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Aug 16, 2010

Coalition broadband: a wireless tower in every street

“Wireless can never deliver equivalent services to fibre,” according to network engineering consultant Narelle Clark. But what the Coalition’s “affordable broadband” policy could deliver is a wireless base station at the end of every street in the outer suburbs and country towns.

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“Wireless can never deliver equivalent services to fibre,” according to network engineering consultant Narelle Clark. But what the Coalition’s “affordable broadband” policy could deliver is a wireless base station at the end of every street in the outer suburbs and country towns.

Unlike most of Labor’s National Broadband Network (NBN), which uses optical fibre to deliver data, the Coalition’s Plan for Real Action on Broadband and Telecommunications would see carriers roll out fixed wireless networks where existing fixed-wire networks could not be upgraded. “We will commit up to an additional $1 billion in investment funding for new fixed wireless networks in metropolitan Australia, with an emphasis on outer metropolitan areas,” the policy says.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott continued to talk up the merits of wireless broadband on ABC-TV’s Insiders yesterday. “Let’s not assume that we should put all our eggs in [Labor’s] high fibre basket either,” he said.

In an interview recorded for this week’s Patch Monday podcast, Clark said that because fibre is a contained medium, you can use 100% of the available electromagnetic spectrum.

“In wireless, you’ve got to do a spectrum plan, where you carve up slices of the available spectrum, and only broadcast on the bits you’re allowed to broadcast on,” she said. The limited spectrum is shared by every customer who’s connected via the same cell tower. If fixed wireless becomes the main internet connection for every household, each customer ends up with only a small share of the total — unless you add more towers spaced more closely.”

What would that mean? “In order to get those 100 megabit speeds and beyond you’d need to be installing a base station around about on every suburban block,” she said. “At the end of every street there’d need to be a base station.”

It is possible to design base stations so they look like trees, or like street lighting.

“Certainly if there’s one at the end of every suburban block then you’ll get used to them and they’ll get very good at blending them in,” Clark says.

Narelle Clark is vice-president of the Internet Society of Australia and sits on the board of trustees of the Internet Society globally. She has worked with Singtel Optus and was until recently the research director of the CSIRO’s Networking Technologies Laboratory. (Clark said her opinions are her own and not those of the Internet Society.)

Stilgherrian —


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81 thoughts on “Coalition broadband: a wireless tower in every street

  1. Meski

    @Harry: well, this is one way.


    I’ve given up on answering the sockpuppets on here (you know who you are)

  2. JamesK

    Don’t worry Harrynotsobel……….. Wireless is the way to go.

    Well…… it travels at the speed of light. And do tell UltraRed Kerry that.

    But now, like the NBN, ‘they’ have now found ways to make it x10 times faster…. up to 100Mbs!



    Imagine that.

    And I had always thought nothing goes faster than the speed of light.

    Harry-not-so…. there is now no longer need to be a typical leftist lying thief to download your porn at lightening speed………………..
    unless you want to pinch a wireless stick or at most a satellite dish.

  3. EngineeringReality

    @Astro “Thats right Abbott is putting fibre to the exchanges for $6b and letting competitive forces then have it to each address, saving $37 billion or more.”

    There is already fibre to all of the exchanges. Telstra has already done that.

    So shows how completely a non-event Abbott’s plan is doesn’t it? Paying $6 Bil to duplicate infrastructure that is already there.

    “…who woulda guessed, demand is insignificant for those speeds and the market is already supplying those speeds to those that want and can afford.”

    Wrong! You’ve failed Econ 101 – demand is outstripping supply hence the higher prices. Telstra has locked up its exchanges and competitors have been forced to use its equipment – they are prevented from installing anything major inside exchanges apart from a duplication of a DSLAM. There is so much unmet demand out there for 100MB & more – just not at the prices that Telstra charges all the resellers. So your argument is flawed.

    And you are all saying it has to be fibre at the expense of wireless. Wrong! You can still have all the wireless you want – around the house or out in the street – you’ll just be guaranteed sufficient speed at your premises to keep up with the rest of the world.

    I also read a report today that every country in the EU has decided to have fibre to the home installed by 2025. Even BT which trialled FttN & FttH has chosen FttH as the network model of choice.

    So you’re saying that ALL the EU countries are wrong and Abbott who has admitted he doesn’t understand anything about he technology is correct?

    What planet do you guys live on?

    @JamesK & @mctarmac I have heard Andrew Robb, Joe Hockey & Tony Abbott being interviewed about the NBN saying clearly that its risky to invest in fibre because technology changes so fast. So yes they were saying fibre isn’t as good as wireless. I’m not going to waste my time trying to find a transcript. And I know they all said the same thing because they were in election parrot mode.

  4. mctarmac


    Perhaps, perhaps not, of course you don’t have to be left wing to support the NBN, and again like thats how the left works?? Of course not, they are fully aware of the fact that the left is to small to rely on getting hair brained schemes to pass. They need a large number of non lefties for support too. As with most of Labor policy in effect it ends up buying off and bribing significant sections of the electorate.

    Haven’t you been reading the comments of people in the IT industry? Granted most are educated in ICT and not Business Management so I wouldn’t be expecting that much regardless. But what I’ve been hearing is “hey man I’m gonna have a ton of work to do in the future”, “expanding industry” , “this will be great for the IT field.” Pretty blatant huh? But of course its the same with most of Labors policies, building the education revolution? Try and find a tradie who wont vote for us now! And hell I’m sure if they didn’t end up killing a bunch of insulation workers, they’d be right alongside too. Ditto for much of rural Australia who of course will accept speeds heavily subsidized by the taxpayer.

    I must say its working well, almost 2 out of 4 Australians consume more in Govt services then they pay in taxes already. As was seen with Scotland and Wales during the UK election, this form of politics eventually leads to static electorates of pie eaters who will never vote away the hand that feeds. Its a shame that such a malicious philosophy still enjoys such wide support from such supposedly progressive people.

  5. mctarmac


    Again I may be incorrect but I think you missed the point. They are not disputing the overall higher speed and higher capabilities of fiber, as you said to do so would be arguing against the laws of physics (a field which is remarkably stable in its understanding yes? 🙂

    Again no one was disputing that the Concords top speed was faster then any of the 7xx series Boeing craft. HOWEVER top speed is obviously not the only factor in consumer decisions otherwise we’d all be flying in Concords yes? As it turns out with most consumer service/product delivery you need “horses for courses” the best ‘pure’ technology (which fiber undoubtedly is) hardly EVER wins in the marketplace. The Coalition is not saying physics will change and fiber will be redundant, simply that we don’t know the future shape of the marketplace which could affect the demand for fiber. If you look at trends in telecommunications.. well its not such a strange concern is it? Such can be seen in that speeds of 100Mbps are already available but, who woulda guessed, demand is insignificant for those speeds and the market is already supplying those speeds to those that want and can afford.

    If you left it to the marketplace then surely what is demanded would be supplied, and by definition it will be what the marketplace (the people of Australia) wants.

    Or we can simply trust that Conroy knows best, after all hes undoubtedly seen a future without mobile internet devices.

    @PLANE Again none of these aspects that you list are publicly available. All that has been done in regards to this spending is an implementation study, the workings of which the Govt refuses to release. Reading the Hansard transcripts it seems the Govt also refused numerous offers to do a FREE cost benefit analysis. Undoubtedly because a) why do one if you’ve made up your mind, and b) private investment/capital which already wont touch the NBN will have all their fears confirmed. Of course the numerous expert witnesses (Economics professors) were all absolutely dumbfounded at how and why this project is being rolled out.

  6. mctarmac

    My my where to begin. Perhaps first we could push aside the geeks and nerds stumbling over each other to explain first how fiber has l33t UBER speeds.
    No one is disputing that fiber is the faster medium. Just as no one was disputing that Concorde would beat any other mass produced passenger aircraft. Unfortunately speed and speed alone is far from the only factor, more akin to reality is a trade off for consumers between speed and inevitably cost. It turns out that most people would spend the extra three hours in a slower plane if it was half the cost. But hey what do the European taxpayers who subsidized that fiasco care? Hmm.

    Lest we even begin to factor in the multitude of other factors that affect consumer demand. Spend more time on wireless devices such as ipads and smartphones? Here have a 100mbps connection to your house. The ‘best’ pure technologies don’t always win, and consumer preferences often turn out to be very different from what politicians, engineers and bureaucrats anticipate. Will Gigabit fixed line speeds, for which households can’t yet envisage a use, be valued above the convenience of mobility?

    “Look give up on the ipad and start up some more computational fluid dynamic calculations , better yet share the calculation over a cloud network and run a hundred copies at once, or here stream 70 movies within one hour.”

    Perhaps Turnbull says it best, “the reality is that broadband involves horses for courses: some consumers and many businesses will want fibre optics now; others will be fine with cheaper fixed line alternatives such as HFC (which can already deliver 100 Mbps) or very high speed ADSL; and yet others will prefer the flexibility of wireless. Only bureaucrats think in terms of one size fits all.”

    I sit here still rather astonished at the NBN proposal or more accurately the incredibly gullibility of the left. A $43 Billion project that wouldn’t be touched with a ten foot pole by private investment and cant withstand the most basic of commercial scrutiny (cost benefit analysis.) The implementation study (the workings of which still will not be released) estimates that for the NBN to earn merely the bond rate, real prices will need to INCREASE by 1 per cent a year rather than DECREASE rapidly as they have in recent years and will continue to do in other countries. Industry experts anticipate monthly bills that could be in the hundreds of dollars.

    And what for? To legislatively resurrect a monopoly over carriage of internet and telephony services.. I mean come on people are you for real, it takes a monopoly to kill a monopoly? And this is just the PLANNING side of things, oh BOY I can’t wait till the current Government, with their track record of implementation, get their hands on this. You thought half the computers promised at three times the cost was bad? HAH, managing to kill people with pink fluffy insulation? Now that is truly something only our wise benevolent rulers in Govt could manage.

    Grown up governments understand that you solve problems by empowering initiative and enterprise with policy and regulatory settings that steer, not row. Labor thinks it can row, but it invariably sinks the boat.

  7. EngineeringReality


    Once again showing you have all the economic grasp of a 4 year old given a $50 note and unleashed into the lolly shop.

    We are already a telecommunications backwater. When visiting Asia, Europe and the US (I’ve been to 28 countries in the last 4 years) we have far higher prices for much lower speeds.

    In the US for example there are no data limits on internet plans – its a fixed price per month and its full speed without limits.

    Why is that good? Well it opens up more business opportunities and therefore increases GDP and investment. In the US you can pay for and download HD movies on demand for a few dollars. Not only does it reduce illegal downloading but it increases consumption of movies (& GDP).

    Downloading movies and sending any data intensive signal such as video obviously opens up all sorts of opportunities for innovation, new business models and export earnings for Australia. The explosive growth in internet usage and online commerce is self evident as to the potential.

    For instance I subscribe to an online game EVE Online. It was developed by a few people in Iceland and with very little capital investment needed. It now has over 300,000 subscribers which is generating significant export earnings for Iceland (US$53 million p.a.) – and obviously in Iceland’s current state those export earnings are very important to the country.

    The fact is a fast internet is an enabler for businesses that generate massive exponential growth and high returns on investment (which consists mainly of intellectual property and small capital & labour requirements).

    Australia currently is far too reliant to mining for export earnings – look at the liberal party’s hysterics about it being the country’s golden egg laying goose – yet that leaves us vulnerable to commodity prices and our currency being seen as a commodity currency. When prices go down we suffer the double whammy – we get less for our exports and our currency drops making our foreign debt payments more expensive.

    For the twin effects of diversifying our economy and increasing innovation in new high tech internet based industries the price of a NBN is chicken feed.

    Science fiction movies when peering into the future don’t ever predict a world with slower connection speeds and lower levels of technology so it should be fairly obvious that having national infrastructure is the way to go. Thats apart from the few post-apocalypse Max Max style movies – and perhaps they best describe the world that the Liberals want us to head towards with their mediocre, p!ssweak proposal.

  8. listohan

    @ JamesK

    According to ABS statistics, http://is.gd/ekP46 households were connected to the internet as follows:
    2000 – 3.9 million
    2003 – 5.2
    2006 – 6.65
    2009 – 9.1

    And you are saying as the population ages over the next 8 years and the older people who don’t have it now, move on to a better place, there will be no increase in these numbers which in any event are already near saturation? Don’t forget, fixed line subscribers are already paying Telstra $360 a year for line rental.

    These are households numbers, not people, many of whom subscribe despite Telstra’s best efforts to stop them. It used to be said of the ABC half the staff were trying to create content and the other half were trying to stop them. As the ABC has moved to providing more content on more devices (iView is a worthwhile service ALREADY if you are lucky enough to be able to get it), this accolade has now passed to Telstra.

    @moon schanker

    MT may be trying to sell a poor policy, but if Tony falls on his face over this issue, the knives may be out and MT could have been in a good position to say “I told you so” and grab the leadership back. This would be more likely to come to pass if MT stayed out of the debate now.

  9. JamesK

    Obviously a full moon last night……….

    Your preferred Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull has something to say about Labor’s NBN:



    Besides, without spending a penny of taxpayers money two thirds of the population that Labor’s NBN could deliver to can almost instantly deliver 100Mbps to nearly three million households in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane by tapping Telstra and Optus’s HFC cable networks.

  10. EngineeringReality

    Time to explain the physics for a few people.

    Data transmission bandwidth is a function of the frequency of the carrier signal.

    Wireless uses radio waves as the carrier signal. Radio signals interfere with each other. As you go for higher frequencies (because higher frequencies are the only way to increase data transfer) the signals become increasingly line of sight – because GHz and above have smaller wavelengths and become more like light and less like radio waves. (i.e. they bounce off things and don’t penetrate through as AM (kHz) or FM (MHz) radio does)

    Also with more users you get more and more interference as hundreds or thousands of radio signals are all bouncing around the area. Its like being in a loud pub with everyone yelling to be heard over one another. All the other signals look like interfering noise from the point of view of your signal. The only speed increase wireless has been making lately is in the sophisticated signal processing to remove all the noise of the other radio signals in order to decode your signal.

    With higher and higher interference the only answer is to increase signal power. That increases the signal to noise ratio – but not if the noise is actually everyone else’s wireless signals. Very soon you reach capacity – as we have now.

    Contrast this with optical fibre. The carrier signal are lasers at PHz (petahertz) carry millions of more data per second than radio waves – based on the physics of light and radio waves – something no policy can change. Inside a fibre the laser light bounces inside & travels at the speed of light. You can shine lasers of different colours (wavelengths) down each fibre and the different colours don’t interfere with each other.

    Fibre optics are glass. They won’t degrade or corrode. Once installed they won’t become outdated because we are already sending light down them as fast as the speed of light. Nothing in the future will be able to travel faster.

    NBN is a necessary and urgently needed investment in the future of Australia. Without it we will become an informational backwater.

    Don’t forget Google was started in 1996 by two guys in their garage. Today it provides billions and billions of dollars of foreign income to the US – and it would never have been started without an internet. It is a business that was born out of the internet.

    Leaving Australia as an internet and telecommunications backwater will deny our country the opportunity to benefit from future technology and leave us with a mono-dimensional economy – vulnerable to commodity prices.

  11. Tremere

    Wireless plant would consume a bit of power as well, take a look at this presentation out of the CUBIN research lab at Melb Uni (disclaimer for disbelievers: its authored by Rod Tucker)

    >150W per user and thats only at a paltry ~12Mb/s (slide 19). PON is around 8W per user up to 100Mb/sec

    This includes consumer premise equipment.

    Now, power prices are going to go up in the coming years, right?

    I haven’t looked but it wouldn’t surprise me if fibre-to-the-home has a negative (i.e reduces) carbon footprint.

    @PAULIEM3: Repeat after me, T-H-E-O-R-E-T-I-C-A-L. Hint: 4G wireless (and even 3G) are near the theoretical bandwidth limit of wireless technologies (Shannons theorem). If you want more bandwidth, you either decrease cell size, throw more spectrum at it or both.

  12. Douglas Mackenzie

    The Coalition’s “plan” for a broadband network is simply a technological mess: one step forward and several back. It would relegate Australia to the status of IT and communications “third-world” backwater for many years, if not decades.

    Much of Australia would be left with the old copper-wire network, with its abysmal speeds, congestion and unreliability. The Liberal Party policy document (on its Web site) glibly states that the plan will be accomplished “with the expectation of leveraging at least $750 million in additional private sector funding”. Anyone who believes that the private sector would willingly put such money into broadband networking outside the high-profit Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane triangle would have to be pretty naïve.

    Here is some of what Professor Rod Tucker* wrote in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on August 10:

    “The idea that we could use very fast broadband based on mobile technologies and existing fibre defies the laws of physics . . . very fast broadband . . . cannot be delivered to the entire population using wireless and existing fibre. It would require mobile telephone towers along every suburban street . . .

    “The result would be thousands of kilometres of new fibre – much the same as will be required for the broadband network – and ugly streetscapes across the nation. It would also consume about 200 megawatts more electricity.

    “It has been argued that market forces should be left to determine the future of Australia’s broadband network. But true competition in telecommunications cannot occur in the shadow of a large vertically integrated monopoly. And it is very difficult to achieve facilities-based competition in a sparsely-populated country such as Australia.

    “The national broadband network plan is a brilliant solution to both of these problems. By dismantling Telstra’s ageing copper access network . . . the [NBN] provides tremendous opportunities for innovative retail products and real competition.

    “. . . and the Australian public is provided with truly world-class broadband access and a rich variety of new services.

    A recent report commissioned by the city of Seattle found that a fibre-access network would produce indirect benefits of more than $1 billion a year. . . and reduction in annual greenhouse emissions . . . of 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

    “Scaled to a country the size of Australia, these benefits would amount to more than $5 billion per annum. The $43 billion price tag on the broadband network is starting to look like a bargain.”

    * Rod Tucker is Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. He is Director of the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES) and Director of the Centre for Ultra-Broadband Information Networks (CUBIN), in the University of Melbourne’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

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