Working in the community

If unbundling's not about to happen -- and let's face it, that horse is dead -- what are the alternatives?

If unbundling's not about to happen -- and let's face it, that horse is dead -- what are the alternatives?

The obvious alternative to using Telecom's network is, of course, to use someone else's. Assuming you're willing and able to make that step, a number of alternatives are on the horizon. Wireless is the flavour of the day, and then there's fixed, portable and mobile. If you're really lucky, there's always fibre, although the chances of bringing that to a home near you any time soon appear practically nonexistent.

One of the more interesting discussions that emerged following the decision not to unbundle centred around community-based access. This is basically what started off the company we now know as CityLink in Wellington. The city council recognised the need for a very fast data network across the city centre and went out and built it. Nice. But that's not for everyone, and by everyone I mean anyone else. The various Auckland city councils seem hell-bent on building new motorways and refusing any submission to put up overhead fibre cables, so their citizens are not going to get access that way. Instead, wireless could provide the answer. Several companies are already building business cases around the idea. Why the councils don't get involved as well is beyond me, and perhaps they will, as they are in South Waikato. But if your local council won't do it, and no company is offering service in your area, why not start one up yourself? How many neighbours in your area want fast access? How much are they willing to pay? The New Zealand Network Operators Group newsgroup discussed this at some length -- costs versus income. Problems exist but they're not insurmountable, so if you're keen why not give it a go?

Of course, wireless will only get you so far. Don't be fooled by Telecom's seemingly endless praise for Woosh Wireless -- Telecom knows that Woosh will be busy spending millions building its network and won't challenge its dominance in the local loop for some time yet. In fact, I doubt it ever will, as the technology probably won't be able to cope with the likely demand.

Regional developments are also far more easily targeted one by one than through a national network, and since only BCL has one of those, that's not a problem. The solution is, of course, to make use of that network and become BCL's biggest customer, which is something Telecom's already doing. Talk about a position of power.

Intel, by the way, is in town this week talking up Wi-Max, the new name for the 802.16 wireless standard. With greater levels of security and a higher quality of service standard, and not forgetting a much greater range, Intel hopes Wi-Max will be used as a kind of wireless backhaul connecting Wi-Fi hotspots and WLANs together. It's a cool idea and if this technology doesn't cut it there will be another along shortly, I'm sure. Slapping Wi-Max transmitters on existing cellular towers could give us a national network of immense capacity. Forget 3G or even Woosh with its kilobits of speed -- this would allow for megabits, real broadband capacity.

Brislen is Computerworld Online'sreporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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