NICTA, CSIRO broadband partnership seeks private support

Researchers ready to go, but vendors yet to sign on the dotted line

A CSIRO researcher demonstrates a high definition telehealth system over a 30 megabits per second (Mbps) symmetric link between Marsfield in Sydney and the ACT.

A CSIRO researcher demonstrates a high definition telehealth system over a 30 megabits per second (Mbps) symmetric link between Marsfield in Sydney and the ACT.

A newly announced partnership between research bodies National ICT Australia (NICTA), CSIRO and the NSW Government to develop new applications for the National Broadband Network (NBN) is set to launch from early next year, but the new hub is yet to secure partnerships with vendors.

The Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation (ACBI) - the latest of several local research hubs for broadband application development - will begin work next year with $7.5 million in funding over three years from government agency Industry & Investment NSW. The new centre forms part of a wider, $36 million digital economy strategy announced by the government earlier last month - including $9 million funding for NICTA - with hopes it will help bolster the state’s ICT credentials.

However, the centre is yet to convince corporate partners to sign on the dotted line.

At the launch of the centre this week, CSIRO’s group executive of Information Sciences, Dr Alex Zelinsky, announced letters of support from companies, including Nokia Siemens Networks, Ericsson, Microsoft, HP, IBM, Technicolor and the ABC, which researchers hope to collaborate with on new digital media content delivery systems. Key executives from Google and Intel were also present at the launch.

Those from the centre have been in negotiations with NBN Co’s principal of government relations and external affairs, Mike Kaiser - also present this week - around the use of NBN first release sites Armidale and Smithton.

The director of CSIRO’s ICT Centre, Dr Ian Opperman, told Computerworld Australia that while the involved parties were ready to commit to partnerships with vendors and corporate sponsors, no agreements had been reached.

“We’re having the conversations, we’re discussing the terms and conditions on what partnering actually means,” he said. “We obviously want to make sure that this runs cleanly and as a well-run project, so it’s a matter of making sure we do it in lock-step.”

In the absence of NSW Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, at the launch, Deputy Director General of State and Regional Development and Tourism, Barry Buffier, declared the centre’s opening a coup for the NSW ICT industry and a potential foundation for the state’s attraction to future IT investors.

“For NSW IT and the ICT industry generally is a very important part of our economy,” he said. “We’re proud of the fact that about 40 per cent of the ICT workforce is in NSW and we’re determined to keep that edge.”

Buffier’s comments were accompanied by a glossy press kit demonstrating NSW’s existing ICT foundation and future strategy. However, NSW’s attraction has increasingly faded in comparison to Victoria’s growing ICT strength, off the back of a $110 million ICT action plan announced by the former Victorian Labor Government earlier in the year.

“We obviously need to bring other partners in because we want to build a number of things,” Opperman said.

Once the centre does open, it is estimated up to 40 researchers from CSIRO and NICTA will collaborate at CSIRO’s Marsfield laboratories on several key broadband applications. These include a telehealth system trialled over a 30 megabit per second (Mbps) symmetric link to the ACT and a social TV platform deployed at the NSW Government’s broadband testbed, greenfield Parkbridge Estate in south-west Sydney with bandwidth demands of up to 80Mbps for high definition use.

CSIRO researchers have also begun deploying technology required to trial wireless broadband over analogue television spectrum, at speeds of 12Mbps symmetric to six simultaneous sites in Armidale, and further sites in Smithton, Tasmania.

For the meantime, however, Opperman said researchers at the centre continue to develop a bit-perfect emulation of the NBN’s fibre, wireless and satellite portions for application trials.

“We want our test network to look as much like the NBN as possible,” he said. “What we want to do is ensure we have something where we can look at the value proposition in a 100 per cent environment.”

While he said the centre had achieved that aspect with fibre and wireless, they remained on the hunt for an applicable satellite vendor.

“Until the satellite is launched we have to use something else, and that’s the hardest piece to approximate.”

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAu

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Tags CSIRONational ICT Australia (NICTA)NSW GovernmentBarry BuffierNetworkingNational Broadband Network (NBN)Deputy Director General of State & Regional Development Barry Buffier

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