Corner's Column: Get ready for LMDS

LMDS is another four-letter acronym about which you will start hearing much more in coming months. It stands for local multipoint distribution services. These promise to deliver high-speed Internet access, multimedia, video, and so on into your home using radio technologies at prices which, some say, will compete with today's telephony.

LMDS operates in the 28GHz band, and spectrum in this band is up for auction soon in Australia.

The Australian Communications Authority is geared up for the auction and says it could be done before Christmas. All it is waiting on is the nod from the Minister for Communications, Senator Richard Alston.

The ACA's predecessor, the Spectrum Management Agency, started preparing to auction the spectrum over a year ago, as did about 20 other countries in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

Some claim that LMDS technologies will be cheaper than the more established alternatives.

Last year market research company Ovum predicted that operators of broadband wireless networks would soon be able to "undercut and surpass fixed network operators, leading to serious implications for telcos and cable companies".

Ovum suggested that broadband wireless technologies like LMDS would soon be able to support TV distribution and residential entertainment as well as high bandwidth data and the present range of telephone network services.

New Zealand is likely to be ahead of Australia in the provision of LMDS. Early this year, US company Formus International picked up five of the six main frequencies in New Zealand's auction of the 25GHz to 29GHz band. Formus is also poised to enter the Australian market,New Zealand's second carrier, Clear Communications, is also hoping to use LMDS as a quick way to expand its reach into country areas.

Currently only 10 per cent of NZ companies are connected to Clear's fibre optic network. Clear says that if the trial is successful, it may spend up to $NZ250 million on the network and launch services early in 1999.

But competition from unexpected quarters is never far away. Among the more exotic alternatives being seriously developed are stratospheric balloons providing broadband links into metropolitan areas (Sydney and Melbourne are due to get theirs in 2002); and a fleet of aircraft carrying communications payloads circling above the world's largest cities.

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