Snappy Solutions for IT Isolation

Technologies developed at UniSA's Institute for Telecommunications Research (ITR) could contribute to a practical solution for Australians with no access to reliable broadband services.

Technologies developed at UniSA's Institute for Telecommunications Research (ITR) could contribute to a practical solution for Australians with no access to reliable broadband services.

In a world where "Googling" is now a verb and communicating by email is a daily activity, there are still thousands of Australians on the wrong side of the communications technology divide – they have no access.

And as ITR business development manager, Jeff Kasparian will tell you, they are not all "out the back of Bourke".

"You will find black spots in quite established regions – the little town outside a regional centre, sometimes places that are only an hour from a big urban centre can be without broadband access and it has a big impact on communities and businesses," he said.

Recognising the need, the Commonwealth Government will invest hundreds of millions dollars over the next few years through its Connect Australia program to try to remedy the situation.

Some of this will be earmarked for Indigenous communities. And while part of the solution revolves around the affordability of the services and the way communities use them, there are still gaps in the technologies that will need to be deployed.

"What we are working on is a system that will aggregate and prioritise communications traffic so that satellite broadband provides good service quality and is an affordable option for these communities," Kasparian said.

And while the system will mainly rely on "off the shelf" technologies used in clever ways, ITR researchers including Associate Professor Adrian Barbulescu (pictured ) have developed error control coding technology that improves the data transmission efficiency of the satellite network so that satellite costs are minimised.

Known as S-TECTM, the technology has been commercialised through a UniSA spin-off company, Iterative Connections, with licensing success in the US, where the technology is being integrated by satellite modem manufacturers.

As Prof Barbulescu says satellite phone and internet communications are already available and operational in remote areas. But purchased for a single user, they are extremely expensive unless heavily subsidised.

"What we want to achieve is a workable satellite system that will manage access for an entire community at a reasonable price," he said.

The concept, known as SNAP (Satellite Network Access Point), revolves around a single satellite hub through which communications are sent and received. The point of difference and efficiency in the SNAP system is that combinations of leading edge transmissions technologies are used to maximise the amount of data that can be transmitted per second and traffic shaping is used to ensure that many users can access the same network to receive quality service.

Prof Barbulescu said the aggregated system would be efficient in meeting the differing needs of a medical and health hub, a local school, a community centre/library and a set of individual users.

"The system relies on a combination of satellite, advanced coding, wireless Local Area Network and software technologies, so that overall the performance is as good as that provided by a regular cable connection."

The system has been trialed successfully with all 70 staff and students at the ITR using the SNAP system for communications for several days to identify any flaws or problems.

"There is more trialing to be done, but for many tests few people even realised we were operating via the satellite, so it definitely proved that users would receive a quality broadband service that sustained multiple uses, including voice transmission and heavy downloading, efficiently," he said.

"What will be significant about this technology is that it will break down some barriers for rural and remote communities. Australia has a history where distance has caused hardships and inequalities. This is one example where we have the technologies to ensure quality telecommunications are available to all Australians."