Launceston scores $30M broadband lab

Telstra will test a host of online multimedia applications for commercial and residential Launceston via a newly-launched broadband venture, the Broadband eLab (B-eLab).

The $30 million dollar laboratory is a 50/50 joint initiative between the national carrier and the Federal Government under the Commonwealth's $5 million Launceston Broadband Project. The companies' investment will foot application production and operation costs, according to Leith Campbell, Telstra's general manager of wave research.

Telstra declined to make any financial projections on the venture.

The B-eLab is expected to provide some 2,500 to 5,000 Launceston residents and businesses with high-speed Internet and broadband access over the next few years. The centre will employ 25 multimedia and broadband developers, nine of whom are existing Telstra staffers, and the remainder recruited from local telecommunications companies.

Telstra will focus on developing "business-related" and multimedia projects for small organisations and residents, but was at pains to specify the range of online products it said developers would design and test. It hinted the suite would be "Internet-based" and employ "high-speed (broadband) features" available via its Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) service.

"Because B-eLab is looking to the future and will be developing applications for the future of the Internet, it's impossible to predict the exact product mix...but the focus will be on developing fun, simple, affordable and useful (products)," said Dr. Ziggy Switkowski, CEO of Telstra.

The lab has around 300 potential broadband subscribers from Launceston's residential market, according to Campbell. Consumers' "pent-up demand" for newer, better video and interactive services over the years was a key reason for opening in Launceston, he said.

Telstra is negotiating several local education content deals with small internet companies from the region, Campbell said. Specifically, Telstra was in talks with an interactive health content provider, coining an online solution called Virtual Magic. The broadband application allows mothers to consult with nurses and healthcare specialists online for health and product advice, he said.

Campbell believed the Telstra-branded lab was a cultural plus for "entrepreneurial" Launceston's economy, confident B-eLab would stimulate IT job growth in the region. "Launceston is a fertile place and has the potential to grow as a telecommunications and digital technology centre. It's relatively easy lifestyle and entrepreneurial business character will make it similar to regional centres in the US," he said.

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