In Alaska, wireless tech helps this filmmaker collaborate with colleagues worldwide

March 21, 2022

This story is part of TechConnect, a series about how Meta’s tech innovations and investments help people build deeper connections and community.

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I am a husband, a father, and a lifelong Alaskan (though I was actually born in Brazil). I’ve been in Alaska since 1966, and I make my living creating films in Alaska about Alaskans. I’m also a sailor and a skier.

I’ve spent most of my life in south central Alaska, near Anchorage, and these days I also spend a lot of energy building and maintaining a property that I have in Kachemak Bay, down on the coast. We have a cabin that we built from trees that we milled on the property. Kachemak Bay is a beautiful fjord, with a lot of small bays that come into it, and there’s a marine wildlife habitat preserve area nearby.

I’m a filmmaker, a cinematographer, and an editor. Most projects that come to Alaska want to feature the landscape since Alaska is extremely diverse, from the Arctic slope to the southeastern rainforests. We’re talking about an area of 586,000 square miles, so two and a half times the size of Texas.

A lot of my film work has to be turned around quickly. As a result, when I edit something, it has to be available for distribution very quickly. Up until recently, compressing files and distributing them by the internet has been a relative source of frustration because it took hours to transmit big files. A lot of my work is mini-documentaries, which run three to seven minutes. For a project like that to look good on the internet, it might be as big as a gigabyte or larger. I used to plan my day around launching a file upload, knowing it was going to take several hours to complete.

Thanks to the Terragraph pilot in Anchorage, I now have internet speeds close to 100 times faster than what I previously had — so I’m much more productive and can keep my workflow moving much more quickly. Alaska Communications contacted me to see if I would be interested in testing a new kind of wireless access [Cambium Networks’ cnWave solution powered by Terragraph, a gigabit wireless technology developed by Meta Connectivity]. When they said it was fast internet, I said, “You bet!”

For much of 2020, during the lockdown, I was shooting a project about sled dog racers and their kennels training for a 1,000-mile Alaskan sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome, for a show being produced out of Norway. I spent a lot of time at the kennels running around with the dogs to shoot and produce the content. I used a drone to do aerials, and I also did all sorts of interviews, all out of a backpack. Now, I can share files with my colleagues across the world multiple times per day.

When I had to send a 12-gigabyte file to Oslo, Norway, I was astonished when the upload took only 11 minutes. I didn’t think that would be possible in this lifetime. It has meant virtually real-time collaboration with a production company 10 time zones away. That is awesome.

I rent office space in a nonprofit church not far away from my house. When they were rolling out Terragraph, they came and installed the hardware, which is really minimal. They plugged a little node into my wall and mounted a transmitter on the roof of the office property.

I have a 16-year-old son who completed his sophomore year of high school in his bedroom essentially. He was on Zoom all day. While his service was adequate for what he needed, there were still hitches in it. When you get farther out from Anchorage to the more remote areas of Alaska, there are a lot of remote learning and work opportunities that could be facilitated by better access to higher internet speeds. The high-bandwidth connectivity is particularly necessary for things like telemedicine.

Alaska has so many remote communities and people with remote properties. I sometimes have to return to Anchorage simply because I have no internet at my remote property. We have a population of about 700,000 people in the state, and 400,0000 of them are in the immediate Anchorage area. So that means 300,000 people are distributed across the rest of Alaska. And for all of those disparate communities to be able to communicate efficiently, they have to have better connectivity.

In the old days, when I was uploading files, I would think, “Oh my God, this is going to take three hours.” So I would take it on faith that the file would make it, and I would go home and have dinner at 6 p.m. and wander back to the office at 9 p.m. only to discover that the upload had crashed at 6:15 p.m. But now, thanks to Terragraph, I haven’t had any of those issues lately. My new service is a lot more stable and robust in terms of throughput, so that’s been really great.

To learn more about Terragraph, a gigabit wireless technology that works to extend the capacity of existing fiber over the air, click here.