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.

Stilgherrian — Technology writer and broadcaster


Technology writer and broadcaster

“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.)

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

  1. Astro

    Wireless broadband is a joke, the speeds are terrible.

    Labor plan is also a joke as they will allow the NBN to hang the fibre cable from power poles if Optus / Foxtel is already hanging on those poles.

    They will make our streets looks even more uglier.

  2. Meski

    What about the radiation? WONT SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!! :^)

  3. Russell White

    I smell an Abbott / Pell conspiracy to install very tall crucifixes at the end of every street, all cunningly disguised as Wireless Broadband base stations . . .

  4. Trevor Harrison

    One sidelight of the planned NBN is the reduced need for phone exchanges, by up to two-thirds I’ve read somewhere. These are all on prime development land which would become available once households were wired to fibre.
    There’ll likely be rich pickings for local developers, builders, tradies and estate agents in many communities around Australia, many of whom will be thinking of voting for the Coalition and thus denying themselves a piece of the action.

  5. Trevor

    Of course wireless technology will always be part of an overall broadband solution. I am a big fan of the govts NBN proposal & will go into a huge sulk that I may not come out of if Tony gets in winds up NBN Co. However assuming the NBN gets built I will still be carrying around my 3G stick so I can connect my notebook to the net while I am out an about similarly using my Iphone for online apps.

    To suggest it has to one or tother is nonsense, they both have their place. But anyone with a sliver of knowledge about how these things work will tell you wireless will never hold a candle to fibre for performance.

  6. shepherdmarilyn

    Most of the cable is going underground.

    My friends call Abbott’s “plan” nothing but carrier pigeon service.

  7. Deedzy

    2,000,000 people miss out on the NBN fibre to the home. Where do these people live?

  8. 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.

  9. Kristian

    Hehe, what a cleverly written piece. You haven’t written your opinion of the (albeit extreme) concept of base stations on every corner, but let the wackiness speak for itself. Well done.

    @Trevor, as far as I can tell from following NBN’s briefings, there still going to need the exchanges. Most of them, anyway.

  10. paddy

    [Where do these people live?]
    Sadly, at my place. Misses me by 5 Km
    Bastards!! 🙁

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