Personal Broadband Australia mulls network expansion

Wireless broadband wholesaler Personal Broadband Australia (PBA) is considering expanding its network to cities such as Adelaide and Perth. "We're looking at that right now," the carrier's new chief executive Jonathan Withers told ZDNet Australia in an interview this morning, noting more information would be forthcoming in several months' time.

Wireless broadband wholesaler Personal Broadband Australia (PBA) is considering expanding its network to cities such as Adelaide and Perth.

      Jonathan Withers
"We're looking at that right now," the carrier's new chief executive Jonathan Withers told ZDNet Australia in an interview this morning, noting more information would be forthcoming in several months' time.

Withers' comments come as PBA rival Unwired today started selling wireless broadband services in Melbourne, the carrier's second city after Sydney. PBA's own network extends across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Canberra.

Withers said he wasn't too worried about Unwired's expansion and in addition believed PBA's iBurst solution was still better value than competing 3G broadband services offered by mobile phone carriers.

PBA has also been speaking with the federal government regarding opportunities to roll out infrastructure in rural centres, with the key problem being the availability of backhaul connections to major cities at workable prices.

Withers pointed to Telstra's Country Wide division, which focuses on services to regional and rural areas, as an example of how PBA might separate its services out geographically.

Any regional rollout from PBA has certainly been a long time coming, with former PBA chief executive Jim Cooney telling ZDNet Australia back in September 2004 that the company will certainly "look at moving the [iBurst] service out to regional markets once the metro network has been established".

"We have a rollout plan for the major capital cities first that we need to adhere to, and once we establish a good quality of service then we can start looking at regional centres," said Cooney at the time.

But Withers said it was only in the last twelve months that the federal government had begun to understand the critical role that backhaul played in delivering broadband to the bush.

Looking inward
Since PBA's acquisition last June by business communications specialist Commander, the two have been busily tying some of their systems together.

Withers said both now used Commander's new MPLS-based Internet Protocol (IP) communications backbone, which ZDNet Australia detailed back in August last year.

While PBA and Commander are cooperating on some future products, with Commander also selling PBA's iBurst wireless broadband, Withers said otherwise it was important that PBA operated at "arms' length" from its parent.

PBA's board is composed of three Commander representatives and shareholder Cooney, reflecting the company's relative ownership.

Withers himself has acted as PBA's chief executive since last November after Cooney left to tackle other initiatives in Europe, but the job was only formalised recently.

In the retail space, PBA has recently crossed the line and started shipping more hardware for laptops than desktop PCs. It will soon make a concerted marketing push to further establish the iBurst brand through forcing its retail Internet service provider partners to make the iBurst branding more prominent on product packaging.

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