In a Sky debate in conjunction with ZDNet Australia last week, Labor communications spokesperson Stephen Conroy accused Coalition Communications Minister Helen Coonan of not only lying but also "rewriting the laws of physics" over claims she made regarding WiMax.
When questioned about the advantages of WiMax technology, Coonan lauded the "innovative wireless service" provided by Internode on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. According to the Minister, the ISP was capable of delivering a 12Mbps connection 25km away from the base station.
Conroy leapt on this statement.
"There are so many things that are technically wrong with what Helen has just said. Internode is not suggesting that it can get 12Mbps at 25km. That is just a lie. Internode can't get 12Mbps to 20km. The Minister continues to rewrite the laws of physics," he said.
"If she was a business, Graham Samuel [head of the ACCC] would fine her for false and misleading advertising. He requires Internode, he requires every wireless provider to use the words 'up to' 12Mbps," continued Conroy.
We called Internode to try and get the real figures.
A spokesperson for Internode initially told ZDNet Australia that the company had, in tests conducted using a base station on Mount Rat in SA, managed to connect at 6Mbps 20km away.
However, shortly after the spokesperson discovered his information would be going against the words of the Minister, we received another call telling us that the initial tests were conducted under artificially reduced bandwidth and in reality, there was no reason why 12Mbps is not possible over a distance of 25km.
"The speed of service doesn't degrade from distance," the same spokesperson said. "You can get 12Mbps from 25km [as long as the line of sight is clear]."
With a compromised line of sight, we were now told, it would be possible to get 4Mbps from a distance of 20km.
According to the WiMax Forum, which is a not-for-profit organisation designed to encourage standards and promote the technology, WiMax users should generally expect access speeds between 1Mbps and 5Mbps, depending on factors such as "which frequency is being used, distance of the user from the base station or node, whether there is line of site or NLoS (non-line-of-sight) to the base station, and the number of users on the network".
So it seems that in perfect conditions, the Minister's claims are valid and physics textbooks do not require updating. Unfortunately for Coonan, and for rural Australians, we're still far from a perfect world.