RealTime IT News

Bedroom ISP Provides Bush Broadband

Planet Netcom, which began from humble beginnings in the bedroom of a university student, has become a key provider of Internet services in regional New South Wales (NSW). One of the more innovative offerings is wireless broadband. The ISP will extend to Queensland and other centres by the end of the year.

The ISP began in November 1994 when 18 year old Luke Mackinnon decided that Penrith needed an ISP. "We used the Internet to submit assignments," the managing director explains. "But there were no ISPs in the area at the time. The idea was to get a handful of customers and subsidise my net access."

"It was quite funny," Mackinnon recalls. "One of our most popular plans was a pre-paid service of 200 hours for $200. Customers would walk into the backyard and my bedroom, where the set-up was located. They would look at me and question whether the operation would still be going in a months time."

While his parents "were pretty cool with it," he says, "Dad would be mowing the front lawn and someone would rock up and ask how to set-up their email!" To which the bemused father would respond, "how the hell would I know?"

Almost eight years later, Planet Netcom now occupy one and a half floors of an office building in central Penrith following a couple of moves.

Mackinnon spent the first five months of the business setting up the necessary servers and equipment while juggling study. By late 1995, he realised it was getting out of hand, deferred university and moved to bigger premises.

In October 1997, the company reached what they consider to be a significant milestone. Planet Netcom became one of the first ISPs to introduce overseas satellite technology into their network. The acquisition of two ISPs in 1999 and 2000 created additional dial-up points and greater market share.

Perhaps the most interesting innovation, however, is a microwave based broadband Internet service that overcomes the challenges of net access in regional areas.

Radioworx communicates via terrestrial antenna access points using microwave frequency. Areas previously unable to received broadband can now access a network comparable to High-Bit-Rate Digital Subscriber Line (HDSL) technology.

"There is a mixture of aDSL Access Concentrators, 802.11 radios for the wireless POPs (WiPOPs) and LMDS and other radio frequency gear for bearers," says Mackinnon. "We are also doing research and development with some CDMA technologies."

As an alternative to more expensive solutions such as ISDN and Frame Relay links, Radioworx can also function as a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Speeds of up to and including 11Mbps (5500kbps send/5500kbps receive) have been achieved.

WiPOPs are now operational in Glenbrook and Forster, covering large tracts of land. Another point is almost complete in Taree. Combined, network coverage is approximately 2500 square kilometres.

To fulfil carrier licence requirements, Planet Netcom rents equipment to customers. The demarcation is an RJ45 outlet installed at the premises. "We've partnered with Singaporean company, Smart Bridge," says Mackinnon. Customers pay a fee of $499 for the equipment rental.

Typical installation, where equipment is attached to an existing mast, is $100. Installation fee may be higher for some installations, where line of sight requires additional masts or longer cable runs.

Planet Netcom's other key product, Satellite Direct, is used to "fill the gaps in coverage," says Mackinnon. "Some customers don't have line-of-sight. Satellite is a good alternative. It is a simplex service based on PAS8 and the wholesaler isiHug." They will also have a two-way satellite service by the end of the year, based on SingTel Optus' satellites and service.

Within eighteen months, the company plans to rollout another forty-four WiPOPs throughout regional NSW and Queensland, according to Mackinnon.

Not bad for a university student who simply wanted cheap Internet access.

Reprinted from australia.internet.com.