Aussie model suggests "Probe" is the right thing to do

New Zealand's Project Probe broadband pilot scheme has received the thumbs-up from an Australian broadband researcher who says it's exactly the right approach to take.

Jonathan Springs, managing director of Melbourne-based broadband technology developer CEOS, says the secret to providing broadband to the small business and residential markets is incremental costs to the network provider.

"Rather than trying to roll out an entire network and then attracting customers, the idea is that you would look at a regional development, similar to the Project Probe in New Zealand."

Springs says that by breaking up the network into small goals, it's possible for the network provider to build an extensive network without incurring crippling costs at the onset.

Springs' company, set up by three PhD graduates from Melbourne University's photonics research lab, has been involved with its own regional broadband development in Victoria - COLT (Collaborative Optical Leading Testbed) which has received $A4 million from local government and a further $A21 million from industry investment. The goal is to connect hospitals and universities first.

"By rolling out the network as far as the hospital and university we can then provide connectivity which will pay for the incremental upgrades to provide for local business and from there to residential and small business and so on."

Springs says the hospital's radiology department has a digital X-ray centre that is the largest of its kind in Australia.

"They were taking up to 100 images to develop a 3D representation of a patient but that's around half a gigabyte of data. They were burning CDs and sending those with the patient to the ward. It was time consuming and costly."

Now the hospital uses broadband connectivity to send the same data in around 20 seconds.

"It's about return on investment. The biggest cost to a network provider is the equipment so by doing it in stages it makes life easier."

Springs says he will also be watching the electricity and gas network companies closely as they are already talking seriously about adding broadband capabilities to their networks.

"They already have network infrastructure. It's relatively inexpensive to simply string another line."

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