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CSIRO delivers another great breakthrough in wireless
November 4, 2010
8:42 am
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By Alex Zaharov-Reutt
Thursday, 04 November 2010

The CSIRO is making a case for digital dividend spectrum in rural Australia to be repurposed for its fledgling point-to-point wireless technology having demonstrated 12Mbps symmetrical throughput on one analogue broadcast channel and saying that, with access to multiple channels, 50Mbps symmetrical to multiple users would be achievable.

The technology, dubbed Ngara*, has been designed to use the existing topology of the analogue TV broadcast network and much of its infrastructure. CSIRO hopes to use the existing transmission towers, without need to build more and, with some modifications, the existing TV antennas or rural homes.

The technology was announced yesterday and had its first demonstration, in the CSIRO's laboratories, to telecoms industry executives and engineers today, 4 November. It will be taken into the field for its first real world trial in December.

Ian Oppermann, director of the CSIRO's ICT Centre, told iTWire "We are using the existing broadcast infrastructure as much as possible and squeezing every last drop of bandwidth we can out of it. What we are demonstrating today is 12Mbps up and down to six users simultaneously using one analogue channel. That's 12 times six times two, 144Mbps in total."

Oppermann is confident that the CSIRO will be able to extract greater bandwidth from a single analogue channel and higher bandwidths to more users by aggregating multiple 7MHz channels. At present it claims to be achieving a spectral efficiency of 20 bits per second per Hertz - three times that of the nearest comparable technology.

"Today we can support six simultaneous users. Our next big release is 12 users and the next big step after that, which needs some development, is to combine multiple 7MHz channels to get to an aggregate of 100MHz that we could spit 50 up and 50 down, 75 and 25 or in other ways. We are quite confident we will be able to offer 100Mbps to six or 12 simultaneous user, so we have very good upgrade path."

The 'Digital Dividend' will release a total of 126MHz, but there are many contenders for the spectrum, in particular the mobile network operators to meet burgeoning demand for mobile broadband services.

Australia’s national science and research organisation, the CSIRO, has not only helped revolutionise today’s Wi-Fi through ownership of a key part of modern IEEE 802.11 protocols, but now stands ready to bring forth a wireless revolution to rural and regional areas of up to 1000 people, with potentially synchronous speeds of 12Mbps – and who knows how much faster and to how many more people in the future!

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Already well entrenched in the wireless industry, especially through ownership of a key part of the 802.11 standard, the CSIRO is the first to announce a new type of wireless network that is much more efficient, and which works over soon-to-be-decommissioned analogue TV spectrum.

There has been much talk over the years about wireless technologies that would do this, given the spectrum’s ability to transmit over long distances and easily penetrate buildings, so it’s great to see progress having been made, and by our own CSIRO at that!

The system has currently been specifically designed for rural and regional users who will be beyond the footprint of Australia’s likely decade-long “National Broadband Network” project which will see 1Gbps-capable fibre rolled out to 93% of the population.

Given that the CSIRO says the technology “could” be available to the intended, isolated customers within only two years, who knows how much more efficient and advanced the CSIRO’s technology will become, or how other companies might extend the CSIRO’s discoveries into new and far more efficient mobile networks in the future?

This is especially so because the technology is being designed to allow multiple users to upload data at the same time, "without reducing their individual systems’ data transfer rate of 12 Mbps."

The CSIRO’s Dr Ian Oppermann said: “Someone who doesn’t live near the fibre network could get to it using our new wireless system. They’d be able to upload a clip to YouTube in real-time and their data rate wouldn’t change even if five of their neighbours also started uploading videos.

“But the really impressive part is the spectral efficiency our team has achieved. Even with just half of our system completed, CSIRO is already helping define the future of wireless technology”, continued Dr Oppermann.

Better still, as the technology uses existing analogue TV spectrum, is that the CSIRO hopes it will simply be able to use existing analogue TV infrastructure to deliver the wireless signal, which will be picked up by each user’s existing TV antenna – and a new set-top box to send and receive data, again from the antenna back to the main transmission tower.

Dr Oppermann was quoted by the ABC, saying: “We're really trying to address townships that have less than 1000 homes, those specifically which are targeted to not get fibre so going beyond where the fibre will be laid out.

“And to do it as efficiently as possible, build as few towers as possible and hopefully even just re-use the existing infrastructure from the analogue broadcast TV systems."

For now, the technology isn’t destined for high density areas. Dr Oppermann was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald saying: ''We have designed something specifically for remote and rural areas. If you move to a metropolitan or dense area you do not get the line of sight.''

Australia’s Federal Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, welcomed the effort, while Australia’s NBN Co, the company created by Government to build the national broadband network, expressed interest and would look again in the future, presumably after more development has occurred, which is natural given the technology is, after all, being designed specifically for those outside the fibre footprint.

Still, the system might not be designed for metropolitan or dense areas now, but what’s the bet that it delivers even more breakthroughs that see this as a potential future ultra-high speed replacement or transformative addition to technologies beyond LTE to “real” 4G and even 5G technologies?

Unless we succumb to environmental catastrophe, nuclear war or world-government dystopia first, faster and better wireless technologies are certainly in our future, as will be entirely new ways to connect and to also better use existing infrastructure, be it copper, fibre or in the CSIRO’s case, existing spectrum.

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