User benefits seen in Counties network

One local IT executive can see benefits from Counties Power plans to build a new broadband network -- plans which will proceed regardless of whether the company wins the tender for the government's Probe project.

One local IT executive can see benefits from Counties Power plans to build a new broadband network -- plans which will proceed regardless of whether the company wins the tender for the government's Probe project.

Phil Brimacombe, CIO of the Counties Manukau and Waitemata district health boards, says hospitals and other health board facilities would benefit significantly from such a network.

"I see great benefits. Already we have a number of GPs able to connect to the Middlemore Hospital system so they can view the status of patients they've referred there and check lab test results.

"GPs, being very busy, want high-speed access. They can't wait for a computer to respond."

Another area where high-speed wireless would be useful is when health workers visit patients at home or local clinics, Brimacombe says. "Ideally, the visitor would have a Palm, PDA or other wireless device with a browser and connect to the base hospital, look up their diary and look up the patients' records.

"If a complication arises during the home visit, they'd be able to key that information into the device and update the records."

Counties Power says it will implement its wireless-fibre network regardless of whether it is chosen as the Auckland region's provider for Probe.

Chief executive Neil Simmonds says the Pukekohe-based power distributor has put in a bid for the region, but if the contract goes to someone else, "we're going to do it [roll out the network] anyway".

Under the Probe project, announced in the budget, tenders have been accepted for provision of broadband services to schools and communities in 14 different regions including Auckland, which encompasses rural areas surrounding the city.

Counties Power plans to begin the rollout in January and speeds of 128kbit/s to 100Mbit/s will be available, with the potential for faster access in the future.

Asking when the network will be finished, Simmonds says, is "like asking when a website will be finished -- we'll keep working to improve the network".

Approximately $20 million will be spent on the first stage of the rollout, he says.

For that stage, which will make broadband available to most Franklin district homes and businesses, it is envisaged that 80% of service offered will be wireless and 20% fibre cable-based, with the ratio shifting as the network is developed further.

Simmonds envisages homes and businesses that initially get wireless access switching to fibre as it becomes available. "More services will be available over fibre."

The fibre has been purchased, but a final decision is yet to be made on the provider of the land-based equipment the fibre network will run on.

The wireless provider is also to be decided, but a decision on both should be made "within a month".

Counties Power bought spectrum in the 3.5GHz frequency at a government auction earlier this year. Simmonds says it is still deciding what wireless technology to put to use in the space it bought.

"There are several competing technologies that can operate in that space -- there are CDMA vs OFDM-type decisions to be made."

Counties Power will be a network provider only, leaving content up to the ISPs and telcos it plans to lease capacity to.

Being a wholesaler has worked for the company in the electricity industry, "and will enable us to stick at what we're good at -- ie running a local network".

"There's no reason to believe we'd be an excellent ISP or telco -- those are foreign markets and we'll keep out of them."

By sticking to wholesaling, "we're not competing with telcos or ISPs and they probably won't perceive us as a threat".

The network will be marketed under the brand Wired Country.

Local farmer Wendy Clark says she can see the benefits to the rural Franklin community of such a network, "but we want to ensure that farmers across whose land the infrastructure passes aren't disadvantaged".

A Counties Power spokesperson says with the rollout to rural areas planned to be wireless, that shouldn't be an issue.

"We don't anticipate any issues re easements. We'll only be connecting radio base stations."

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