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NBN ‘alternative’

Wednesday, 7th December, 2011

By Erica Visser

A NSW town has claimed to have found a cost-effective alternative to the National Broadband Network (NBN).

But according to the Managing Director of NextGen Networks, Phil Sykes, it is not that simple.

NextGen Networks is laying the fibre-optic cable that will eventually connect Broken Hill to the NBN.

The town of Gunnedah, 440km from Sydney with a population of 12,000, has used a similar 30-year-old cable to become what Mayor Adam Marshall describes as Australia’s “first Wi-Fi town”.

According to him, it is possible for Broken Hill to follow in Gunnedah’s footsteps.

“Essentially what we’ve done is council has worked with a private company to deliver a broadband service which covers all of Gunnedah. It takes the current fibre optic cable right through this whole region,” Mr Marshall said.

“It does what the NBN proposes to do, but for free and we’ve got it now instead of in six years.”

Mr Marshall said that the system was not as good as a direct fibre optic cable to your doorstep but that was never an option for country towns anyway.

“The NBN will only go to a 60km speed zone away from the town and from then on they’d rely on a company to deliver the service to people’s homes,” he said.

“Not one single home in our shire would be directly connected.”

Mr Marshall said that since bringing in the wi-fi service, internet speeds had improved.

“We were able to get two to seven megabytes per second but now we’re getting 50 to 60 per second,” he said.

“In addition we’ve also got free wi-fi service right throughout Gunnedah so you can tap into wi-fi access anywhere in the CBD.”

Mr Marshall said that the service came about after the town was approached by private company TUPS which offered to connect and manage the service.

Managing Director of TUPS, Geoff Peach, said it provided the same service as the NBN would in areas that cannot have the network delivered individually to their homes.

“It’s a high-speed town broadband network which also provides interconnectivity. The internet is accessed over optical fibre and you go straight back to Sydney on the connection.

“Gunnedah is the first town that is available as a packaged solution and we’re providing high-speed connectivity to residents who have no or very limited connection.”

Mr Peach said that the service was designed to reach those spots that NBN could not, such as station properties and outlying towns.

“A town near Gunnedah with a population of 300, they have access to this and they wouldn’t have got the NBN,” he said.

“It was never designed for large cities, it was always meant for communities that weren’t going to get high-speed internet.”

But Mr Sykes described the service as “a far cry for what is needed for serious internet access”.

While Mr Peach said that more “repeaters” would be placed in Gunnedah to maintain the speed of the service once more users connected, Mr Sykes said that a large number of users would still slow down the service.

“It is a first step to bringing more uniform broadband particularly for people on the move within a regional town, but for the home user it isn’t effective,” he said.

“It’s unfair to say the NBN won’t deliver because it will deliver.

“What’s happening in Broken Hill right now is there are a number of service providers who will compete to provide a significant capacity broadband much higher than what wi-fi could.”

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