The National Broadband Network Company (NBN Co) has inked a $1.1 billion contract with Swedish networking giant Ericsson to roll out a wireless network to premises that won't be covered by the national fibre roll-out.
The 10-year contract with Ericsson will see the company design, build and operate a fixed wireless network using the same Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard that telcos, such as Telstra, are already deploying in their own mobile networks.
However, NBN Co chief technology officer Gary McLaren today went to great lengths to emphasise the differences between the NBN Co wireless network and existing mobile networks, pointing out that NBN Co's network would be utilised by routers fixed to buildings, as opposed to mobile devices.
The network will initially provide peak speeds of 12Mbps, although McLaren acknowledged that NBN Co would look at the potential to offer higher speeds once it had provided a base level of service to all customers in each area. He said that the latency on the wireless service would be similar to that on existing 3G mobile networks.
The first services on the wireless network will be available from mid 2012, although NBN Co has not yet confirmed which locations will be first to receive them. The entire wireless network will be completed by 2015 — much faster than the wider fibre roll-out.
"It's only right that those parts of the country with some of the poorest access to high-speed broadband should be among the first to receive the National Broadband Network, either via satellite or the fixed wireless solution we are announcing today," said NBN Co head of corporate services Kevin Brown.
With the spectrum it bought in February from pay TV operator Austar, NBN Co has enough wireless spectrum to meet most of its needs; however, it still needs more spectrum for Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which it hopes to acquire through the Australian Communications and Media Authority's (ACMA) upcoming allocation process.
The installation of the wireless network would not mean that NBN Co's wireless service would replace Telstra's existing copper network, McClaren said, and universal service obligations would reside with the existing provider.
"We are not looking to replace any other networks, so the existing copper network and 3G networks are still going to exist," McLaren said.
NBN Co's head of services Kevin Brown later clarified to ZDNet Australia that the copper remaining in these areas would have no impact on NBN Co's $11 billion agreement with Telstra, as the portion of the agreement surrounding the decommissioning of Telstra's copper and moving customers on to the NBN is the government's responsibility.Josh Taylor contributed to this article.