Fledgling telco Basslink Telecoms has defended the speed at which it is working to get the Melbourne to Hobart fibre-optic cable up and running, saying it was slated to be operational by April at the latest.
"There is a misconception that this is very easy, ie, simply lighting a fibre," said Michael Coates, the general manager of Basslink Telecoms. "It's not." Coates has been leading the local operation, which is based in Melbourne, holding responsibility for network deliverables and customer outcomes.
He said that people weren't aware of the extra work which needed to be done to remedy the fact that the Basslink fibre only ran undersea from the coast of Tasmania to Victoria and not from Hobart to Melbourne, which is what will be delivered when all is completed.
Coates and his team could have laid new fibre for Basslink, but they didn't want to duplicate infrastructure. Instead, they have put arrangements in place to carry the data over alternate fibre owned by other companies to cover the distance to the capitals. This is mainly finished now, except on the Victorian end where the team is currently completing final actions for the fibre to be supplied and tested prior to commissioning.
Customers, such as internet service providers, government and businesses, will connect to the cable in four datacentres, two in Melbourne and two in Hobart — for which Coates needed to secure space and access.
In November last year, Basslink announced that it had chosen Ericsson as a vendor. A support agreement has been nutted out with some non-critical items being closed off this week.
The necessary equipment Ericsson is supplying has arrived in the country and Basslink has been installing it. There will now be a rigorous testing period, Coates said. Network stabilisation will start in February followed by an ironing-out period, where faults such as a problem card might be found, he continued.
Coates has also been dealing with customers. He said that customers had been secured, but declined to say how many or who they were. He called Basslink's prices "incredibly competitive".
Tasmanians have been long awaiting the cable, first planned in 2000, to be lit up. In August 2007, Singaporean company CitySpring Infrastructure Trust, bought Basslink for over $1 billion. It took over a year, however, for an agreement to be reached with parties involved on terms under which the cable's use could go ahead.
There have been hopes that having a backhaul competitor in Tasmania — Telstra previously had been the only provider with working cable across Bass Strait — would lower prices, although some believed nothing would happen, with Basslink settling comfortably into the pricing levels already set.
To those who have voiced fears of a cosy duopoly, Coates supplied the rejoinder that if it were so, customers wouldn't have bothered signing on with Basslink, instead staying with the Telstra status quo.
He did express the concern that consumers in Tasmania had unrealistic expectations of the cable. "There is a presumption in the wider public that everything is going to change instantly," Coates said. "It's in some part dependent on Basslink forcing change through supply of services, but also on the ISPs and carriers delivering the retail services to end customers.
"It's up to them whether they pass speed increases, cost efficiencies and improved service through diversity onto the public and enterprises. People need to ask their suppliers whose infrastructure they deliver services into Tasmania on," he said.