High speed DSL taking off across Tasman

An Australian VDSL network being rolled out in Canberra is experiencing greater-than-expected uptake, says its chief architect.

An Australian VDSL network being rolled out in Canberra is experiencing greater-than-expected uptake, says its chief architect.

Robin Eckermann, chief architect for Canberra-based TransACT, says the VDSL (very high bit rate DSL) service, due to be fully rolled out next year, is being taken up by 4000 new customers a month.

VDSL offers speeds far in excess of other forms of DSL, including ADSL, the technology behind Telecom’s JetStream service.

TransACT is a subsidiary of Actew, Canberra’s power company, and is similar to New Zealand’s UnitedNetworks in that it has used existing power transmission assets to roll out a broadband service.

But while United blew fibre-optic cabling through old gas pipes, TransACT is adding another cable to its parent company’s power lines, which run through suburban Canberra. Other differences are that United has limited its rollout to the Auckland and Wellington CBDs and uses ethernet, not DSL, to achieve speeds of up to 40Gbit/s.

But United and TransACT are also alike because both offer voice, data and video services via the open network model, in which they partner with content providers and take a slice of the revenue without competing with them.

Broader bandwidth is a big advantage over standard DSL. “Our network will be able to do 52Mbit/s,” Eckermann says. Telecom’s ADSL-based JetStream service in comparison promises 2Mbit/s download and 250kbit/s upload speeds.

The only catch is that whereas ADSL can be connected via existing copper wire to a home up to 5km away from the nearest exchange, VDSL’s range is much shorter — the configuration TransACT uses means fibre must end at most 300m from the user’s home. This is achieved by having fibre-to-copper “nodes” either free-standing or located on a power pole within 300m of homes.

VDSL’s high speed allows full digital video and video on demand, the latter of which Eckermann describes as “the holy grail of networking”.

He believes the Canberra model could be successful in other urban areas but says the Australian capital has some unique characteristics that have aided TransACT.

A third of TransACT is owned by Actnew, a government-owned power utility. While $A11 million was pumped into development by Actnew, once the piloting was over private investors came in to take the remaining two-thirds of the company.

Already having the infrastructure of power poles in place and the fact that 75% of Canberra homes have PCs were other pluses, says Eckermann.

TransACT consciously avoided most network providers’ approach and initially targeted the residential rather than the business market. The rollout is projected to be profitable from the time it is finished in 2003, Eckermann says.

Canberra has 100,000 homes capable of getting VDSL over power lines and another 20,000 for which another method must be devised to supply them. The city’s 10,000 small to medium-sized businesses are another target market, he says.

A second Australian power utility, Perth-based Western Power, has also opted for a VDSL rollout, with a pilot involving 200 households due to begin soon.

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