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Internet options for regional and remote locations

by Nick Holcombe | Feb 16, 2016

Last month we promised that we would discuss Internet options that are relevant to you in our upcoming blogs, and how to get the most from your choice. Part one focused on how to get the most from an ADSL connection.

There are a broad range of Internet delivery options available but of course not all of the options are available in every location. Typically, central business district locations will have the greatest range of options available and of course extremely remote areas will conversely have the least options available. Picking an appropriate option is not always simple.

The ADSL we spoke of in the last edition covers a high proportion of the population who don’t live far from a standard telephone exchange. What about those people who live a long way from towns? Satellite has been available in various formats for many years now, for nearly anyone. It has always had an issue with latency, whereby the interaction between you and the server at the other end can be delayed because of the sheer distance the data has to travel to the satellite and back down to earth. This isn’t an issue for all applications, but it certainly is for those that rely on reasonably rapid response times such as voice over internet, video conferencing or even working on a terminal server. The traditional satellite services have also become oversubscribed and have been cut back and slowed down in too many cases. This has left many people waiting for a newer solution, something which might have at least some of the better performance features the people in populated areas enjoy.

Many remote area people were relieved when Telstra released Next G, which cleverly carried Internet relatively efficiently from mobile phone towers. This didn’t cover the extremely remote people, but did get to quite a high proportion of the population that could otherwise only really use satellite, or other slower internet modes such as dial up or ISDN. The speed of Next G was quite reasonable and faster in cases than the first version of ADSL.  In fact, upload speeds can still exceed the later versions of ADSL and latency also isn’t too bad in most cases. However, as with many modes of internet provision, the supply can become oversubscribed and performance suffers. This is the case for many of our regional users and is a common complaint and is reminiscent of around a decade ago when the first ADSL services became oversubscribed. The other issue is that the plans have been comparatively stingy with data allowances and the cost per unit of data is so much higher than the urban users pay. It has been speculated by some that the pricing policy is based on how much the end user can tolerate especially when there is no commercial alternative technology available to them, and is not necessarily based on the cost of delivery.

The NBN will service some of those regional users with fixed wireless transmissions which should help them enormously. However, these services will only extend  some 20 kms from a transmission point and hence will in many cases have less coverage than the Next G services. A newer generation of wireless, 4G has also been rolled out and this is giving much better speeds than Next G, though not always the coverage. More recently a variant of that, 4G LTE, or 4GX, is providing both the speed and a better transmission distance for data. What a range of technologies to think about, even for those in regional areas. For those people who will be outside 4G, Next G and NBN fixed wireless, a new satellite called Sky Muster has been launched which will have a much greater capacity than the existing satellites which have traditionally been used. Suggestions of higher data allowances are also in the wind. How quickly that will become oversubscribed could only be answered by those who can predict the uptake of data usage once the covers are off, though some pundits simple calculations give it four years before we see similar oversubscription to other services.

What happens to those in the meantime who can’t get adequate service, and even those who aren’t happy with new satellite when it comes online?

There are user groups who help you try to cope with dealing with the limits of the technologies available to you. How not to use too much data accidentally etc. In our last blog we mentioned getting a good router to help you control your usage as the benefits of this should not be underestimated for those who can afford the time, and the effort to understand their own devices usage. But alternative bigger scoped Internet technologies aren’t necessarily readily commercially available.

These challenges are one of the most talked about topics I encounter when talking to rural people. Too slow, intermittent, too little allowance, too unreliable, too costly especially per unit of data (and that’s not just wives complaining about their husbands). People need to use data for their businesses, their equipment, and their livelihoods, let alone for recreation. Quoting David Gladman, “We seem to be at a similar point as we were 10 odd years ago where demand is clearly outstripping supply. As not only farm offices but also machinery, weather stations, probes, etc. all have direct Internet connections. This is the IoT (internet of Things) meeting “big data” all being driven by innovative businesses looking to quench their thirst for data that aids business decisions. Funny how the Silicon Valley buzzwords describing the future seem to already be in place all over Australian farms“.

In many cases  a site survey will find a way to improve and maximise the Internet benefits. One idea which may need to gain more following for those who really want decent Internet in the extreme situations is to purchase your own infrastructure to get data from a serviced area to you. It won’t necessarily work for people who are over 100kms from a serviced centre, but in places as remote as Walgett it is not out of the question to service many remote users with privately built wireless solutions. While we wait for other more pervasive technologies the concept of aggregates of people sharing wireless connections is a reality, in a slightly similar way to the decades ago when people shared party lines for their telephony.

Contact our team today if you would like to find out more.

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