Forget the drought, it's raining broadband

Forget the drought, it's raining broadband

Summary: As Christmas roars in upon us and the Rudds, Trujillos, and Conroys of the world hang their Christmas stockings, everybody is casting an eye to 2008 and the changes it will bring.


As Christmas roars in upon us and the Rudds, Trujillos, and Conroys of the world hang their Christmas stockings, everybody is casting an eye to 2008 and the changes it will bring.

And while the government's settling-in period; the trial-by-fire that awaits Stephen Conroy as he faces the full force of Telstra's wrath; and the mooted FttN tender will keep us guessing throughout the year; special attention must go to the New Year's resolution being made by Vodafone Australia CEO Russell Hewitt.

Vodafone, it appears, will spend much of 2008 extending its 3G footprint into rural Australia, providing good-speed wireless broadband and higher-quality services to areas that, until now, have had to rely on Telstra's promise that they can get Next G coverage wherever they need it -- usually. As long as they don't need it in places Next G doesn't go yet.

Just how long it takes Vodafone to duplicate or surpass Next G's coverage remains to be seen, but it's great to see someone putting money into new mobile infrastructure again.

Hewitt's stated commitment to upgrading the telco's network is a breath of fresh air in a market that seemed to have lost its hunger for investment after shelling out hundreds of millions on 3G spectrum.

Whether because they wanted to see how demand for wireless broadband played out, or whether they were waiting to see how the political power balance would shift, or just whether they wanted to see if Next G worked for Telstra -- for whatever the reason, Optus and Vodafone have been sorely lacking when it comes to building out high-speed network infrastructure.

Or perhaps, tired of its lovey-dovey infrastructure partnership with Optus -- initially intended to save both companies the cost of duplicating each other's 3G network rollouts -- Vodafone has decided Telstra's rules are better than anybody else's. Build out your network, charge a premium for widespread broadband coverage, dodge fixed-line competition issues, rake in the profits -- in theory.

Could this be the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as fixed-line services go?

Vodafone has made no secret of its ambition to win over large numbers of customers from fixed lines onto its mobile network, and using a similar model in rural areas would seem to be a great way to justify the investment it's going to make.

Give it a year, and increasing competition between Telstra and Vodafone will inevitably see new services and lower prices -- or, at least, it should, unless Vodafone is happy to settle into a cozy duopoly on mobile broadband and fixed-equivalent services.

That's hardly the outcome anybody wants, although we can probably expect it until Optus gets around to building out its own wireless broadband network out there.

Or will Optus forego the HSDPAs of the world completely in favour of its budding WiMAX-based relationship, through Elders? This seems the more likely outcome, since Optus can hardly justify funding a WiMAX and a 3G rollout over the same territory at the same time.

By my maths, this means many parts of the bush can soon expect to be able to choose from not one but three separate wireless networks -- in addition to existing GSM services.

Rapid broadband will become readily available even in the more-remote areas that have struggled so far to get online, and VoIP-based phone services will finally provide a way around the disgrace that is Telstra's fixed bush network.

Of course, this is the ideal situation. But on the surface, it seems like Vodafone could well finally break the regional service drought with a network investment that isn't politically sensitive and can proceed without fear of litigation.

Could regional Australia's broadband worries possibly be over once and for all?

Well, I wouldn't go that far yet -- but Hewitt's New Year's resolution is the most appealing one yet.

Topics: Broadband, Government, Government AU, Mobility, Telcos, Telstra, NBN


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • Dont see ADSL 2 happening for some years

    Despite the spin the Government may give there are many areas that will simply have to have all their RIMS replaced (as RIMs do not support ADSL 2), and this alone will cost some suburbs millions. For example Point Cook in Melbourne (a very upper market area) is entirely serviced by RIM's it will cost many millions for this area alone to get ADSL 2 speeds, I dont see this happening anytime within the next 5 years!
  • Optus already announced 3G Expansion

    Hi David,

    I believe you will find Optus already announced it will increase it's 3G HSDPA capacity to cover 96% of the Australian population earlier in the year, and Broadband Connect funding has been sought to further increase the coverage to 98% which would make it on par with NextG.

    There's no reason stopping Optus from having both WiFi and 3G as the WiFi technology likely to be used by Opel will be of the fixed variety.


  • Correction WiMax

    Correction WiMax not WiFi
  • Optus

    Agree with Graham, Optus already have plans on their site white show proposed 3G coverage by June 2008 and December 2008 which will supposedly cover many regional areas. I think it's great that Vodafone are expanding as well though - 3 options are better than 2 :)
  • Surplus of choices!

    Thanks for the info; I still wonder, however, how recent those maps are and how the company's plans to roll out WiMAX via Opel have changed its 3G strategy.

    Does it make sense for Optus to duplicate its own network? Telstra's Next-G strategy clearly sees one network as the solution, and it appears Vodafone is taking the same path -- one network to rule them all. Could this saddle Optus with too much wireless bandwidth and, even worse, a confusing go-to-market message that will send customers elsewhere?
  • How WiMAX works

    Maybe FTTN (or FTTH) in the cities, WiMax in the country and satellite (possibly subsidised) to a remote station?

    How WiMAX works

    A WiMAX system consists of two parts:

    * A WiMAX tower, similar in concept to a cell-phone tower - A single WiMAX tower can provide coverage to a very large area -- as big as 3,000 square miles (~8,000 square km).

    * A WiMAX receiver - The receiver and antenna could be a small box or PCMCIA card, or they could be built into a laptop the way WiFi access is today.

    A WiMAX tower station can connect directly to the Internet using a high-bandwidth, wired connection (for example, a T3 line). It can also connect to another WiMAX tower using a line-of-sight, microwave link. This connection to a second tower (often referred to as a backhaul), along with the ability of a single tower to cover up to 3,000 square miles, is what allows WiMAX to provide coverage to remote rural areas.

    The fastest WiFi connection can transmit up to 54 megabits per second under optimal conditions. WiMAX should be able to handle up to 70 megabits per second. Even once that 70 megabits is split up between several dozen businesses or a few hundred home users, it will provide at least the equivalent of cable-modem transfer rates to each user.

    Intel Paves the Way
    Intel will start making their Centrino laptop processors WiMAX enabled in the next two to three years. This will go a long way toward making WiMAX a success. If everyone's laptop already has it (which is predicted by 2008), it will be much less risky for companies to set up WiMAX base stations.

    Read all about it ... (with images)