Australia will have both national broadband networks proposed by the Labour and Liberal parties if the federal Opposition wins the next election.
Speaking at an Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) conference in Sydney last week, shadow minister for communications and IT Stephen Conroy said the opposition government will jointly build and integrate the OPEL rural WiMax with its own national fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network.
The federal government-backed wireless network, designed by the Optus-Elders consortium, was officially approved this week by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) for construction across regional Australia by June 2009.
The network will operate on a shared spectrum, and will employ a mix of technology, including ADSL2+, WiMax, and wireless mesh networks in densely populated areas.
Conroy said a Labour government will “welcome any commercial interest” in linking the OPEL network with its proposed national FttN network, confirming the opposition’s promise to honour the contract if it is signed before the election.
“The good news about the OPEL network — and there’s not much for regional and rural Australians — depends on building a fair amount of fibre backhaul for the country’s growing outback,” Conroy said.
“How others choose to proceed if we get elected will be a commercial decision for OPEL. We will be building a national FttN network [and] it would be a good thing if we can link it in with the backhaul availability, but that will be subject to commercial negotiations that [OPEL] may or may not want to be involved in.
“We welcome any interest to be part of the network, but that’s a question for Singtel (Optus),” he said.
The news comes on the back of another scathing attack on the OPEL network by Conroy, who has questioned its ability to provide high-speed bandwidth because it will operate in a shared spectrum.
“Wireless technologies are a complement to fibre networks [because] they will be only double the [average] broadband speed.
“This brings in to question the ability of the network to meet the bandwidth demands of today, let alone the future,” he said.
However, the network could be used to cover the 2% of regional Australia excluded by Labor’s FttN network, which would deploy fixed line, wireless and satellite broadband technologies to remote areas.
The Opposition’s FttN network is based on Telstra’s 2005 proposal which has been fully estimated at A$8 billion (NZ$9.4 billion) of government and private funds and will be rolled out over five years.
Conroy said a Fibre-to-the-Home (FttH) network would be not be immediately considered as projected costs range between A$30 and A$50 billion.
The opposition will demand open access for all sections of a FttH network, including the last mile which links the premise to the node controlled by Telstra.