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WiFi -- Telecom's Nemesis? 19 June 2002 Edition
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Wireless broadband (sometimes called WiFi) seems to be all the rage right now -- mainly thanks to the arrival of relatively low-cost hardware and, in some cases, a growing dissatisfaction with DSL performance and coverage.

A story published in yesterday's NZ Herald outlines the plans of a joint venture between the South Waikato District Council and Rural Networks that plans to use wireless broadband to provide high-speed Internet and VOIP (voice over IP) to almost 25,000 people.

Sounds pretty good -- and I was wondering how long it would take before enterprising Kiwis twigged to the fact that this technology is just as capable of carrying voice as it is data.

Will this technology finally provide a very real alternative to Telecom's copper when it comes to delivering telecommunications services to the average Kiwi?

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Well it sure has lots of potential in some cases but I doubt we'll see every home fitted with WiFi capabilities.

And I'm a little worried about that Waikato venture.

According to Noel Ferguson from the South Waikato Council, the service they're planning to implement will offer "internet access at 10 times current dial-up access speeds and all-you-can-eat-data."

Just how can a comparatively small operator like this hope to offer true flat-rate broadband at a time when everyone else is busy adding or lowering their broadband traffic caps?

I suspect their definition of "all-you-can-eat" will change by the time such a service is implemented.

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  • Have Your Say

    This WiFi technology need not be limited to Telecom's competitors however.

    I live in a rural area and every time I ring Telecom to ask when DSL might be available here they simply laugh loudly.

    Even though Telecom has a fibre-optic cable running within 1.5Kms of my house and I'm only 3-4Kms from the cabinet where that cable terminates -- DSL is unlikely to ever be a viable option here.

    The main problems are the sorry state of the copper and the annoying click, click, click produced by the multitude of electric fences all around the district.

    There are a great many other Kiwis in the same situation as me and presently, our broadband options are rather limited. I have an IHUG satellite dish in the garden which does a great job of providing up to 400Kb/S download speeds, but which still requires a phone line and is limited to 33Kbps uploads. (Note: IHUG is now sponsoring this column but I've had the dish for several years and if it didn't work as advertised I'd have said so before now :-)

    If Telecom were to fit an 802.11b transceiver to the cabinet that I can see from my front window, then they could effectively deliver broadband to my PC at relatively low cost for all concerned.

    But they wont.

    And what's worse, they won't allow any third party to offer such a service by putting their own 802.11b WiFi gear in Telecom's cabinet.

    It strikes me that if Telecom wasn't so bloody-minded about protecting its monopoly -- even when it's not prepared to provide the service itself, then the government's goal of ensuring widespread broadband access for rural users would be made a whole lot easier.

    However, I suspect that Telecom is slowly shooting itself in the foot right now. If they wait too long to relax their grip, they might wake up one day and find that much of their market has been quietly over-run by smaller operators like those in the Waikato.

    Just look at what's happening in Australia right now.

    Telecom could lose the rural market to such WiFi providers -- while, at the same time, you can bet that other Telcos will continue to lay cable in the streets of the larger cities.

    Maybe one day Telecom will find that it has monopolised itself right out of its current dominant position -- much to the detriment of shareholders.

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