Sunday, October 07, 2007

Australian Wireless Broadband with consumer cooperation?

Media reports indicate that UK company Fon have done a deal with telco BT to provide home WiFi hotspots. The idea is that consumers can allow their home broadband connected WiFi to be accessible to others, in return for access to theirs or for a fee. If this works as a business model it could be applied to lower the cost or extend the coverage of the Opel WiMax network.

Using $958 million from the Australian Government "Australia Connected" program, OPEL (joint venture of Optus and Elders) will install 1,361 WiMax base stations (mostly on existing Optus phone towers). Each base station is supposed to have a range of 20 km, but even so will have difficulty covering the proposed 638,000 square kilometres by the planned 30 June 2009. This will particularly a problem in hilly parts of Australia, as was pointed out to me by the local wireless pioneers when I gave talks on broadband in Tasmania last month.

Opel have not finalized the details of exactly what version of WiMax or frequencies they will use. They have indicated they are likely to choose 802.16d (aka 802.16-2004 or "fixed MiMax"). WiMax on the 5.4GHz or 5.8GHz spectrum under a class licence.

One way to make the networks stretch further would be to make use of the consumer installed equipment to relay the service to other consumers. There is work underway on 802.16j, mobile multi-hop relay (MMR) extensions to MiMax. This would allow a mesh, grid, or repeaters to route data through one or more customer units to extend the range of the network. Those standards are not ready, but Opel might choose a pre-standard implementation from one vendor.

Also Opel could extend the reach of the network, by having WiFi hotspots on the consumer WiMax base stations, as Fon/BT are doing in the UK. This copuld be used to relay the service around a set of farm buildings, between small hobby farms or in a town. This could also be used with WiFi equipped smartphones, PDAs and cordless handsets, to provide a home phone service.

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