CenTIE Takes a Broad Approach

CSIROA new technology initiative launched by Senator Alston in April successfully showcased what its creators believe is the future of high bandwidth networking communications.

CenTIE (Centre for Networking Technologies for the Information Economy), a foundation with members including the CSIRO, several telecommunication carriers and university departments, have launched the CenTIE Foundation Network by demonstrating what spokesman Dean Economou calls ‘things you wouldn’t consider doing normally because current networks aren’t up for it’.

In one example, a music teacher took a student through a lesson in a remote location. In another, a film editor worked over the Internet on a project kept on a remote server from a remote location — both were tasks that would be logistically nightmarish with current commercial network availability in Australia.

But, thinks Economou and CenTIE director Dr Terry Percival, the future is now. It’s just a matter of closing the gap between those who are developing the technology and those who need it.

“CenTIE’s about network research,” Economou said from the Centre’s Sydney headquarters, “but also bringing together groups of high end users that would make use of it. While it might seem obvious to bring those people together, it doesn’t often happen. Research usually occurs in isolation from the general market.

“We want to build a network that’s fast and high quality enough so you don’t have to worry about the network getting in the way; that the network can do whatever you need it to. When you’ve met that, the next goal is to work out what you’d like it to do for you in your particular business or sector.”

So instead of taking the ‘when you build it, they will come’ approach, CenTIE is asking potential champions of the network to help build it, or at least determine it’s development directions according to their needs.

Having identified four key areas they think high networking bandwidth will revitalise, Economou believes it’s a matter of forward planning. “What we’re saying is; 3 to 5 years from now, the sort of technology we’re demonstrating will be much more accessible,” he says, “and we think it’s important that people using those networks experience it early so they can develop their business models or strategies appropriately.”

But with network bandwidth so sparse and expensive in Australia, won’t the CenTIE network just be another failed experiment, strangled by our creaky old communications infrastructure?

Technically and commercially, Economou insists otherwise. “Australia’s in a bandwidth rut,” he says, “we’ve been conditioned to think broadband means expensive 256 DSL, but we’re working with IP1 and they installed about 40 Terabits of capacity between Perth and Melbourne so the capacity is there.

“The problem is in the last mile [the historical phenomenon where telecommunication infrastructure is fantastic across country but still depends on 40 year old copper wiring from exchanges in metropolitan areas]. In long haul carriage, the cable technology is more than advanced enough for this kind of networking.”

So how does Perth fit into things? With carriers like IP1 and Grangenet (both of whom are involved in CenTIE’s network) laying new infrastructure between here and the eastern states, we’ll not only be in a unique ‘end of the line’ position to benefit from the new technology, but Perth-based telcos will benefit from the commercial opportunities arising from increased network capacity.

And if it sounds like reinventing the wheel (or breaking up still more desert to lay still more cables fighting for a share of the bandwidth market), CenTIE isn’t building a new and better network. Economou believes a formidable network is already in the system. CenTIE is just getting the best out of it, and bringing users to the party.

“We’re making use of existing technology but we’re putting it together in a way that gives us total freedom how we use it,” he says. “We’ve leased, dug and swapped fibres so we have extensive networks in Sydney and Perth and working with IP1, we have 10 Gigabit across Australia.”

So while watching full quality video being edited on screen over a high-bandwidth network in a remote location must have seemed very futuristic last month, CenTIE thinks they can bring that future here much faster than we expect.