Dropping out at the fringe

NBN Co plans to double the number of wireless towers in regional areas and urban fringes after it underestimated the regional demand for high-speed broadband.

But an NBN Co spokesperson said the doubling of towers would not become a substitute for superior fibre optic cable to population centres such as Ballina and Lismore.

Under the Fixed Wireless and Satellite Review released this month, NBN Co plans to increase "the number of fixed-wireless base stations from 1400 to 2700 to serve 85% more premises".

NBN Co will now ensure "80,000 premises located in the urban fringes of cities and other major population centres, such as the Gold Coast hinterland, can receive the fixed-wireless NBN."

The Government says the new changes will save $32 billion and see upgrades delivered "four years sooner" than Labor, with suburbs and towns with the worst broadband service getting priority.

Planning has already been finalised for 33 fixed wireless sites across the Northern Rivers, with construction started on two towers around Casino, one at Hayters Hill near Bangalow, and one at Woodburn, Dalwood, and Meerschaum Vale.

Residents in these areas can expect NBN internet within 12 months.

But the new plan may have overturned Labor's original promise to deliver a fixed line service to towns of more than 1000 people.

Some residents of villages and rural residential areas are pushing for fixed line services instead of towers; in some areas to take advantage of the existing fibre networks already in the ground.

Spokesman for the North Coast Tower Action Group and IT expert Dane Webb, has labelled fixed wireless towers as "a very expensive solution to deliver substandard quality broadband."

Mr Webb said in addition to cost, their signal was badly affected by rain, trees, and uneven topography - all common elements on the Northern Rivers.

He predicted only 50% of residents near a controversial tower planned for Rosebank would get an adequate service.

"It just isn't a good internet solution. That's not to say there's not a few people who are close to the antenna won't have good internet," Mr Webb said.

NBN Co plans to give those who can't get a signal a satellite service - which Mr Webb labelled "the most expensive solution known"

"It's heavily, heavily subsidised," he said. "You're dealing with space, beaming down signals to base stations, launching satellites."

"It becomes very expensive to connect all the little towns when something much better is already sitting in the ground."


Future work: Who will get what when?

Fixed wireless towers: Microwave towers using wireless technology similar to 4G mobile phones but less sophisticated.

Speed: Maximum of 25 mbps.

Where: Planning finalised for 33 across the Northern Rivers.

Under construction: Casino (2), Woodburn, Meerschaum Vale, Dalwood, Hayters Hill, Woombah, Maclean.

Tower rollout completion date: End of 2015


Fixed line: Fibre-to-the-node (FTTN).Speed: Up to 100 mbps.

Where: Urban areas including Lismore, Ballina, Lennox Head, Byron Bay, Ocean Shores, and "greenfield sites" in new estates.

Rollout schedule: Unknown. Possibly not until 2020.

Topics:  broadband nbn towers towers

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