After almost two years of delays, the South Australian government has announced it is finally drawing to the end of a $2 million project in Mount Gambier to connect 20 government agencies with fast broadband.
The project, managed by the Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure (DTEI), involved deploying high-speed fibre-optic cable and WiMax to connect the high concentration of government agencies in the area, as well as making capacity available to ISPs and users.
Backhaul links for the project will be provided by a 152km microwave connection between Mount Gambier and the inter-capital fibre grid at Bordertown.
At the May 2005 release of tender documents searching for a carrier partner to help build and provide wholesale and retail access to the network, since announced as Silk Telecom, which was recently taken over by Nextgen Networks, the government expected to seek funding for the project in June 2005.
In 2006, a document (PDF) published by the Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology stated that a project appearing to be the Mount Gambier initiative was in the planning stage and was estimated for completion in March 2007.
However, a Broadband SA newsletter (PDF) in November 2007 said that although fibre had been laid in Mount Gambier, construction of the microwave backhaul link had not yet begun.
Today's announcement put the end of the project at April 2009, almost two years off the date estimated in the 2006 document. The government fibre installation and termination activities were finished, according to DTEI, with high-speed switching technology for the network hub being implemented and set to deliver local area network speeds of up to 1000Mbps. WiMax coverage will extend to 20km outside the town centre, DTEI said.
At the time of publication, the department had not responded to requests for comment on the delay.
Phil Sykes, managing director of Nextgen Networks, said that the microwave link, for which Nextgen Networks was responsible, would be finished in February 2009, at which point customers could come online.
He was unable to comment on what had caused the previous delays. "Obviously that predates our ownership of Silk," he said. "As soon as Nextgen gained control of that business, we realised that was a key obligation. We ramped up the project from a zero base."
The backhaul capacity stood at around 1Gbps, he said, with the ability to add more if the need arose.
ISPs would now come to the region and install ADSL infrastructure, Sykes said, because there would be an alternate supplier of backhaul to Telstra. "They've now got a choice of us or the other carrier," he said.
Funds for the project have come from a number of government agencies as well as carrier partner Nextgen Networks, supplemented by a grant from the state government's Broadband Development Fund.