Australia Readies Gov’t-Backed Broadband

Alvarion is happy to report today that the Australian government is pushing WiMax as a tech for its Federal Government Broadband Connect project. The initiative aims to provide broadband service to everyone in the country, even in rural areas. OPEL Networks, a joint venture of Optus and Elders (a rural service provider), will be running the project.

Israel-based Alvarion is happy with the news because it is likely to be the equipment provider for the project; it was involved in 18 months of evaluation with OPEL, in trials used to win the bid.

The network is called Australia Connected, and is expected to cost AU$1.9 billion (US$1.6 billion), with the government splitting the cost with OPEL almost 50/50 (the government will pay $958 million). Eventually, the network will stretch across 638,000 square kilometers (246,333 square miles), over all of Australia’s territories, consisting of 1,300 WiMax sites, each covering 20 km, in addition to a lot of ADSL2+ installations. That includes 15,000 km (9,320 miles) of fiber-optic backhaul. OPEL is promising speeds around 6 Megabits per second to users, to be upgraded to 12 Mbps by 2009. Optus and Elders will separately sell the broadband service at retail.

The decision was not met with happiness by Telstra, Australia’s biggest telco. It called WiMax a “technology orphan” in a letter to federal MPs. Telstra’s network is already being rolled out, using High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) technology; but the government’s decision means it lost the AU$958 million in subsidies. The decision has incited quite a bit of political fighting, but deployment will likely start before federal elections in October or November, according to

The government wants the network built by the middle of 2009.

A recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said that the U.S. and Australia both lagged behind many countries in providing broadband; that data has been called into question by an Australian company, Market Clarity. The U.S. State Department also didn’t like the report, saying it failed to take municipal wireless networks into consideration, according to

Over in New Zealand, the city of Auckland recently issued a request for information to providers; it wants to have (but not own) a downtown Wi-Fi network in the next three years, with the potential to take it citywide.

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