Australian government looks at wireless for last mile

Australia’s Minister for Communications has ordered an investigation into the merits of wireless LANs as a possible solution to the ‘last mile’ problem.

A spokesperson for Senator Richard Alston has confirmed the department is preparing a report into the potential of the international IEEE 802.11 wireless standard. The report will investigate the usefulness of the technology for regional and rural areas throughout Australia as well as SMEs and home users.

“It is an ongoing report…. it may be a useful method for certain communities.”

However, telecommunications analyst Paul Budde is critical of the investigation.

“What the Minister is now proposing is to broaden the market and start using 802.11 for much larger deployment, for example, as an alternative to Telstra’s broadband network,” said Budde. “While I would hope that opportunities do exist for 802.11 broadband services, they have not surfaced as yet anywhere around the globe.”

Budde’s assessment of the technology is that it is great for its niche market of business travellers but “absolutely unsuited” to large-scale and high-density services.

“All wireless broadband technologies together, including satellite, will never capture more than 20 per cent, perhaps 30 per cent, of the total market,” Budde said.

Budde said Alston should concentrate on increasing the viability of the existing fixed network “that will deliver 80 per cent of all national broadband connectivity by 2010”.

“The Minister should concentrate his efforts on this 80 per cent, not on the 20 per cent. Announcing the 802.11 inquiry is nothing more than a smoke screen to divert attention from Telstra and its broadband network,” he said.

Budde said the Minister should address the main broadband issues, including digital TV and datacasting before giving consideration to the more “exotic” possibilities of 802.11.