There is currently an argument raging between Australia’s two main political parties on the need to provide a national broadband service to all regions of Australia and what should be its form and specification. The Labour government favours a comprehensive fibre-optic network while the Liberal opposition favours a wireless network. My own view is that neither proposition is optimal.
Let us look at the fibre-optic solution first. Australia is a huge country by any standards and if, as I am proposing in this blog, we are going to distribute population more evenly than is currently the case, then we will be investing huge amounts of money just on the inter-settlement network before even a single household or business has been connected. As these services will, in the main, be offered by commercial organisations, there will be pressure to defer connections to distant settlements.
The wireless option sounds like a plausible alternative, but if we are going to have businesses distributing their operations to distant settlements, as I have suggested, the reliability of the system will probably not be acceptable to them. The reason is that wireless broadband uses the mobile telephone network. That is, every computer connected by wireless is allocated an underlying telephone number. Advocates of the wireless solution mostly live in and work in large-scale urban areas and their experience of wireless connectivity is gained through using their laptops when away on business in another city, where there are many service towers to deal efficiently with wireless signals. This does not apply in rural areas or around small settlements, where a connection slows down or fails completely simply because the limited number of towers cannot cope with the number of mobile calls and the sophisticated packet checking required by internet connections.
I myself live in a semi-rural area where I do not have a landline and all of my connections (2 mobiles, 1 home telephone and an internet connection) are all wireless. My broadband connection is nominally 7.2 Mb, but the reported speed in practice never exceeds 80Kb, little more than the dial-up connection I had 20 years ago.
As I described earlier, my model for rural communities is a circle of satellite settlements connected to a hub settlement by fast trains and various services, which will also include a fibre-optic network. The hubs are connected to each other and to major cities by satellite-based wireless connections, which are fundamentally different and more powerful than the tower-to-tower mobile networks. The advantage of this configuration is that development of the system can be conducted in a more progressive way, with communities being connected as required, with a relatively constant cost per nest of settlements.