The University of Melbourne has announced plans to create a testbed gigabit passive optical fibre network with ten carriers and network equipment suppliers as a replica national broadband network.
The Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES) will develop and test products and services designed to run on next-generation internet infrastructure in areas such as e-health and education.
Last week, Victorian Premier John Brumby contributed $2 million to the project.
IBES has also secured University funding and equipment donations from the likes of Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Cisco, NEC Australia and Allied Telesis.
Telstra and Optus are expected to contribute expertise in network design. Microsoft is also among the project's supporters.
In addition to supplying products and services, the partners will also play an active role in research planning and helping the university develop a vision for the future, according to IBES director Rod Tucker.
IBES will consist of a physical testbed located at the University of Melbourne with fibre connections to different campuses to enable researchers to access the resource.
These connections - part of an existing fibre backbone - will be upgraded to the latest gigabit passive optical networking (GPON) technology, which is widely tipped to be the architectural standard for the fibre-to-the-premises portion of the NBN.
GPON is a fibre access technology often touted for its ability to handle high-bandwidth streaming applications like broadcast video and TV.
"We have a pretty good estimate of what the technologies behind the NBN will be," Tucker said.
"I think it's a fairly secure bet that it will look something like a PON [passive optical networking] network so the testbed will initially use that technology. It's likely we'll have a number of different companies' equipment running alongside each other in parallel.
"But one of the objectives of IBES is to look forward to what future technologies might look like, so we'll look at things like wavelength division multiplexed PON and 10 Gigabit Ethernet PON."
Tucker said that although the institute would initially be available to researchers at University of Melbourne, he hoped to share the testbed with external researchers over the academic research network (AARNET) and at Commonwealth-funded research facilities CSIRO and NICTA within 12 months.
IBES is also expected to have over 100 people associated with it "in the not-too-distant future."
Researchers will conduct experiments in their "home locations", leveraging the testbed resources.
"I suspect we'll reach out to AARNET to link the testbed into other universities within a year," Tucker said. "It's a slightly longer-term plan but AARNET have offered."
It has been widely tipped that the institute will help Victoria stake its claim as the location for the NBN Company - something a number of states are vying for.
But more importantly for the University of Melbourne, IBES will provide it with a pool of intellectual property and a pipeline of applications that are ripe for commercialisation by the private sector.
Tucker said the University will maintain ownership of the IP developed under the testbed project.
He said IBES partners would also have an opportunity to help researchers identify topics of commercialisation interest and "come to some sort of licensing arrangement" for any applications that are developed in conjunction with the University's researchers.
Melbourne Ventures - which already helps the University's researchers commercialise their ideas - will also be an IBES member.
Tucker said while the short-term focus of IBES would be NBN-ready applications, the institute would also be more forward-thinking.
"At the moment the NBN is slated to provide up to 100Mbps to the home but further down the track I have every confidence we'll see speeds of 1Gbps," Tucker said.
"There's a range of technology that needs to be developed in order to facilitate that transition."