Wireless broadband firm shrouded in mystery

A new company claiming it can offer unlimited wireless Internet access for $70 per month has produced a surge of interest from Australia's broadband community, but has left many wondering just who, or what, is behind it.

Hughes Corporation announced their intention to provide wireless Internet access to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne metro areas with an advertisement in Brisbane's Courier Mail newspaper last weekend. Its product, the AXs wireless Internet card, promises users an unlimited amount of downloads without the hassle of phone lines or cables "anywhere and anytime".

According to the ad, users can have unlimited downloads for just $70, after an initial up-front fee of $360. The fee includes the card, installation software and the first three months access. If users sign up within the next two weeks, the $70 per month fee will be capped for five years. Hughes Corporation says Ericsson Australia will be installing the service.

While Hughes has been experiencing a "massive response" to the ad -- thanks largely to a posting on the Whirlpool broadband forum site, technical details on the new wireless service are sketchy, as are details of who will be providing the data network for such a service.

According to a call centre representative from Hughes, the company has already installed base stations in capital cities, and will run its service "similarly to a mobile phone". The base stations are believed to be satellite-linked.

Hughes also says users won't have a permanent IP address due to security measures, but has not stated what sort of IP network connection will be in place instead.

The company hopes to launch the service in Brisbane within four weeks and in Sydney and Melbourne in eight weeks. No plans have been finalised for extending the service into regional areas. A local Web site should be up and running within the next two weeks, the call centre representative said.

A spokesman for the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) said Hughes Corporation has not applied for a carrier license, and that the ACA is currently investigating to determine whether they do require one. If Hughes is partnering with a company that owns the network and has already acquired a carrier license, they may not need one, the spokesman said.

Hughes is also yet to apply for an Australian Business Number, although one company representative says they are "looking into that". The company claims to be an affiliate of General Motors Corporation in the US, but this has not been confirmed.

Ericsson says it plans to issue an official statement on its part of the deal later today or Thursday.

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Nadia Cameron

Nadia Cameron

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