Australia's Outback Could Get Web Via TV Antenna

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The humble rooftop antenna could help connect isolated communities around the globe.

THE GIST

Low-frequency Internet could be transmitted through VHF/UHF bands, previously used for analog television signals.

Unlike 3G networks that lose speed as more users come online, analog signals provide consistent speeds.

Researchers in Australia from the government science agency CSIRO have developed new technology that could achieve connection speeds to compete with the best: through the tangled piece of metal already attached to most roofs.

"The basic premise is if you get good high-quality analog television you should be able to get reliable high-speed communications," project leader Ian Oppermann said.

Australia's sheer size makes universal Internet access a huge challenge, with many millions of square miles stretching through deserts and mountains from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and from tropics to snow.

In some places the population is so sparse, Oppermann says they calculate the "nanopeople" per square kilometer.

The Australian government has the National Broadband Network (NBN) in the works which aims to connect 93 percent of the country to high speed Internet via a fiber optic network.

But that still leaves seven per cent without what is becoming, increasingly, a basic human right.

The NBN promises speeds of 100 megabits per second, but the new project team reckon they can match that and connect remote Australia through the spectrum once used for their TV sets.

Most people have access to a television signal and more remote communities have relatively little interference -- perfect conditions for low-frequency Internet transmission on the VHF/UHF bands.

Australia's "big bold" Internet experiment is being watched by a number of other countries mulling similar plans, many of whom Oppermann said had either completed the shift from analog TV or were in the process of doing so.

"There are lots of parts of Australia which look a little bit like big parts of Canada, Russia, China, parts of the United States, most of Africa from the perspective of where the population is distributed and the sort of conditions that people live in, purely from a communications perspective," Opperman said.

"I think Australia really stands a chance of being of global test case. If we get it right there is really an opportunity that other countries will follow what Australia is leading with."

Australia began switching off its analog TV signals in June and the transition to digital-only transmission is expected to be complete by the end of 2013, five years before the roll out finishes for the NBN.

The spectrum is then expected to be auctioned off for communications purposes and this low-frequency analog television spectrum could be the perfect solution.

"To give you an analogy, this is beachfront property," Oppermann told AFP.

"The reason that it's expensive is that it's relatively low frequency and low frequencies travel very well. If you're after reach it's a very good piece of spectrum to have."

Unlike current GSM or 3G networks which lose download speed exponential to increasing users, Oppermann said an analog signal would provide a consistent speed no matter how many users there were.

This high-speed communication could revolutionize life for people living in Australia's isolated Outback, allowing for virtual appointments with a doctor or government officials.

Six farms on the southern island state of Tasmania will test the technology, which will only work in towns of less than 1,000 homes because too many buildings will obstruct the signal, next month ahead of a wider field study.

"It's not just an idea anymore," Oppermann said. "We can demonstrate that it's actually something useful."

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