AUCKLAND (10/10/2003) - The symbolic launch takes place today of the first regional broadband network subsidized by the government.
Prime minister Helen Clark will officiate in Tuatapere, the Southland town whose school is the first in the country to get broadband through the Project Probe initiative. However, while the launch is today, Tuatapere Community College has been using the Woosh Wireless-supplied service for a couple of months already.
"They're just so quick," says principal Kay Bannister-Rye, of the speed at which staff and students are now able to view Web pages. "The kids just say it's faster." The school has had better-than-dial-up access before Woosh. In 2001, BCL and Vodafone teamed up in a much-vaunted trial to deliver ISDN-class service to the school. However, it didn't last.
Bannister-Rye says the Woosh service provides sufficient bandwidth for the school's 40 or so PCs to access the Web simultaneously. A switched fiber-optic network installed with the BCL-Vodafone service distributes connections around the school.
Steve Canny, of Venture Southland -- which is managing the Probe contract -- says the Tuatapere site is one of 22 planned by Woosh for the province.
"They will provide coverage for up to 95 percent of the population and 99 percent of commercial users in Southland," Canny says. As well as Internet access, Woosh intends providing voice services, which Canny says will mean toll-free dialling.
According to Canny, the network will represent a boost to the Southland economy of NZ$35 million (US$21 million) a year, creating 500 jobs.
Canny says Tuatapere's earlier broadband experience was a "good solution for the time", but wasn't maintained. It consisted of a BCL wireless link to the school (at that time called Waiau College) from a Vodafone cell site about 12 kilometers from town.
The Woosh service is using the same cell site. However, there are plans to move the transmission equipment further up the hill on which the existing site is located, to gain better coverage.
Woosh regional development manager Lindsay Cowley says the company is still to sign a contract with Venture Southland. Once it does, in a matter of weeks, it will begin extending the network. Aside from the Tuatapere site, Woosh is building another in Invercargill, as a "goodwill gesture."
More than a dozen triallists have been connected to the Tuatapere node. Among them is timber miller Lindsay & Dixon, whose computer manager, Sharon Buchanan, says the company has been getting the benefit of faster Internet access.
Education minister Trevor Mallard, who is in charge of Project Probe, said in a statement to Computerworld Online earlier this week that signing of the regional broadband contracts has fallen behind schedule. While it's still several weeks before the next successful bidders will be named, Mallard says that won't delay network deployment.
According to the government's Project Probe Web site, the tendering process should have been completed and contracts signed off by the end of August. Rollout to the "majority of schools and communities" should be completed by November this year with the rest of the network finished by November next year.
Successful bidders have been named in six regions -- Woosh and Vodafone have won Northland, Southland and the Wairarapa and Telecom with BCL have won Waikato, Wellington and Taranaki.