RealTime IT News

PROBE Extends NZ Wireless Broadband

In the past six months, New Zealand (NZ) based wireless developer, Walker Wireless, has secured three tenders as part of a nationwide rollout of wireless broadband.

The company was selected to provide wireless technology in Wairarapa, Northland, and Southland. Walker's solution is based on technology from IPWireless with marketing and technical support from Vodafone.

In the latest tender for Wairarapa, Walker beat UCC Technologies and a consortium of Telecom and Broadcast Communications (BCL), the transmission arm of TVNZ. In February, the two companies joined forces to begin a nationwide rollout of a full service carrier class wireless system.

Those developments take place alongside a project to rollout high speed Internet access to all schools and provincial communities. Project PROBE was jointly developed by the NZ Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Economic Development.

The two government bodies will choose technology suppliers for eleven regions through a tender process. Decisions are expected mid-year.

Southland, Wairarapa and Northland are running their own tender process. However, Walker Wireless can access funds from the PROBE project. The Southland project has already received $NZ 2 ($AU 1.8) million.

PROBE's overall philosophy is reflected in the Wairarapa Smart Region, which began in July 2001 to develop broadband services for the region.

Following an exhaustive four month process, Wairarapa selected three potential providers. These include UCC Technologies, the Telecom / BCL consortium, and Walker Wireless, who was appointed as preferred supplier in March this year.

Geoff Copps, project director for the local economic development agency, Go Wairarapa, says, "the end goal is to have schools, hospitals, businesses, farms and homes enjoying practical benefits from the technology."

Copps says there were several key principles that formed the basis of the tender process.

"The basic principle was that an equal price should be charged for an equal service, regardless of location," he explains. "There needed to be a commitment to reach the 'whole of community'. Further, pricing had to be comparable to similar services.

Following the deployment, he says, "the Wairarapa/Tararua region will have an affordable, world-class telecommunications service."

Greater competition will remove a barrier to economic growth and free up money for the region's economy. Copps believes the rollout will also make the region a more attractive investment proposition and situate Wairarapa firmly within the global economy.

For the rollout, Walker Wireless will draw upon a trial conducted last year.

Operating under the trial name of ULTAMO, Walker and Vodafone spent $NZ 6 million

($AU 5.4) million to test their solution before a commercial rollout.

Running from September to December, the trial operated in the central business district of Auckland and over four hundred local homes and businesses participated.

A Vodafone New Zealand spokesperson says, "one of the many reasons for us entering the trial was to consider different technologies and how they would benefit our customers. This trial allowed us to clearly define, and gain greater clarity, on the kinds of technology offering we want to provide our customers."

The telco, who contributed $NZ 3 million to the trial, are negotiating an ongoing relationship that may see Vodafone becoming Walker's sales and distribution partner.

Based on IPWireless technology, the ULTAMO trial consisted of four cell sites.

Lindsay Cowley, Walker Wireless manager of regional development, says each "base station has a foot print of eight kilometres in radius."

By contrast to RoamAD, another broadband wireless company operating in the area, Cowley says, "Walker uses licensed spectrum. This ensures quality of service, and better network management. RoamAD has taken local area network (LAN) technology, based on 2.4 Mhz unlicensed spectrum, to an external environment."

Walker has a national UMTS spectrum licence. The network operates in the 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz licensed bands.

Trial participants were given a self-installation package that included IPWireless broadband modems, installation guides, and CD-ROMs with the modem software. Connection to the Internet was made via a USB connection on a laptop or PC.

Walker uses wideband CDMA (W-CDMA), a technology adopted by many Asian mobile companies for third-generation (3G) services. Locally, Hutchison's new '3' service is based on the platform.

By contrast, Telstra operates a 2.5G CDMA 2000 1xRTT network. New Zealand's incumbent, Telecom, uses the same type of network for their JetStream ADSL product.

1XRTT networks have been deployed in several countries including the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Data speeds of up to 144kpbs can be reached.

Wideband CDMA operates at a premium in countries where the installed GSM base is the prevailing technology.

Cowley says, "the purpose of the deployment was to see how the technology works in the environment. An external environment does present some normal geographic obstacles such as hills. But that is an issue for any wireless service. The terrain also limits the number of cell sites."

Information gathered during the trial will add to the company's existing cellular knowledge for future deployments. The trial provided valuable information on signal propagation, the behaviour of wireless networks in an urban environment, and consumer expectations.

Cowley says wireless broadband ties together two emerging trends. "The desire for high-speed, always-on Internet access. Secondly, a desire for mobility, witnessed by the explosion in mobile phones."

"IPWireless technology delivers those trends today," he says.

IPWireless mobile broadband technology is a packet data implementation of the international 3GPP Universal Mobile Telecommunication System (UMTS) standard.

Similar to i-BURST that is currently on trialin Sydney, the solution uses time-division-duplex (TDD), operating on unpaired spectrum.

The hive of activity in the wireless space augurs well for universal net access across across the Tasman.

PROBE, which began in May 2002, has a budget of $NZ 30 ($AU 26.9) million to promote broadband competition. The central aim is high-speed Internet access for all New Zealand schools by the end of 2004.

Project director Tony van Horik says a large number of quality responses have been received.

"The response has been very encouraging," he says, "and demonstrates strong competition in the sector. We have carefully evaluated all the responses received and as a result will invite 18 potential suppliers to participate in our Request for Proposal (RFP)."

Pilot projects have demonstrated the success of two-way video over high speed Internet for remote education. Broadband access will also enable schools to access digital teaching resources, online communication, and professional development.

Perhaps the most interesting response to Project PROBE has come from the incumbent telco.

The Ministry of Education says that, "in the past 12 months, Telecom has moved from a position of requiring community underwriting to extend ADSL into areas it perceived as being marginal from a commercial perspective, to announcing its intention to upgrade most exchanges to be ADSL capable."

"One of the expectations of PROBE was that it would stimulate competition in the delivery of high speed telecommunications outside the main metropolitan areas. It is clear that, despite PROBE being only in its early stages, this is already happening."

High-speed wireless broadband to schools also provides a focal point for broader rollout in the local community. Rollout in Wairarapa will begin in the second half of this year. All schools and their surrounding communities will be reached by the end of 2004.

For Walker Wireless, the three contracts awarded in conjunction with PROBE are merely part of their business model. They intend to rollout wireless throughout the country in the next twelve months.

Reprinted from australia.internet.com.