Apr 032008

It’s undoubted logic that Labor would always have preferred, nay, pre-determined to follow it’s own path on the information superhighway.

This path was confirmed yesterday with Stephen Conroy’s announcement of the Conroy call costs Labor politically | The Australian“>termination of OPEL’s contract to provide internet connectivity to remote & regional Australia. It’s difficult to understand, however, where the political difficulty comes into play, as proposed by Jennifer Hewett of the Oz. Look at the issue from purely political terms. Why would a Labor government want to adopt or even grudgingly accede to any arrangement put into place by it’s political foes? Where’s the political sense in that? Additionally, as many an industry pundit has already postulated, wireless connectivity was always doubtful on the terms of the OPEL contract. Hardwired, or hard-‘fibred’ in this case – infrastructure is always the preferred path. Tangible, repairable and above all else, more efficient, fibre optic to-the-node is always to be preferred over wireless, regardless of the power of the transmission signal.
The Labor plan provides more avenues for smaller providers to make supply niches for themselves in their local areas. The OPEL submission was never intended to be that flexible, with the joint venture retaining control all along the way. Additionally, it’s still an unknown as to just how wireless would be propagated in order to meet the desired 90% coverage, which has been the convenient ‘out’ for Conroy’s department. I know of a small provider in Stanthorpe which has been pushing for and experimenting with wireless broadband transmission services for more than two years now. Just over two years, and still their principle service area remains well within a 20 kilometre radius of Stanthorpe, despite astute repeater positioning. Even within that core area, pockets of null signal still eventuate.
Personally, I believe that even optic fibre-to-the-node won’t be the cat’s pyjamas, especially in remote and regional Australia. It’s a hell of a long way between nodes in a lot of places. Wireless will still have a place in the grand scheme, as will satellite and common old copper wire ADSL2. Australia’s copper wire infrastructure is old and far too much like topsy, having been built onto and renovated over many decades. The addition of fibre optics from secondary backbones to regional hubs, thence to neighbourhood nodes is only likely to add another layer of complexity to an already complex system. Will it be faster? Probably. Depending on where you are, how far from the hub your nearest node is, what connection the hub has to the backbone and the condition of your copper wire phone line from the node to your router. I’m willing to bet that Telstra – the ongoing owner of the copper wire network – still won’t guarantee speeds in excess of 2400 baud.
Fibre to the node technology may be more expensive than wireless right now, but over time, will be the far better, and more economic model. Better for business, better for the provider industry and better in the main for the consumer. Australia is such a vast and vacant country that no such technology can hope to be all things to all people, but at least by laying out an infrastructure solution, the basis for further improvement in the future will be there. As for the political cost Jennifer Hewett thinks will arise? In many ways, damned if they do and damned if they don’t on the OPEL contract. Common sense says do your own thing in politics. Why give your foe any opportunity to crow? Pride goeth before a fall, perhaps? In the grand scheme, is it really going to matter? Australia gets a better communications system. It’ll cost more and take a little longer but we all recognise that one gets what one pays for. Better to pay the locals and have comeback, rather than pay a joint venture contractor and have to chase them after the fact.

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