Waterloo company Aterlo helps bring Netflix to remote, rural communities

Waterloo, Ont.-based Aterlo has developed a device that is similar to a DVR, but for Netflix. The device preloads shows and movies so people with spotty internet connections can watch easily without streaming. The company recently partnered with an internet provider in Nunavut.

Video streaming issues in millions of households because of spotty internet, company's VP says

Kevin LeGris has spent 10 years trying to get a reliable high-speed internet connection at his Ottawa Valley home. He tried to fix the problem by building his own antenna with a hockey stick. (Joe Fiorino/CBC)

A Waterloo, Ont. company is helping entertain people in remote and rural communities by making the video service Netflix available without the need to stream television shows and movies over the internet.

"It's pretty easy if you live in an area with good internet to think you just pop Netflix up and it works, but that's not the case for millions of households," said Dan Siemon, vice president of product management for Aterlo Networks.

Aterlo has developed NightShift, a technology that collects those shows and movies and preloads them onto a device like a digital video recorder (DVR). The shows are recorded at night when internet traffic is usually lower, but NightShift is also intuitive – it will preload items it thinks the user would want to watch.

"We'll actually predict, well you watched season one, episode one, you're likely to watch episode two, so we're going to preload that down into the community as well so it's waiting to be watched," Siemon said.
The CRTC will require internet service providers to contribute to a $750-million fund to improve access in remote and rural areas of Canada. (Denis Rozhnovsky/Shutterstock)

Remote customers get same experience as rest of Canada

The company sells devices to individuals to use in their homes, but Aterlo recently partnered with Meshnet, an internet provider in Iqaluit.

As part of that project, there is a NightShift device shared by the entire city, meaning if one person watches a television show on Netflix, it will be available to everyone else in the Nunavut capital.

"Partnering with Aterlo means that our customers have access to the same streaming video experience as the rest of Canada," David Fulgham, CEO of Meshnet, said in a release.

"Keeping content local and providing unprecedented access to this content, at up to 20 Mbps (megabits per second) or more, allows our customers to enjoy Netflix the way it was meant to be, without buffering and in HD."

Currently, NightShift only provides Netflix content, and to access it, the customers have to be Netflix subscribers.

While the technology could be used to stream any video – including other services like Crave, Amazon Prime or from other sources such as news media or for education – the company is focusing on Netflix for now because it makes up a large part of online streaming.
Dan Siemon, left, and Scot Loach man an Aterlo booth at an event to introduce people to NightShift. (Aterlo Networks)

A growing problem

Along with individual homes, Siemon said they've seen interest in NightShift from work camps in remote areas and from people who have private yachts.

While some may argue the technology could be used for more than just entertainment, Scot Loach, the company's chief technology officer, said limiting streaming in a community with spotty internet improves the service for everyone.

"By basically taking Netflix off those limited pipes, you make those limited pipes better for everything else that's happening on the internet. So if somebody is doing just their email or basic web browsing, but serving all the Netflix locally and not letting it go over those long-distance links, you're making it better for everything everyone else is doing in the community," Loach said.

There have been promises to improve internet access across the country, including in rural and remote areas, but that reality will take time.

In the meantime, better quality videos like those in 4K or Ultra HD, which require more bandwidth, are coming online.

"The network upgrades aren't happening fast enough to really keep up with the increase use of streaming video," Loach said. "This is actually a problem that's growing, so we're really focused on solving that problem."


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