Northwestel confirms LEO replacement for failing satellite

Communities whose internet service was about to be disrupted by a failing satellite are being moved to a low-Earth orbit replacement, Northwestel has confirmed.

The move, first reported by Cabin Radio earlier this month, will preserve internet access in Colville Lake, Gamètì, Łútsël K’é, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Sambaa K’e, Wekweètì and Ulukhaktok.

The Yukon’s Old Crow and BC’s Fort Ware are also affected.


The problem arose after Telesat’s Anik F2 satellite began running out of fuel three years earlier than planned. A thruster malfunction had forced the satellite to use a fuel-hungry workaround.

Had the satellite failed without an alternative in place, various northern communities would have been cut off.

Anik F2 is a standard geostationary communications satellite. It will be replaced by OneWeb low-Earth orbit (or LEO) satellites, Northwestel said this month, which are part of a newer generation of technology.

On Monday, Northwestel said Paulatuk and Gamètì had already made the switch, as has Old Crow. Other communities on the list will switch by the end of January, the company said.

Low-Earth orbit satellites are bringing both solutions and challenges for Northwestel. Over the past month, a festive advertising campaign sought to market Northwestel’s cable internet service as the local option against LEO rivals like Starlink, which began selling its service in the NWT last fall.