A $34 million project to build an 800 kilometre fibre network across the Top End has won Telstra and its private partners an award at a telecommunications conference in Paris overnight.
The Rio Tinto Alcan-funded Arnhem Land fibre project that won the Changing Lives category at the Broadband World Forum upgraded 12 schools from 256Kbps to 20 Mbps in the isolated area about 4000 kilometres or two-and-a-half days' drive from the nearest east coast population centre of Brisbane or a day by road from Darwin. The Northern Territory Government contributed to the project.
Its proponents said the network provided video conferencing and other data-hungry applications such as medical diagnosis, distance education and legal services to the remote communities scattered across the northernmost expanse of Australia, some of which took in Kakadu National Park.
The forum judges praised Telstra's project for providing a network over "fragile terrain, in difficult climatic conditions".
The network linked Jabiru with Rio Tinto Alcan's Nhulunbuy facility through an optical-fibre-backbone to provide services to Oenpelli, Maningrida, Ramingining, Gapuwiyak and Yirrkala. The second stage connected four island communities with the mainland using fibre spurs and radio.
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It's the latest in a string of awards for the project that started in 2008 including an Australian Telecommunications Users Group gong last March, acknowledgement from the World Communications Forum and kudos from the Australian Institute of Project Management last year.
In accepting the award, Telstra's executive director network construction John Gibbs said the network at once provided social gains in health, entertainment and law and order and business development through the evolution of cloud services.
"The future is about cloud computing and applications in the cloud," Gibbs said in a statement. "Content and media are becoming even more important and will be a critical part of the industry's future."
Telstra was seeking new backers and customers for the network including mining giant BHP-Billiton, the NT News reported in June.
"Telstra will develop business cases with government, enterprises and other organisations for network extensions where normal commercial investment is viewed as uneconomic," Gibbs said.
In February, NextGen Networks started laying about 6000 kilometres of optical fibre, about half of which links Darwin, Mt Isa, Emerald and Longreach under the Federal Government's $250 million broadband blackspots program.
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