Monday, December 30, 2013

Wireless Broadband for the Community

The take-up rate for the NBN in Tasmania was reported to be 38.5% after three years. The previous government was not too worried about the NBN take-up rate, as the copper network was to be switched off, so consumers would not have much of a choice. Does anyone have statistics for the take-up rate for high speed broadband in other countries?

One option I suggest for Australian urban areas is to combine 4G wireless mobile services with wireless broadband. This could complement FTTN and FTTP. The existing mobile service has limited capacity, but could service moderate home use. The service could be exp[anded by installing picocells on the same fibre used for FTTN and FTTP. Roaming could be enabled to allow a subscriber to any mobile company to use these cells. Also a lower tariff, comparable to wired services, could be offered for those using the wireless service "at home".

Using mobile broadband would create a virtual NBN at low cost. Rather than have to build an extensive wired network and home there were customers, the existing mobile network could be used and then cells added as demand increases.

With advances in 4G the mobile broadband service could carry 4K TV. The advanced HEVC codec allows compression of a HD TV at 6 Mbps and 4k TV at 12 Mbps to 30 Mbps. This could be carried on a 4G LTE-A network, using the Multicast-broadcast single-frequency network (MBSFN) option.

However, many of the community services envisaged for home broadband do not need high speeds. Instead they need trained staff and well designed applications. As an example  home health care is mentioned as a use for the NBN. But a person's vital signs (body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate) would only need about 10 bps to transmit.  More sophisticated monitors require more bandwidth, bit still far short of broadband, such as such as electrocardiography at 4 kbps.

But the greatest benefit from home health monitoring is likely to come from checking on the patient's general level of activity and asking them how they are. Advice to doctors, commissioned by the Department of Health recommends a minimum of 640 x 480 Video, with a minimum throughput on the link of 384kbit/s should be available, which far less than high speed broadband.

On-line education is also an application often given for home broadband. But while students like rich multimedia, this does not necessarily improve learning. The report "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies" from the US Department of Education found that video does not improve online learning.

There can be considerable public benefit from broadband without running it to each home. Community centres provide not only a way to consolidate technical services, but also provide experts in health and education. Australia now has free Internet access in public libraries, which is an underrated achievement.

Internet in libraries builds on the library's traditional role providing access to information and literacy. Universities and TAFEs are turning their libraries into learning centres, with computers in place of books. They are keeping the staff to help the students, not only work the computers but with finding, using and creating information. The Gungahlin Town Centre Library in Canberra is a good example, where the one building accommodates the public library, a school library, a TAFE campus and broadband connected community rooms. This could be extended to provide support for university students as well.


  1. Good to hear a voice of reason in the cloud of noises quoting 4-letter acronyms (that most of them have no comprehension of) !

    Reading your article I am reminded in horror about the OPEL (Optus & Elders) joint-venture in 2006 (!) that had received $900Mio for a mix of services including a large proportion of fixed wireless in rural and semi-rural areas as well as 2500km of fibre backhaul. What a different infrastructure most of rural Australia would have had to build on during an eventual NBN construction for a fraction of the cost.

    Instead 8 years later we have a small number of connections to an NBN which has largely been bogged down by politics and a pricing structure that reminds me of the good old days of the USSR.

  2. Leo Gaggl said December 31, 2013 10:12 AM:

    "... OPEL (Optus & Elders) joint-venture in 2006...fixed wireless in rural and semi-rural areas..."

    Yes, the previous Collation government awarded contracts for ADSL2+ in the city and and WiMax fixed wireless broadband in rural areas. But this was to use unlicensed spectrum and so it was not clear how reliable it would have been. Technology has moved on and it is feasible to use the licensed spectrum more efficiently and use the same technology as for mobile phones for fixed lcoations.

  3. Agreed. Technology moved on. My point was more the fact that a lot of rural communities would have had up to 6 years to enjoy the benefits of decent broadband connectivity rather than 6 years (and continuing) squabbles.

    If anything I would emphasise the fibre backhaul for rural areas in the OPEL project. It's the lack of backhaul services that killed most rural wireless roll-outs (I know personally of at least 2 proposals in SA). Due to the fact that in reality there was a monopoly on rural fibre (which was not the case for inter-city fibre). Which is what the NBN will address. Eventually ....