QLD Health spreads load with radio technology

IS manager Martin Rollings faced an expensive networking headache because of an all-too-typical scenario.

His organisation's office space was bursting at the seams and he needed to provide network services to workgroups who had spilled over into nearby buildings.

Traditional solutions presented the usual formidable bill in terms of additional servers, LAN equipment and line rental costs.

So Rollings, a technology manager with the Queensland Health Department, turned to spread spectrum radio technology. The first building-to-building link he put in proved so reliable and cost-effective he's since added another five and says: "I don't know why more people aren't using it, especially in city areas."

In fact, more people are. Lucent Technologies, which claims its WaveLAN spread spectrum system holds 40 per cent of the Australian market, says revenues from the product grew as much as 50 per cent this year.

For line-of-sight connections between two points up to 10km apart, spread spectrum's cost structure offers a tempting alternative to traditional wire-borne solutions.

Rollings' most expensive link, a 2Mbit/sec connection between two buildings separated by four kilometres, cost less than $15,000, which included a 20m mast to guarantee clear line of sight.

Ongoing costs are minimal, because the technology operates in a part of the radio spectrum that is free of licence fees. That leaves spread spectrum a clear winner over a similar wire-borne connection like Telstra's Megalink service, which costs about $18,000 in annual rental, $9000 for installation, and often requires extra bits such as routers.

A spread spectrum box with a 10Base-T port on one side and an antenna on the other looks to the network like just another workstation, Rollings said.

"The main problem we've had with them is that they are so reliable we keep forgetting they are there.

"When one of the power supplies failed we found the fried cockroach, but we couldn't remember where we'd put the spare power supply, because it had been so long since the last problem."

The 2Mbit/sec link was more than adequate for the file transfer and terminal emulation workload it carried, Rollings said.

"It is just like an Ethernet hub. It sits on the wall and requires very little management, unlike the option of routers and extra servers which need loving attention every day of the week."

Queensland networking specialist LanLink has put in about 100 WaveLAN sites, including the health department's.

This is about one-twentieth of the number that have gone in nationally, said Lucent's Asia Pacific business development manager Gary Mink.

Using Lucent's market share as a guide, the total number of spread spectrum sites now lies between 4000 and 5000.

Most are outdoor links but the indoor market is growing even faster, Mink said. These involve base stations and PC Cards so laptop users can link to the corporate database from anywhere in a building without having to hunt for a wall jack.

Spread spectrum radio is a modulation technique that sacrifices bandwidth to gain signal fidelity. Used as wireless bridges between LANs, spread spectrum links can carry up to 10 Mbit/sec in the licence-free band of 2.4GHz.

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