Perth to Geraldton fibre roll out begins

SKA links being built in remote regions of Western Australia

The first ASKAP antenna, now erected in Western Australia. Credit - Dave DeBoer, CSIRO.

The first ASKAP antenna, now erected in Western Australia. Credit - Dave DeBoer, CSIRO.

Work has commenced on the roll out of fibre optic backhaul between Perth and Geraldton in Western Australia that will help Australia’s bid for the global astronomy project, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

In April, it was revealed Australia's bid to host the SKA over competitor South Africa will rely on the Federal Government's Regional Backbone Blackspots Program announced last year.

At least two of the telescope arrays that form part of Australia's bid for the global project will utilise part of the 426km fibre run between Perth and Geraldton in Western Australia.

The link will ultimately connect to the Pawsey Centre high performance computing hub run by iVEC and hosted on CSIRO's Perth campus.

(In pictures: Regional backbone blackspots program)

In a statement, communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, said once the roll out is complete, “other broadband providers will be able to enter the market and offer faster broadband speeds, cheaper prices and more choice for people and businesses across the region”.

"In total, the Regional Backbone Blackspots Program will deliver almost 6000 kms of fibre-optic cable across mainland Australia, which will benefit up to 400,000 people in over 100 regional locations,” he said. “Already, over 600kms of fibre has been laid."

The telescopes being linked include the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) built by CSIRO and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) led by MIT Haystack Observatory, both located in the Murchison area. The telescope arrays will form part of the wider SKA with further telescopes situated around the continent.

CSIRO's Perth campus is connected to AARNet at 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). CSIRO requires a minimum 40Gbps bandwidth to transfer telescope data from the telescopes in the Murchison area to Perth. The ASKAP telescope has the potential to create as much as 150 Terabits per second (Tbps) worth of data but, with the help of computing facilities on site, this can be reduced to a manageable size for transfer to the Pawsey Centre.

The $66 million Pawsey Centre will utilise $80 million in funding towards a new building at CSIRO in Perth and is looking to secure a $40 million supercomputer capable of petaflop-scale processing. It will also secure a Linux-based computing platform worth $5 million. The centre is expected to be completed in 2011 and fully operational by the second quarter of 2013.

NextGen Networks won the $250 million blackspot program bid in December of last year, and began building 6000km of fibre backhaul across eight key locations around Australia in February. The backhaul network will form part of the National Broadband Network when it is fully available, but NextGen Networks will also wholesale other parts of the network to additional parties on equal footing to the NBN.

The fibre company has already finished laying 620km of fibre around the country, and estimates the $25 million Geraldton link could be finished ahead of schedule, by February next year.

In addition to Geraldton, the new backhaul is expected to deliver services to South Geraldton, Port Denison, Bluff Point, and Dongara.

Conroy also said $5 million was to be provided for “Rural NBN Coordinators to assist communities to take full advantage of the new infrastructure”.

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