LTE, WiMAX unlikely to find a future in the NBN

NBN Implementation Study recommends fixed-wireless services to some homes, but they may not utilise 4G technologies

A rough outlook on Australia's wireless coverage under the National Broadband Network (Credit: NBN Co)

A rough outlook on Australia's wireless coverage under the National Broadband Network (Credit: NBN Co)

Fourth-generation wireless technologies Long Term Evolution (LTE) and the more widely known WiMAX are unlikely to play a part in delivering the National Broadband Network.

Both the NBN Implementation Study and NBN Co chief executive officer Mike Quigley have established that the technologies do not have the capacity, range and bandwidth sufficient to serve the Government's mandated speeds to regional Australian premises.

The initial objective of the nation-wide network is to provide fibre-to-the-home (FttH) services of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps) to 90 per cent of Australian homes, and a guaranteed speed of 12Mbps via wireless to the remaining ten per cent.

However, if the recently released NBN Implementation Study is taken into account, 300,000 extra homes or a further three per cent of the population would be serviced by fibre rather than wireless. According to the study, which was delivered to Conroy on 5 March by authors KPMG and McKinsey & Company, the cost of deploying fibre beyond 93 per cent of homes would be too cost prohibitive.

Under recommendations made in the study, the NBN would serve fibre to 93 per cent of homes, a fixed wireless service to the next four per cent, and satellite-based services to the most remote homes.

However, whether LTE or WiMAX are used to deliver fixed-wireless services is under question, as the report outlines towers would have to be built within seven kilometres of users to deliver the minimum data rates of 12Mbps.

"In the least densely populated parts of Australia, the only economically-feasible way to deliver broadband is via satellite," the report says.

Quigley recently told members of Infrastructure Partnership Australia that he believed wireless and mobile technologies such as these are "absolutely going to be a part of the fabric of telecomms in the future." However, he was no less negative on the role it had to play in the NBN.

While 4G technologies would be able to provide typical speeds of 70Mbps and peaks of 150Mbps at the centre of a cell, Quigley estimated the network would require 80,000 cell sites connected by fibre to completely replace the fibre-based network with wireless.

"If you think it can all be done with wireless, I think you'll be mistaken," he said.

Instead, the NBN plans to fill the wireless gap to the extra 700,000 or one million homes - depending on implementation of the study's recommendations - by launching two new Ka-band satellites.

Quigley said the satellites would have "capacities in order of magnitude over what's available today" with Ku-band satellites.

Recommendations in the implementation study agreed with this outcome, which would provide wireless redundancy for users. With Ka-band satellites likely to be four years away from implementation, one recommendation in the study suggested providers upgrade modems for Ku-band satellites as an intermediate solution.

According to a visual shown by Quigley during his speech to the industry professionals conference, the Ka-band satellites would eventually cover the vast majority of Australia, with potential blackspots in some metropolitan areas on the east coast and possibly the far north of Queensland.

Fourth-generation wireless technologies are slowly gaining traction globally, though only two retail WiMAX product are currently offered in Australia, by the Seven Group Limited-owned service provider vividwireless in Perth and ISP Adam Internet in Adelaide.

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Tags nbn coWiMax4glteMike QuigleyNBN Implementation Study

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