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Council bureaucracy delays Tassie fibre rollout

Delays in securing local council approvals have pushed back the planned launch of a trial of a new fibre to the home (FTTH) service in Tasmania by almost four months. Dubbed the Tasmanian Collaborative Optical Leading Testbed (TasCOLT) and initially announced in January, the FTTH trial is being carried out under a partnership between the state government and industry.
Written by Renai LeMay, Contributor on
Delays in securing local council approvals have pushed back the planned launch of a trial of a new fibre to the home (FTTH) service in Tasmania by almost four months.

Dubbed the Tasmanian Collaborative Optical Leading Testbed (TasCOLT) and initially announced in January, the FTTH trial is being carried out under a partnership between the state government and industry.

Two months ago, Tasmania's Minister for Economic Development Lara Giddings said the trial would go live with "very competitive" pricing on speeds of up to 100Mbps to more than 1,000 homes in Hobart in late November or early December this year, with an additional 200 in Devonport added early in 2006.

However TasCOLT's project development manager Brian Beswick told ZDNet Australia yesterday the network had not yet been built due to delays in the paperwork being processed by both the Hobart and Devonport City Councils.

"That's progressing pretty well, but we've got to let that process unwind, which will take the rest of this year," he said.

"Because of that really, we're now looking at starting the build of the network in the first quarter [of 2006]."

The TasCOLT project stemmed from a study exploring ways to accelerate the development of high-capacity communication infrastructure in the state, carried out by the Tasmanian Electronic Commerce Centre on behalf of the Tasmanian government in 2003.

Beswick added the delays meant TasCOLT would be looking at launching real products towards the end of the first quarter next year.

Despite the delays, Beswick said the trial had already generated "quite a good level of interest" from the community and other infrastructure players alike.

For example, TasCOLT is talking to various wireless broadband carriers, who could use the project's huge bandwidth as a network backbone to extend the reach of their services.

Beswick declined to say which players were involved.

"Quite a few" Tasmanian residents have also registered to participate in the trial.

Another opportunity for collaboration has arisen with Aurora Energy's broadband over powerline (BPL) trial currently running in the state. Aurora is one of the partners developing TasCOLT, along with the Tasmanian Department of Economic Development.

Internet service provider TasTel -- the retail arm of Aurora's BPL project and a partnership between Aurora, AAPT and renewable energy business Hydro Tasmania -- is providing the retail offering for TasCOLT.

"We're looking to multi-layer our projects with the BPL trial," said Beswick. He also mentioned the potential of interoperating with other government data networks.

Stimulating interest
TasCOLT's activities are attracting the attention of several international telecommunications players.

"We've got quite a bit of interest from overseas, and probably the world's largest carrier paid a visit to us because they were quite interested in what we were doing," said Beswick.

"There is also a Japanese carrier interested in what's going on down here."

"Additionally, we've got a sister project going on in Thailand which is very much the same technology -- called ThaiCOLT."

Beswick said hopefully the trial would encourage other local carriers to follow suit and build fibre-optic networks.

"This is a commercial trial, and we're really trying to prove the commerciality not just to ourselves, but also to other carriers."

"The government, particularly the Tasmanian government, and with increasing interest from the federal government, want to really show that such access technologies are deployable, are commercial, and that therefore carriers should really be making an effort to pursue that route rather than the more conservative approach which seems to be the case in Australia."

The manager said a challenge in front of the Australian telecommunications industry was how it would proceed to higher-speed networks as countries like Japan, Korea and Singapore had already done.

"At the end of the day just how much can you push out a piece of copper?" he said, referring to the current generation of primarily ADSL-based broadband technologies running over Telstra's copper phone lines.

Beswick said Telstra's recently plans to extend its fibre-optic network from its telephone exchanges out to neighbourhood street-side cabinets with the aim of providing higher-speed ADSL2+ access to all "weren't anything new".

"Telstra were always going to have to make some serious decisions about their infrastructure," he said.

"If we push copper we can maybe get ADSL2+ and that's five or six times slower than the basic speed of fibre," he concluded.

"We've fundamentally got to decide if it's time to spend some money and replace our copper."

"I'm hoping that Telstra and maybe a couple of other carriers out there who've talked about this for some time might actually stump up and get a bit serious about this."

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