Wireless ISP launches Australian service

Australia's first pure wireless Internet service provider launched its commercial broadband Internet service in Sydney today, claiming full independence from Telstra-owned telephony infrastructure.The BigAir service is now available, offering business installation for AU$99 based on a 12 month contract with a monthly fee of AU$55 for a 1GB download allowance in the first year.

Australia's first pure wireless Internet service provider launched its commercial broadband Internet service in Sydney today, claiming full independence from Telstra-owned telephony infrastructure.

The BigAir service is now available, offering business installation for AU$99 based on a 12 month contract with a monthly fee of AU$55 for a 1GB download allowance in the first year.

Jason Ashton, chief executive officer and co-founder of BigAir Australia, says one of the major drivers behind the launch of the wireless network was to introduce a completely independent network into the market, giving consumers an option away from Telstra and Optus.

"The core of the BigAir vision was to have end-to-end infrastructure ownership, to go head to head with Telstra. And the service we have produced is faster more reliable and better value than any other wireless service today," claimed Ashton.

The BigAir wireless network is deployed from a series of overlapping wireless cells with an effective reach of over 10 square kilometres. Each cell is routed to a base-station that operates point-to-multipoint wireless transmission, similar to the GSM mobile network but using less power.

Participating customers require transmission equipment to be installed on their rooftop within a 10 kilometre radius of a BigAir cell. The broadband service is then distributed throughout the building via ethernet using the building's existing telecom wires, which are owned by the building itself.

Single residential set ups cost around AU$199, with a monthly fee of AU$49.95 that includes a download limit of 1GB, with a 9 cent per MB excess fee on a 12 month contract. However, BigAir says they are not targeting the residential market.

"There has been a surprising demand from a lot of residential customers because they are fed up with DSL," said Ashton, adding "We are actually focussing on multi-tenant buildings and office buildings," as he says apartment complexes often don't have broadband access at all.

Ashton estimates that more than 30 percent of homes are located in broadband "black holes" where ADSL and cable service are not available; a problem, he says, BigAir can rectify.

Although BigAir wireless plans are more expensive than current broadband plans on the market, Ashton says the entry-level deals offered by Telstra for AU$29.95 aren't fast enough to be rated as broadband.

"At BigAir we do not believe that 256kbit/s or 512kbit/s are 'true' broadband services. We offer a minimum of 1Mbit/s as our entry-level product," said Ashton, further noting that the company intends to offer 10Mbits per second speeds to its customers in the near future.

The company currently has four operating base stations covering over 75,000 homes and 25,000 businesses, with 10 more planned for 2004. The footprint for BigAir's wireless service following its expansion is estimated to be around 140 square kilometres, travelling south towards Strathfield from the city area.

Ashton says there is no limit to how many clients can be serviced from a single base station as the system is easily upgraded.

"End users are given an ethernet socket, so they don't need a modem they just need to configure their IP address and if usage requirements change BigAir can upgrade the service within hours" said Ashton.

According to Ashton more than AU$2 million had been invested in BigAir at the end of 2003. However, he maintains that the company will remain private in the short term.