A farmer accesses CSIRO’s website in a paddock with cattle and gum trees in the background.

CSIRO is bringing broadband access to rural and remote areas of Australia.

Broadband to the bush

CSIRO's Ngara technologies aim to bring wireless broadband communications to rural and regional areas of Australia.

  • 23 March 2011 | Updated 14 October 2011

As more services, transactions and interactions occur online, it is important for reasons of economic growth and social equity that all Australians have the opportunity to accessing broadband communications and the Internet over a connection that gives them a meaningful level of access back into the network. That is, not just faster downloads, but the ability to upload bandwidth-hungry content like videos or to participate in video conferencing.

Getting broadband connectivity to Australia's rural and remote areas is difficult because the population is sparsely scattered over a wide area. Current terrestrial wireless technologies have limited capacity and coverage and satellite technologies are expensive and provide limited data rates.

CSIRO is focused on providing high-performance network connectivity to those Australians not served by existing technologies.

CSIRO is developing wireless technologies that aim to bring broadband to people living beyond the planned fibre network, but not those in such remote areas that satellite really is the only option − said to be some four per cent of the population.

CSIRO's Ngara technology

CSIRO is developing two technologies aimed at bringing broadband Internet access to rural and regional areas of Australia:

  • wireless access
  • wireless backhaul.

Wireless access

Our wireless access technology exploits existing television broadcasting infrastructure to deliver broadband services.

The system works by sending signals to and from transmitters mounted on existing television broadcasting towers. Each signal is unique to a household and takes the form of a focused beam. These focusing techniques, known as beam-forming, have been patented by CSIRO and enable substantial efficiencies in use of the spectrum.

To receive the signal, and transmit back to the network, users would connect a modem to a slightly modified version of their existing TV antenna.

CSIRO's wireless access technology depends on having access to that part of the spectrum currently used for analog television broadcasting, which is soon to be discontinued: the so-called digital dividend. This spectrum will likely be used for mobile communications systems.

We are developing our technology on the reasonable assumption that, in regional and rural areas, these services are not likely to take up all the available spectrum.

Wireless backhaul

The second innovation is wireless backhaul technology. Backhauls are the means of joining isolated sub-networks to the main network.

For Australians in towns beyond a fibre network, their 'broadband' is only as good as their community's link to the fibre network, irrespective of the access technology they are using. At the moment, these backhauls are generally microwave links which offer 150 megabits per second over some tens of kilometres. This rate is insufficient for next generation broadband applications.

Building on patented technologies, our wireless backhaul technology brings together small isolated channels in the available spectrum into one high bandwidth path to the fibre network. 

It has the potential to provide a robust link of several gigabits per second, that is, tens of times faster than current technology: a performance close to that of fibre.

Current activities

We are currently working on the backhaul system and upgrading the access system to provide a 50 Mbps symmetrical service to 12 simultaneous users.

Wireless access demonstration

In March 2011 CSIRO held a public demonstration of the Ngara access system in our lab in Marsfield, Sydney, Australia. We showed six users each uploading information at 12 Mbps while also downloading information at 12 Mbps all within just 7 MHz of spectrum.

Analysis commissioned by CSIRO shows other wireless technologies would require four times as many towers as our Ngara system.

Read more in our media release: Fewer towers for CSIRO rural broadband wireless.

Hear more in: Going wireless in the bush: the revolution will be televised (Podcast 22 Mar 11).

Smithton field trial

In December 2010 CSIRO held a field trial and public demonstration of the first part of our prototype access system at the town of Smithton in north-west Tasmania. We showed six 'users' simultaneously sending almost error free digital transmission at 24 Mbps from farms 70 metres to 8.4 kilometres away.

Read more in Ngara rural wireless broadband field trial technical report.

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Ngara: listen, hear, think

 

Uplink laboratory demonstration

In November 2010 CSIRO held a public demonstration of the first part of our prototype access system at our lab in Marsfield, Sydney, Australia. We showed six users uploading information at the same time, without reducing their individual systems’ data transfer rate of 12 Mbps.

Read more in our media release Broadband coming wirelessly to the bush.

Outcomes

Realising the potential of the digital economy requires widespread Internet access.

Broadband is an enabler of structural change and will likely:

  • speed up procedures and processes
  • improve competitiveness
  • allow more flexible working arrangements
  • facilitate delivery of a wide range of services.

Socially, the biggest impacts of broadband will be improved access to information and the opportunity for increased, enriched connectivity.

Bridging the so-called 'digital divide' between rural and urbanised Australians will bring benefit far beyond simple economics.

Partners

Technology transfer is expected to commence in 2012–13.

About the name Ngara

A traditional-style dot painting with a central meeting place motif, people coming in to hear and other tribes around also able to hear.

In acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land, the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, CSIRO selected Ngara – a word of the Darug people meaning to listen, hear and think – as the name of our wireless broadband technologies.

Darug elders gave their permission to use the word at a ceremony at our laboratory in the Sydney suburb of Marsfield – part of Darug lands.

The artwork to the right was painted by Darug elder Aunty Edna Watson to symbolise these technologies.

Watch the Ngara naming ceremony video [external link].

Read more about Broadband for Australia.

  • This project is supported by the Science and Industry Endowment Fund.