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
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.