Spotlight: Aussies Look To Wireless Broadband

By | August 30, 2004 | Feature

Australian giant Telstra [TLS], like other phone companies around the world, is struggling with declining payphone revenues due to increased use of cellphones. As such, it is running a trial involving some 15 payphones that have been converted into Wi-Fi hotspots. If the month-long trial works, the company plans to convert anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 more payphones into hotspots later this year and into next year to take a small piece of the 33,000 payphone market that Telstra operates in the country today.

Until now, Telstra’s hotspot presence has been minor, with just 116 hotspots in operation, mainly in Quantas airport terminals and in business hotels, along with those the carrier is installing in Australian McDonalds [MCD] fast food restaurants. The Wi-Fi strategy is just part of a plan to offer nationwide wireless data connectivity – at least in major metropolitan areas – with Wi-Fi being the high-speed broadband component of the plan. The rest of the plan will rely on Telstra’s own CDMA mobile network coupled with a $408 million deal it signed to use the Hutchison Telecommunications [HTMMF] 3G wireless network, according to our sister publication Broadband Networking News.

Meanwhile, Telstra’s fierce rival, Optus, earlier this month began offering government-subsidized satellite broadband to Australians who live in the outback. Optus is calling the service “affordable broadband to people in the bush.”

The Australian government budgeted $78 million for what it calls the Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme (HiBIS). The cash pays for both DSL upgrades and satellite broadband for rural Australians who can’t otherwise get economically priced broadband. Telstra has just begun providing DSL under the HeBIS plan and last month announced it was ready to wire 99 towns serving 106,000 customers. Another 150 Australian towns are close to the needed number of subscribers required for Telstra to offer DSL through a HiBIS subsidy, Telstra says.

Under the Optus scheme, users pay $72 to install a satellite dish that would normally cost $3,109 without the subsidy. Monthly rates then start at $53 for 256 Kb/s service offering 500 Mb per month of downloads; 512 Kb/s service with 1 Gb of downloads is $72, and 512 Kb/s with 3 Gb is $199.

Telstra Media Relations, 011 61 3 9634 5611; Luisa Ford, Optus, 011 61 2 9342 5045

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