiquitous internet connectivity,” Berndt says. “It’s exciting to build something new. This is critical infrastructure for a city that is built by people in Ottawa, supported by people in Ottawa, for people in Ottawa.”