Wireless -- willing but not able

Australia still has way to go before it can meet its full potential with wireless and broadband.

commentary Australia still has way to go before it can meet its full potential with wireless and broadband.

My younger brother has just changed jobs and found that his old dial-up connection has no hope coping with the new data loads he needs to transmit. Initially his new IT administrator suggested that he connect up to one of the mobile wireless services in Sydney of which he had three options. In theory a wireless connection is just the ticket for someone that is on the road; unfortunately in practice none of the services met his needs.

He has quite a large area of Sydney to cover and while it is fair to expect the occasional drop out, it was the locations of the dropouts that proved a problem. For example one of the carriers worked fine at his house, where a good deal of after-hours work is carried out, but the connection dropped entirely at and around his office. A second carrier was the exact opposite -- it worked fine at the office but not at home, and the third simply had worse coverage overall.

The solution in the end was to simply collect all the data during the day in "forms" that could then be processed at work or back at home.

You are probably asking why he needed wireless connectivity at the office. Quite simply there was no provision for Internet access and it was the responsibility of the individual.

So in the interests of cost he decided to go with an ADSL broadband connection at home. He asked me what the best one would be as I have a 1500/256 connection that he thinks is quite fast. I directed him to Whirlpool.net.au so he could check out what services are available in his area and then did not think much more about it. I got a call later from him saying he is thinking of connecting to an ADSL2 12288/1024 plan and at a considerably lower cost per month than I'm currently paying for my old ADSL "1" service.

Broadband options
Broadband in the US is becoming interesting with the cost of laying optical fibre up to your door being around the same price as copper.

The capacity of an optic fibre is incredible because it so easy to have multiple signals propagating down the fibre simultaneously. Theoretically, a fibre can transmit around one terabit of information per second, though common fibre implementations now are around 620Mbit/sec. Copper pales in comparison, and what's more, the optical signal can travel quite a long distance without the need for signal boosters.

Even in estates that are not all fibre it is often only the last mile or less that is copper, and there is still potential for fast data speeds, in many cases 25Mbit ADSL2 is certainly achievable and some carriers in Australia already offer this service if you fall within the right zone. In the US some carriers are looking at providing up to 100Mb/sec where the copper run is 500 feet or less.

At these speeds it would be possible to pump data, phone, and one or two high-definition TV channels over the copper -- with compression of course. If, however, you were to have a fibre all the way the high-definition channels could simply be slipped into the data stream at different wavelengths to your data and voice.

But when you stop to think that a single fibre carrying data at its theoretical maximum capacity could provide around one million 100Mb/sec connections, or for the really data hungry 1000 1Gb/sec connections, then you begin to wonder where you are going to get the data to fill your allotted bandwidth.

But then again, no matter what we are given we always find a way to use it all, and want more -- poor old Mother Earth has plenty of scars to bear testament to that fact.

Steven Turvey is Lab Manager of the RMIT IT Test Labs. Send feedback to tandb@zdnet.com.au.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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