Monday, June 18, 2007

Broadband for Our Broad Land

The Australian Government announced that the Optus consortium (OPEL) will deploy wireless WiMAX network providing up to 12 Mbps broadband for regional Australia. This is to reach 99% of the Australian population by June 2009.

There is a web page with a summary of the policy, plus details in:
The choice of Wi Max is a reasonably safe technical choice. It is likely that some local research and development will be needed to get it to work and will be able to extend the coverage of WiMax in rural areas. Overseas research on wireless has emphasized maximizing bandwidth, whereas Australia needs long range to minimize the cost of base stations. WiMax uses similar technology to the current iBurst service and the Canberra "Longreach" service. In towns at short range mobile units can be used. For longer range out of town a roof mounted antenna may be needed.

While there is some good content in the policy it has been made less than credible by an over hyped media release, claiming "Australia has now entered into a whole new broadband era with speeds 20 to 40 times faster than those used by most consumers today, with the first Australia Connected broadband network services to be switched on immediately".

On a more positive note the policy acknowledges that it is not technically or economically feasible to supply the same level of service to all Australians. Sparsely populated regional areas cannot be serviced to the same level as urban areas. The policy envisages 12 megabit per second broadband services to rural and regional townships.

The selection of 12 megabits per second by mid 2009 is a reasonable achievable target, with more promised later. However, to describe this as "metro-comparable broadband services”" is misleading as by then meto areas will be able to have far faster services (50 mbps or more).

The Government claims that two proposals are also "on the table" to build an fibre optic network and so there will be "no delay in getting this underway". In reality there are very difficult technical and regulatory issues to be resolved. The two proposals by Telstra and Optus each have their problems and whoever is not selected may tie up the process in appeals and court cases for years.

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