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NBN to drop $750 million on fixed wireless upgrades for rural Australia

Australia network

Australian network operator National Broadband Network and its government are collectively pouring $750 million into the county’s fixed wireless network to hook up semi-rural, regional and remote areas.

The Australian government will shell out $480 million and NBN $270 million in order to fast-track and scale 5G millimetre wave technology across NBN’s fixed wireless network, which is particularly useful in remote or rural parts of Australia due to the size of the country and relative low habitation level of the entire middle of it. Living in the centre of Australia is about at remote as it gets whilst remaining on the surface of earth, which presents some unique connectivity challenges.

NBN will use the cash pile to ‘5G-enable’ its network of over 2,200 fixed wireless infrastructure sites and over 22,000 cells, which it says will benefit thousands of homes and businesses. It plans to enhance the coverage and extended maximum range for a number of fixed wireless towers which it claims will increase the footprint by up to 50%, which means access to around 120,000 former satellite-only eligible premises. The rollout is expected to take two and a half years.

Speed-wise it promises ‘potential maximum wholesale download speeds’ of up to 250 Mbps, which it says is up to three times faster than the highest wholesale speeds currently offered, and provide busy hours at minimum speeds of 50Mbps.

“Broadband demand in regional and remote Australia has been growing rapidly and as Australia’s digital backbone, this ongoing and growing demand requires continued investment in the NBN network,” said Gavin Williams, NBN Chief Development Officer for Regional and Remote. “For households across regional Australia faster speeds will make it easier to work remotely, access digital services as well as connect with loved ones and access entertainment.

For businesses, faster speeds will enhance and expand participation in the global digital economy and benefit from innovative technology such as the Internet of Things and smart farming. We will commence detailed planning shortly. After that is completed, we expect the roll out will take around two and a half years (subject to further assessment through the detailed planning process).”

In September 2020 NBN announced a $4.5 billion dollar investment to expand the footprint and speeds of its network, so it and the Australian government are serious about spending the cash to increase the country’s connectivity in those hard to reach areas. Australia also has had some good success demonstrating long distance 5G transmissions in the past.

The distances between premises in places like rural Australia are huge and it would be unfeasible to lay down fibre for God-knows-how-many miles in each instance, so the application of fixed wireless 5G solves the problem of hooking up places in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes the marketing around 5G can seem a bit woolly to say the least, with use cases ranging from the tired (VR) to the absurd (remote shaving), so it’s worth noting the instances where 5G spectrum seems to genuinely enable something that wasn’t previously doable.

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