Australian ISPs denounce competitor

SYDNEY – Australian regional ISPs have dubbed OPEL’s planned WiMax network a token gesture and said local operators should have been awarded the government funds to extend existing networks.

ISPs across the country told Computerworld government subsidies under the Broadband Connect program awarded to OPEL to build a national broadband network will be wasted because deployments in remote areas will fail.

Michael Feldbauer, director of Northern Territory-based ISP Arafura Connect, which offers fixed and wireless broadband, said the OPEL network will be a feeble overbuild of existing infrastructure.

“The previous government should have consulted local ISPs or conglomerates that are operating in regional areas and should have allocated HiBis (Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme) funds to them to bolster their already working and profitable services,” Feldbauer said.

“They have planned bugger-all infrastructure with a few repeaters here and there and it isn’t going to work – the network will be rolled out arbitrarily and its going to be next to useless.

“They are going to make a bucket-load of money across metro areas and just dump a network up here, and it won’t matter if it makes money.”

OPEL bought Austar’s 2.3GHz and 3.5GHz spectrum licenses earlier this month for A$65 million (US$58 million) which would allow it to build a stronger national WiMAX network than previously planned in an unlicensed spectrum.

Feldbauer, who has discussed the local OPEL infrastructure plans with other ISPs and local government, said the dense and inconsistent terrain will reduce network coverage well below that available through current infrastructure.

He said the current OPEL infrastructure plans for his region has allocated about 50 access points for more than 500 subscribers which he said “doesn’t add up”.

Stephen Fitzgerald, network administrator for Twinnet which sells fixed and wireless services in South Australia’s York Peninsula, said the network will be an overbuild of existing services in his region. “There won’t be any customers left to take up the network by the time it gets here, which will probably be 12 months after it builds-in east-coast metro areas,” Fitzgerald said.

“They are doubling up on the infrastructure that has already been paid for under previous government funding. “Their claims that the network will go 30 kilometers is basically bullshit because they haven’t taken into account local terrain like hills and trees.”

The most Twinnet can push wireless is 10 kilometers, according to Fitzgerald which requires “almost prefect” line of sight. He said pricing could not be guaranteed because only the core infrastructure is subsidized and customers and wholesalers will need to pay for equipment to access the network.

Fitzgerald agreed with Feldbauer that local ISPs could advise the best regional broadband solution because they must understand their regions socio, economic and geographic nuances to be successful.

A technical support manager for a Perth-based fixed and wireless ISP said the network is a “billion-dollar botch” and echoed sentiments that funds should go to successful local operators to improve regional services. “After all this, the bush will still use satellite and are expected to be happy with a dribble from government funds,” she said.

Highlands Internet ADSL manager Alex Fabris said the OPEL network will give the NSW Southern Highlands faster wireless and fixed broadband services. “It will probably allow the ISPs to offer faster ADSL2+ [through the OPEL wholesale network] and would strengthen the wireless broadband across the region,” Fabris said. First generation ADSL and a 1.5Mbps wireless connection is the fastest broadband on offer around the Mittagong and Bowral region.

“We need better network speeds and upgrades to DSLAMs, but it is more important to roll broadband into areas that don’t have it at all,” Fabris said.

Respondents said that terrain would still cause connectivity problems despite that OPEL’s newly acquired 2.3Ghz and 3.5Ghz spectrum is suitable for WiMax.

Ovum analyst Nathan Burley said the OPEL network could tighten competition between ISPs and introduce better broadband infrastructure into local regions.

But he said a more burning issue is whether the A$65 million spectrum splurge will increase projected costs and push back deployment deadlines. “All eyes are on Communications Minister Stephen Conroy because very little has been said about costing and deadlines,” Burley said.

Market Clairty CEO Shara Evans said the network will give local ISPs greater coverage for a cheaper price by offering a national wholesale service from a single provider. “It will give ISPs new broadband services and allow them to expand into new regions by bringing a large network under one contract instead of 20,” Evans said.

She said ISPs will feel the heat when OPEL enters already saturated, while an overlap of services will improve infrastructure.

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