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. John64

    So really, the title of this item is wrong. It should be “a wireless tower on the roof of every home”.

  2. JamesG

    @douglas mackenzie
    if you don’t now how to insert a link into a comment you probably shouldn’t be entering into discussions about the internet.

    unless it’s Monday night and all those households are simultaneously illegally downloading the latest episode of True Blood then they will probably achieve on average something better than 100Mbs/N.

  3. harrybelbarry

    I think a lot of people have THEIR products to push and when NBN Fibre to the door, who will need Foxtel .

  4. Stilgherrian

    @JamesG: And how do they achieve speeds greater than the total speed available on the base station? I repeat, a base station that can deliver 100Mb/s is doing so in total for all users of that station.

    I agree that uses such as email and messaging and web browsing mean little bursts of traffic. In that scenario, users can achieve quite high average speeds — but obviously still less than the total speed available. But with increasing use of video and other continuous-bandwidth application — and that’s precisely what will drive the need for more bandwidth — it’s harder to share.

    The contention ratio — that is, the amount by which bandwidth is “over-sold” to multiple end users — will become ever more important. Wireless automatically has a high contention ratio.

  5. 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.

  6. Syd Walker

    Are there any potential health issues associated with massively increased use of wireless communications at the frequencies that will be used for broadband?

    That’s a question, not a statement.

  7. sprocket_

    with a wireless connection, a boatphone will still work fine – and that is all that matters!

  8. mook schanker

    So says the so called “expert” Paulie M3. So you mention the wonders of wireless 4G and no mention of any extra the fibre infrastructure to deliver a projected increase in bandwidth? And wireless 5Mbps, pah! I sometimes use Optus wireless broadband at work in the city (Melbourne) and during the day it crawls slower than a 56k dial up and the Optus building is across the road! “Theory” is fine until people use it….

    I remember years ago arguing with a friend about 80Mb hard disks and he reckoned that no more was needed as Dos 5.0 was awesome! We even argued that HDD couldn’t get cheaper than a $1 per/Mb. All I am saying that in years to come businesses and people alike will certainly use the extra bandwidth on offer from NBN. People who cannot see possibly what for, lack innovative thought in this area…..This sums at the Libs policy….

  9. corbie68

    Anyone here heard of Moore’s law? Aside from a few posts it seems not, eventually we will probably be leaving behind silicon chip technology in computers and hand held devices, in favour of cloud computing… Which means we’re going to need a better network for us all to hop on the cloud to edit our word docs and the like that we store on the cloud. This doesn’t even begin to go into the benefits for Australia in terms of decentralisation.

    But it seems many are quite content to save some pennies now to remain a technological backwater that doesn’t produce anything other than crops, rocks and spots. Hardly giving us young people a future 🙁

    Which reminds me that I should call my grandma and tell her why she should vote for the NBN.

  10. Kristian

    Mr Tony’s radio will give me more of the G.B’s for my internets when I’m on the email.

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