South Australian WiMAX project good NBN test case

Telco analyst says WiMAX project provides good test case for the NBN's 10 per cent not connected by optical fibre

The use of WiMAX technology to provide broadband Internet access for 14 South Australian towns could serve as a good test case for the National Broadband Network (NBN) roll out, according to a leading telecommunications analyst.

This week Adam Internet announced it had lit up WiMAX for three South Australian locations - Reynella, Morphett Vale and Sheidow Park – as part of a joint project with the state government called AdamMax, which involves connecting 14 wireless service areas described as blackspots by the end of 2010. The project was first announced in August with the $3 million network expected to be deployed over 15 months. Funding is being provided by South Australia’s Broadband Development Fund and contributions from the federal Australian Broadband Guarantee.

In September communications minister, senator Stephen Conroy said more than $3 billion and 30,000 jobs are lost in regional areas each year due to insufficient broadband infrastructure. As a result the Federal Government committed to spending up to $250 million on new backbone transmission links to a number of Internet regional centres, including Broken Hill, Darwin and Geraldton, as part of its Regional Backbone Blackspots Program.

Under the broader NBN plans, 90 per cent of the nation is set to receive fibre optic cable direct to properties, while the remaining 10 per cent (mostly rural and remote areas), will receive a next generation wireless service. It is unclear though where this 10 per cent is located and what technologies will be used to service them.

However, IDC telecommunications analyst, David Cannon, said the AdamMax project offers up a test case opportunity.

"Considering it is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things it is worth having a go at it, it is worth having a crack," Cannon said. "The technology deserves a second look at, let's say, because it has gone through its growing pains. All technologies do that – some do it faster because they have more financing and it is not a technology that should be given up on."

Cannon said WiMAX was appropriate for point to point solutions but its success would depend on a number factors including the availability of backhaul, network architecture, services and consumer / business uptake.

Help us track the NBN's progress.

In a statement, Adam Internet said its first WiMAX connections meant "more than 8000 of the 55,000 residential and business premises in metropolitan Adelaide that are currently unable to receive ADSL services will finally have access to comparable broadband".

The WiMAX Internet offering is provided via an antenna installed on the roof of a customer transmitting data between it and a base station. The Adam Internet announcement comes after the Seven Network revealed plans in September to build a $50 million WiMax network in Perth. Seven’s new wireless division Vividwireless will operate the new network, with services expected to be available in March 2010. In October, Victorian electricity distributor, SP AusNet, said it will partner with 12 companies and utilise WiMAX technology to rollout 680,000 smart meters in the state over the next three years.

While WiMAX has had a checkered history in Australia, the Asia-Pacific region continues to lead the world in WiMax innovation, as countries like Japan, India and Korea continue to invest in the technology, according to Frost and Sullivan. The latest WiMAX moves, however, could help boost the technology's fortunes down under.

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