NBN Co prepares for wireless tower backlash

By James Hutchinson on Aug 4, 2011 3:06 PM
Filed under Mobility

TD-LTE network planned for construction later this year.

NBN Co has started an education campaign to curb potential opposition to new phone towers required in communities that will receive fixed wireless services.

The company expected to require 120 new and co-located towers to deploy TD-LTE services to between 14,000 and 20,000 premises in the outer regions of Geraldton, Toowoomba, Tamworth, Ballarat and Darwin from the middle of next year.

Construction on new sites and negotiations with existing carriers would begin later this year, following community consultation in the areas.

NBN Co chief technology officer Gary McLaren said he was confident communities would not likely oppose new towers once they were educated about the physical characteristics of the network.

"Because the actual antenna is outside the house, the power levels people are seeing are a lot less with the mobile networks and mobile phones right next to your head," he told iTnews.

"We'll be out there in the local community quick smart now, engaging with the community itself, making sure of the plans we have for the towers we need to build."

McLaren said he expected community consultation on new towers to take several months before construction began at the five sites.

Resident backlash against new mobile towers in some communities had increased in recent times amid renewed safety and aesthetic concerns.

Some communities were concerned their voices against major carriers had gone unheard with towers being built regardless.

More recently, frustration among Tasmanian communities had sparked one digital consumer group to call for activist groups to back down and allow tower projects to proceed.

The technology

The five sites announced this week would ultimately become points of interconnect for surrounding fixed wireless base stations.

Architecturally, the network connected tri-sector base stations to a hub site with a 180 Mbps link.

From there, the hub was connected to a fibre access point using a 900 Mbps aggregated microwave link, which handed traffic off to a gigabit fibre link connected to the nearest fibre access node.

Without user contention, each base station would be capable of serving 12 Mbps speeds to 15 houses, although McLaren said the network was being built with user contention in mind and minimum bandwidth of 500 Kbps per user.

The base stations would likely share fibre infrastructure with the centres of nearby towns. Construction would likely coincide with fibre rollouts at the second release sites of Geraldton in Western Australia and the Darwin suburb of Casuarina.

The fixed wireless network was being built with Ericsson, which in June scored a $1.1 billion, ten-year contract to build and service 2300 base stations to ultimately serve up to 400,000 premises with fixed wireless technology.

The use of Time Division Duplex LTE technology, however, was a departure from Ericsson's more common use of Frequency Division Duplex LTE globally.

The only other planned TD-LTE network in Australia was flagged by vividwireless.

McLaren said NBN Co had planned for some time to use TD-LTE to serve customers due to the 2.3 GHz spectrum bandwidth used in regional areas. It acquired the last of that radio spectrum last month.

Under directions from Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, NBN Co was prohibited from participating in the digital dividend auctions for 700 MHz spectrum, which was more suited to FDD-LTE technology.

Fixed wireless no OPEL

Announcing the first wireless sites this week, Conroy refuted comparisons made by Malcolm Turnbull between the fixed wireless plan and the Howard Government's OPEL wireless broadband proposal, which was canned by the current Government.

"The OPEL network was a dog that had no spectrum, it couldn't propagate more than 1.2-kilometres from a tower," Conroy said.

"The network that we are building is using the next generation LTE and it will not have the number of people using it that Malcolm was planning on having use OPEL.

"[OPEL] was a dog and it was a dog that got put down."

 
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