Australian modem improves rural lines

An Australian-developed modem designed to overcome the variable quality of rural telephone lines has achieved substantial rates of improvement in transmission speed for internet connection, say its makers.

An Australian-developed modem designed to overcome the variable quality of rural telephone lines has achieved substantial rates of improvement in transmission speed for internet connection, say its makers.

But it still hasn't conquered the common problem of line "noise" created by nearby electric fences.

The Woomera Rural Modem was developed by New South Wales-based modem manufacturer Maestro, in collaboration with Farmwide, a rural information service set up with government money from the partial float of Telstra.

The modem monitors the characteristics of the telephone line - primarily its electrical impedance, which can vary from place to place - and will adjust itself automatically to the best performance.

"It can also monitor and adjust for echo on the line," says Maestro director Dan Darling. "It learns whether these characteristics are always the same, or if they vary, so it can always try for the optimal performance."

Variable impedance results from the length of lines required to reach rural locations.

Trials showed 85% of participants had "an appreciable gain" in the speed and/or reliability of their connection, Darling says. This could range from a slight improvement to in some cases a doubling of practicable speed.

The modem is now on the open market, but exports to New Zealand or other countries are not in the picture yet. "We've been too busy with other projects," says Darling, and it will take some effort to find appropriate agents overseas to deal in such a niche market.

Maestro has tried to attack the electric-fence noise problem, but without success, he says.

"You can't really do anything about it. You could have a 30km to 40km length of line that passes within a metre of electric fences at several points along its length. That's very difficult to handle."

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