WCIT: 3G debuts

A live video call using Third Generation (3G) wireless technology was made for the first time in the southern hemisphere at the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) in Adelaide.

The video call was made to Tokyo, where the world's first commercial 3G mobile network was launched in October.

The demonstration was organised by m.Net - a consortium of South Australian, national and multinational partners, including Telstra - using an Alcatel Universal Mobile Telecommunication Service (UMTS) network.

The consortium expects to have a small experimental 3G network operational in Adelaide later this year. The network will provide coverage throughout the Adelaide CBD and support high bandwidth voice and data communications to a wide variety of institutions such as the state's universities and the Adelaide Convention Centre.

The Federal Government, as part of its $40 million Advanced Networks Program, provided $9 million in funding to m.Net towards the development of the technology.

The experimental network is intended to demonstrate the viability of 3G technology in Australia and build new applications for various industry sectors such as health, tourism, education, transport and multimedia.

Telstra mobile products managing director Rick Wakeham said it was uncertain how long it would take for 3G to become widely available in Australia.

He said while the technology was up to the necessary standard, more work was needed on developing enough applications to make it attractive to various market sectors and ensure it was affordable to those customers targeted.

"At the end of the day this is about the end user experience and what the end user wants. It's about the applications," Wakeham said. "The downloading works, the video streaming works, but what will the customers use and pay for?"

He said it was too early to say what sort of applications would eventually be available to customers, when they would be available, or at what price.m.Net chief executive officer Andrew Ekiert said he expected 3G technology to eventually have a significant impact on daily life in Australia.

"It will be similar to the effect information technology has had on the banking industry in the past 20 years. Twenty years ago the concept of getting access to cash through automatic teller machines did not exist.

"If you had asked a banking executive how IT was going to change the banking industry he would not have been able to tell you. It is difficult to predict exactly how 3G technology will be used."

Applications already developed for the technology include Virtual Tourist, which provides location-based tourism information and makes it possible to book services such as restaurants and tours using a 3G equipped phone or computer.

3G technology allows users of handheld computers or mobile phones to access the Internet or transmit and receive video at high speed through a broadband network without needing a fixed-point connection.

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