ACT network enables swift surfing

A broadband future offering high-speed data , video and telephony, is set to be launched in Canberra this week, after a successful eight month trial.

The trial, in the suburb of Aranda, involved developing a business case, proving the technology and attracting an initial round of investment. The stage is now set for the public launch of the first section of a network on May 31st at ACTEW House in Canberra.

The network is based on a Switched Digital Broadband (SDB) architecture from US-based BroadBand Technologies, chosen for its combination of bandwidth and interactivity. Bosch telephony systems complete the narrowband segment of the system.

Data services will include high-speed (500kbps-10Mbps) Internet access and video services which may include pay TV, access to satellite-based TV services, distance education, videoconferencing, video on demand and telemedicine.

Connection and service costs to the consumer are to be announced at Wednesday's launch. According to system architect Robin Eckermann, however, one low-end price/performance model trialled gave users continuous Internet connection at a price about equal to two or three individual dial-ups per day.

Initially only two user-end devices - the NetFLX broadband modem and the Samsung digital Set-Top Box can make use of the new network's potential. The aim is to extend the network to 96,000 homes and 15,000 businesses in the Canberra area. Negotiations with ISPs and content providers are in progress.

The network was conceived and tested by ACTEW Corporation, the ACT's electricity and water provider. It will be rolled out over the next 18 to 36 months by a new company, TransACT Communications, which has been created for the commercial phase with initial backing from the Hong-Kong based Telecom Venture Group.

According to TransACT CEO Richard Vincent, other investors, to be announced next week have come on board as well. In total, he said, TransACT hopes to raise $A155 million to complete the deployment.

The University of Canberra polled the participants in the Aranda trial and their reactions, said Robin Eckermann, were overwhelmingly positive. "We received unsolicited comments," he said, "like 'Thank you for making Internet surfing a pleasure again.'"

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