Wanganui - city of the future

Last weekend I went to Tech Ex 2013 in Wanganui to talk broadband and other matters.

Tech Ex is organised by the Wanganui District Council – Marianne Archibald, to be more exact, who also happens to be on the TUANZ board – and aims to showcase the best of broadband and technology to the region.

We had a very interesting discussion about why broadband is necessary in modern life. I say discussion – pretty much we all agreed on all points (and as the saying goes, if you didn’t agree we certainly couldn’t explain it to you). The demand for broadband is so great in the region that Inspire Net is working with some of the locals to put up fixed-wireless masts all over the region. Tex Matthews, head of the Rural Community Board, showed us what it looks like and by crikey they’re doing a good job of it.

The countryside around Wanganui is incredibly steep and the bits where the masts would go are typically quite inaccessible, yet somehow they get solar panels, battery packs, concrete, cables and all the rest up to these points and built. It’s all community labour, on some farmer’s land and the farmer then typically becomes the tech support for that site.

Connecting power can mean running a lead to the wrong property (involving a complicated arbitrage system run by someone called Jim Beam, or so I’m told) but getting the fibre up to the mast itself is a genuine “number eight” solution.

Tex had a fishing rod with a lot of heavy duty line for sea fishing. Keen to upgrade both rod and reel, he fashioned some kind of probe for the end of the line, poked it into the conduit, hooked up the hose and flushed the line through the pipe. He then pulls the fibre through and bingo, fibre to the farm.

My hat is off to them. The rural community of Wanganui is doing the job the hard way but doing it well. We need to support them in these efforts and show off their good work to other communities around the country.

We also heard from rural broadband specialist Jonathan Brewer (I’m pretty sure he’ll kill me if I call him a guru) who talked about cognitive radio and the potential benefits to remote areas of deploying this kind of technology.

It was fascinating stuff. By using the “white space” of radio spectrum (basically the bits where spectrum isn’t being used because of interference or access issues), Jon says we could increase coverage and capacity without having to spend a fortune on new spectrum rights.

I’ve linked to Jon’s blog for more detail, but it sounds like something we should absolutely be championing in New Zealand. It’s an emerging standard at this stage but there are some big names behind it, including Google, so we should expect to see some hardware in the not too distant future.

All told it was a great weekend. There’s a high level of demand, a lot of interest in the issues that might prevent deployment and a keenness to get things done.

Because of the horrendous storm the day before, Wanganui was in clean-up mode and unfortunately numbers were down somewhat on last year’s event. That’s no reflection of the topics or the interest, more about the weather and having to sacrifice a weekend to sorting out the roof I suspect.