Opposition leader labels wireless technology as "second rate"

Rudd says fibre is faster and scales better

Stoking the fires that have ignited political debate about the future of Australian broadband, opposition leader Kevin Rudd sent telecommunication vendors into a spin today by labelling wireless technology as "second rate".

Rudd made the claims in an early morning radio interview following yesterday's launch of the federal government's $1.9 billion Australia Connected infrastructure initiative to roll-out ADSL 2+ and WiMAX to 99 percent of Australia by 2009.

The initiative will receive $958 million from the $1.85 billion Broadband Connect program and more than $900 million from OPEL, a joint venture between Optus and rural service provider Elders, and promises speeds of 12 Mbps for most rural areas by expanding WiMax infrastructure.

Responding to the announcement, Rudd said labor's $4.7 billion broadband proposal is far more effective providing the best coverage for those living in the city or rural areas.

Rudd said the government's plan was a two-tiered system with high speed access for city residents while those living in the country get a second rate system.

"People in regional and rural areas deserve every bit as good a service as those in the big cities; our fibre optic to the node plan will offer high speed broadband to 98 percent of Australians regardless of where they live," he said.

"When you look at some of the technical deficiencies in wireless, and problems in terms of being able to access speeds of 12 megabits per second using wireless, and given the overwhelming scientific consensus in favour of fibre optic to the node, we believe we've hit upon the right technology."

Rudd went on to say that satellite and wireless services should only be used to complement fibre optic to the node.

He said fibre optic to the node will be maximised across Australia because it is capable of 'up-scaling' to better speeds over time.

The labor leader also pointed out that the government had done very little for 11 years, but are now acting three months before an election is likely to be called.

Following the interview, wireless provider and ASX-listed Clever Communications Australia immediately issued a statement claiming Rudd's comments were misleading.

The company's CEO and chairman, Keith Ondarchie, said Rudd's statements about the technology are untrue.

"It is a shame to see a political leader making such uneducated and misleading comments regarding wireless technology," he said.

"By dismissing wireless technology he is robbing Australians in rural and regional areas of a genuine alternative technology with the potential to deliver rapid access to high-speed broadband services.

"Comments like this stifle competition in the Australian telecommunications industry, hurting companies trying to bring alternatives to the market while protecting tier one incumbents that have a vested interest in protecting fixed-line revenues."

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Ondarchie said wireless technology can be deployed more rapidly than fibre and offers a number of advantages.

"This technology has the potential to bring rural and regional Australia out of the technological dark ages more quickly and cost-effectively. We offer performance-guaranteed wireless broadband services every day to thousands of business customers as well as a number of Australia's tier one telcos."

Ondarchie said thousands of businesses rely on wireless broadband every day for mission critical data and VoIP services.

He rejected Rudd's claim that wireless has a maximum connection distance of 20km.

"We have proven that wireless can provide reliable and robust connections far in excess of what fixed line technologies can do without repeaters," Ondarchie said.

"Also, wireless broadband is tolerant to environmental factors that are common causes of service disruptions for terrestrial fibre installations in rural and regional areas, particularly during flooding."

Clever Communications is a fully-licensed telecommunications carrier that operates a wireless business network in Australia.

It also provides wholesale wireless services to Australia's tier one telcos including Optus and Nextep.