Monday, November 09, 2009

Wireless rival to NBN in Tasmania

This morning I talked to Andy Muirhead on ABC Radio Hobart about wireless broadband options. Tasmania is getting the first National Broadband Network home connections next July. But Optus has announced 60 new 3G towers to double their wireless broadband coverage in Tasmania (which is currently confined mostly to the road between Hobart and Launceston). There was concern that people would sign up to a low monthly wireless broadband plan and be locked in for 12 months, too late to see the NBN provides a better deal.

On radio I explained that the 3G wireless broadband was better for people who moved from place to place (including renters). Wireless 3G is good for email and web browsing, but not so good for downloading the gigabytes of data in a full length feature film.

In theory the 3G can provide 14 Mbit/s which compares well with ADSL2+ at 24 Mbit/s and the promised 100 Mbit/s for the NBN. But in reality the 3G operates at tens or hundreds of kilobits per second depending on location and load on the network. I use the Virgin 3G (reseller of the Optus service) and this works reliably throughout Canberra, except in my lounge room. On a recent trip to Tasmania the Virgin 3G broadband worked in Hobart and Launceston, but nowhere I went in between. In addition the included amount of data tends to be lower for wireless than fixed services and the excess data charges larges (10 to 100 times larger).

Andy asked what Tasmania could do with the broadband service. I talked on this to the ACS in Launceston,, suggesting improving tourism services online and specialised wood products.

One thing I forgot to mention is that CSIRO is developing a system for "broadband to the bush". This would provide 100 Mbits/s and could use existing TV transmitter towers. If they can
get it to work this would provide a good rural broadband service, but this might take ten years. This work is being funded from some of the royalties from CSIRO's wireless LAN patent:
The present invention discloses a wireless LAN, a peer-to-peer wireless LAN, a wireless transceiver and a method of transmitting data, all of which are capable of operating at frequencies in excess of 10 GHz and in multipath transmission environments. This is achieved by a combination of techniques which enable adequate performance in the presence of multipath transmission paths where the reciprocal of the information bit rate of the transmission is short relative to the time delay differences between significant ones of the multipath transmission paths. In the LANs the mobile transceivers are each connected to, and powered by, a corresponding portable electronic device with computational ability. ...
John O’Sullivan spoke at the CSIRO ICT Centre symposium last week and related how he went from radio astronomy to indoor wireless. He was generous in sharing the credit with his colleagues.

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