Australian ISPs Warm To Wireless

By Craig Liddell

May 15, 2003

Twelve months after the a survey of ISPs down under indicated little interest in Wi-Fi, deployments are now taking place on many fronts.

A quick straw poll of several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) twelve months ago revealed a general lack of interest in wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) as a commercial product.

The wireless space is now a hive of activity.

Twelve months ago, AAPT subsidiary Connect Internet Solutions were not "playing in the wireless networking space" and had no immediate plans. "The reason for this is that wireless networking invariably requires desktop access," according to the company. "Connect's access to the customer is confined to the outer."

Connect continues to hold that view.

For AOL|7, however, the past twelve months have sparked an interest in Wi-Fi as another delivery platform.

Last year, the company had "no current plans to introduce wireless networking. AOL's priority is meeting the needs of Australian consumers and we will develop new products and services according to consumer demand."

"We see wireless as simply another method of delivering broadband to consumers," Alistair Carwardine, AOL|7 chief technology officer, now says. He notes that the ISP has, "recently launched AOL|7 Broadband as an ADSL service. However, we will certainly consider offering this service over wireless networks in the future, particularly as this technology matures."

AOL|7 would partner with a provider who best suited the needs of both the company and consumers, as they do with all network services. A wireless trial is planned for June.

Carwardine says Wi-Fi is "an exciting opportunity to develop a new distribution mechanism for AOL|7 Broadband that complements our ADSL strategy and offers terrific benefits for the consumer."

The technology is particularly useful in areas where ADSL is not available, he believes. However, wireless requires a critical mass and, in regards to broadband, technology that is currently not widely available.

Australia's second largest ISP, OzEmail, have also developed an interest in wireless over the past twelve months. In June last year, they jumped on board one of more significant wireless broadband trials in Australia.

Commercial products released by the Personal Broadband Australia consortium will be sold under the OzEwireless brand, OzEmail's wireless Internet service.

Vodafone are also a partner in the consortium, which began with $AU 25 million in financial backing. They plan to rollout a commercial product later this year.

Pacific Internet Australia has also progressed their interest in wireless. In particular, their Singapore branch has launched wireless for business, consumer, and hotspot markets.

Iain McKimm, Pacific Internet Australia director of technology and strategy, says local deployments will not be the same density as Singapore.

However, plans are in place for hotspot deployments.

"We will partner with some providers and have some of our own," McKimm says. "Pacific is assessing both current and new players in the market."

Pacific has deployed a trial hotspot that will form the basis of their wireless strategy.

McKimm agrees with AOL|7's Carwardine that wireless is convenient for remote applications and extending the reach of broadband to areas not covered by DSL, particularly in rural point to point or multipoint. Pacific is currently deploying in the Hunter Valley.

However, he points to spectrum congestion and security as two key concerns.

Earlier this year, Primus Telecom also made moves on the wireless front. Their ISP division, iPrimus, launched a wireless broadband service through a series of hotspots in the CBD of Sydney and Melbourne.

"Over coming months, we will be looking at a range of new sites covering major businesses, hotels, restaurants and coffee houses as strategic locations for other partnerships," says Campbell Sallabank, Primus general manager, product development.

Primus Telecom provides the DSL infrastructure, Internet access, hosting and network access while Azure Wireless operates the network management.

"Primus is in a very good position to provide the back-end infrastructure as demand for wireless Internet expands," says Sallabank, "and as customers and venue owners recognise the value of establishing hot spots in landmark locations."

Australia's second largest telco, Optus, is also making moves on wireless. In April, they launched the first of several hotspots at Brisbane airport.

Optus has committed $AU 10 million to deploying 500 new hotspots at locations around Australia over the next twelve to eighteen months. Target areas include airports, cafes, convention centres, and hotel rooms.

Allen Lew, managing director of Optus Mobile, said at the launch that the company is talking to Azure and a whole range of other providers about hotpot roaming arrangements.

One such arrangement already is place exists with Air Portal, giving its customers access to the provider's planned network of hotel-based hotspots.

Never one to miss the new technology bandwagon, the incumbent telco has also dipped their toes into wireless waters. Telstra completed their purchase of wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) operator, SkyNetGlobal, in January this year.

The $3.3 million transaction provides Telstra's customers wireless services at a number of hotspots in such places as Qantas Club lounges, and Rydges Hotels.

Such widespread activity on the wireless front, however, raises concerns about possible spectrum congestion. Roaming arrangements augur well for some order among the chaos.

Recent comments by Optus suggest that some form of cooperation is likely.

"The limited amount of Wi-Fi spectrum is likely to lead to some degree of sharing of Wi-Fi services in high usage areas," says Andrew Smith, Optus acting director of mobile networks. "Roaming is also likely to develop as the Wi-Fi environment grows and commercial agreements are struck between Wi-Fi service providers."

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