A series of announcements of late involving the planned implementation of wireless technologies has strengthened the prospect that many of us will be increasingly using hotspots or the mobile networks to access the internet. The question is whether these technologies are robust and cheap enough to serve as primary connections and DSL replacements. Woosh's purchase of the internet provider Quiksilver suggests it doesn't have full confidence in its type of mobile technology and wants to cover its bets in an unbundled world.

On the other side of the equation, some serious money is being put into wideband CDMA's highspeed HSDPA technology by both Vodafone and TelstraClear. Mesh wi-fi infrastructure also appears to be attractive as a cheap networking solution for hard to reach places. Maybe it's the dawn of the golden age of wireless broadband...

Peter Griffin: Fast forward to a wireless future
Friday July 28, 2006

There's a cloud looming on the horizon, an internet cloud that will soon cover large parts of the country and give us access to the internet at high speeds.

It's ironic that just as the Government orders Telecom to open its copper-line network to competitors, wireless and mobile technology are finally becoming cheap and reliable enough to deliver what Telecom was never willing to - high-speed internet.

While Telecom's upgrade of its fixed-line broadband network to ADSL2 means the types of speeds that can offer internet television over your phone line, it seems likely that many will soon be accessing the web wirelessly, using mobile data modems, laptops and mobile phones that connect to mobile and wi-fi networks.

By the end of the year, Vodafone will have upgraded its broadband network, which will allow download speeds of several megabits per second - on a par with some wired broadband connections.

Phones that can access the high-speed service will be on sale by Christmas and new laptops coming on to the market from the likes of Lenovo and Hewlett Packard already have mobile phone receivers built into them so you can connect to the mobile data service anywhere there is 021 network coverage.

The same network technology is what TelstraClear had in mind when last week it committed to spend $50 million on a wireless broadband network in Tauranga. After being thwarted during the resource consent process in its attempts to lay fibre optic cables in Auckland, TelstraClear pursued the idea of building a national 3G network but baulked at the cost, which would be in the hundreds of millions.

The "Unplugged" service will let the 100,000 households in the Tauranga area use their mobile phone as their home phone as well. They get to keep their existing home phone number and will be able to call other people in the district without paying a per-minute rate. The service will also deliver broadband wirelessly.

Why Tauranga? Geographically, it's a good spot for a test network - relatively concentrated, full of people running small businesses away from the big smoke of Auckland, and relatively affluent.

If the technology proves successful, TelstraClear may look at taking Unplugged national, starting with its strongholds of Wellington and Christchurch.

Telecom is on its own upgrade path with the EV-DO wireless broadband service which operates on the 027 mobile network. It's "Revision A" upgrade will boost access speeds significantly in main centres this year.

We'll have to wait and see what the quality of these services is like. How attractive they are relative to fixed-line broadband will largely come down to price.

Still, Vodafone's move to charging $49 a month for a gigabite of mobile data is encouraging. It sees mobile broadband as a real alternative to fixed-line services - a message it has preached for years but hasn't until now had the technology or pricing to back up.

The mobile broadband coming of age coincides with wi-fi's exploding popularity as a large-scale networking technology.

Of the five broadband projects given money by the Government in a funding round announced last week, four of them involved wireless networks.

The Tuhoe Education Authority in the central North Island was given $500,000 to set up an internet provider that will supply wireless internet to schools in the region.

In Te Pahu, 40km out of Hamilton, the Te Pahu Community Network and Waikato 2020 Communications Trust will use the $47,500 given to them to build a radio link to Hamilton and a hub in Te Pahu that will supply wireless broadband to the 1000 residents of the town.

The Wikarekare Trust in West Auckland was granted $5000 to increase capacity on its wireless network while the Waitakere City Council picked up $175,000 to build a wireless mesh network which will cover places such as Bethells Beach, south Titirangi and Laingholm, where DSL reach is patchy or non-existent.

It's likely that wi-fi is likely to feature heavily in the urban proposals as well.

Overseas, the "municipal wi-fi" model is being adopted by forward-thinking local governments who see the value in everyone having access to cheap or free wireless broadband.

Don't go and cancel your DSL subscription just yet, but the way wireless and mobile broadband services are heading, you may be able to within a couple of years.

On the web:


From David:

Hi Peter,I was interested in your article Fast Forward to a Wireless Future as itreflects an article I read about 5 years ago from a Wall St communicationsinvestment advisor who stated that by 2010 the communication system wouldbecome virtually wireless in the USA. I cant remember his nameunfortunately.When you think about it, I wonder what would have happened if Marconi andco. had been 30 years ahead of Bell,instead of the other way around, myguess is that there would have been no cabled telephone system. You couldsay also that cabled systems have delayed communication progress.I understand that Bangladesh, Venezuela and other difficult countries withregard to laying cable are concentrating on wireless systems and in the caseof Bangladesh it will be satellites.I often wonder if we should not have say2 or 3 satellites above NZ so that we can get rid of most of our cables forcommunications at least.Finally you may like to further examine what Boeing are planning for the787. As I understand it, no wiring will go into the seats for the TV etc. Itwill all be done via remote systems installed either in the ceiling or thesides of the cabin or in other words as I understand it, bluetooth.

From Danielle:

Your second to the last paragraph in today’s article indicates that you are aware of these initiatives, and you seem to be better informed than most about what is underway here in New Zealand. Here is a good link describing what is in place in the US:

I provide the attached examples with a query for the various Auckland local government bodies, which is probably unfair to put to you, but where are our plans, announcements and intentions on this matter? Is it because of the patchwork and multiple layers of local government that Auckland cannot justify the costs of installing a municipal network (which could then also provide wireless broadband service to the general population)?

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