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Data superhighway proposed for knowledge sector

Friday, 12 March 2004 Media Statement

Data superhighway proposed for NZ's knowledge sector

A proposal for a very high-speed internet 'backbone' linking New Zealand's research and higher education institutions is making good progress, says Minister of Research, Science and Technology Pete Hodgson.

Mr Hodgson today released a discussion document that sets out the next steps for developing a Next Generation Internet network serving the research, education and innovation sectors.

"I am delighted to see progress on this issue," Mr Hodgson said. "New Zealand researchers and innovators need access to very high speed data links. An advanced communications network is now part of the essential infrastructure for a modern economy."

The discussion document presents a number of options for establishing an Advanced Research, Education and Innovation Network in New Zealand and seeks comment from potential users and suppliers on the best way forward. It has been circulated widely within the research, education and innovation sectors.

"With a relatively small population and widely distributed organisations New Zealand cannot simply copy advanced network models developed elsewhere," Mr Hodgson said. "We need a network tailored to New Zealand's unique conditions."

Subject to funding decisions by the government and other parties, the first services on a new advanced network could be available later this year.
"Establishing this network will be particularly important for the key growth sectors identified in the Growth and Innovation Framework – the creative industries, biotechnology and ICT. Improving connections within New Zealand is a vital step towards strengthening our links with the rest of the world."

The discussion document, with further information, is on the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology website: http://www.morst.govt.nz.

Questions and Answers

What is an Advanced Research, Education and Innovation Network?
An Advanced Research, Education and Innovation Network - Advanced Network for short - consists of very high speed physical infrastructure linking to interconnected regional ‘meet me’ points (referred to as GigaPoPs). Such networks are also referred to as Next Generation Internet (NGI) networks. In the USA, the advanced network is known as Internet2. Advanced networks typically rely on optical fibre infrastructure, unlike some high-speed networks based on copper wire telephone network infrastructure.

How does an Advanced Network differ from the Internet?
The Internet provides relatively low-speed connectivity. Access speeds over a dial-up telephone line are typically less than 50kbit/sec (50,000 bits per second). High-speed connections, such as Telecom’s Jetstream or TelstraClear’s High Speed network, can be up to 5Mbit/sec (5 million bits per second). Advanced Network connection speeds typically start at 1Gigabit/sec (1000 million bits per second) and are expected to increase to 40Gbit/sec within the next few years.

Who needs these very high speed connections?
Overseas, demand for high-speed networks has mostly come from researchers and the tertiary education sector. In New Zealand thereis a growing demand from the new knowledge industries, particularly film and post-production. A wide range of organisations need gigabit networks, but especially those in the creative, biotechnology, education and eLearning, telehealth, agritech and ICT sectors.

Why haven't telecommunication companies provided an Advanced Network?
The philosophy of an Advanced Network differs from traditional
telecommunications networks where services have been developed with
technology causing bandwidth to be scarce. With plentiful bandwidth,
Advanced Networks aim to offer gigabit capacity and speed at an
affordable price.Setting up this sort of network requires coordinated action from a spread-out group of users. Gigabit network infrastructure has been established in some parts of New Zealand (CityLink in Wellington being the best known).

What are the particular issues the government is seeking comment on?
The scope of the network and who should have access; the institutional arrangements for governing and managing the network; the most effective method to build the capability of end users; and the level of investment required from different parties to establish and maintain the network.

Who will have access to the network?
Two scenarios are examined in the discussion document. The “widely available” scenario would permit access by any organisation willing to pay the membership and usage fees. The “tightly defined” scenario limits membership to organisations involved in research and education.

Will all tertiary education organisations and research institutions have access to the Advanced Network?
This is the long-term objective. The business plan identified 127 physical sites, 15 percent of which are more than 50km away from a proposed GigaPop (point of connection to the Advanced Network).

What is the government's role?
The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MoRST) has taken the lead role within government in preparing the business case and in the establishment of the Advanced Network. When accurate costs for establishing the network are determined in the tender phase, the government will decide on its level of investment.

What will it cost users to access the Network?
It is expected that users will pay a membership fee, depending on the size of their organisation and the speed of connection to the network. They may also be required to pay usage charges for some services. Users are being consulted on the kind of cost structure that would be acceptable.

How does this Relate to Project PROBE?
Project PROBE (Provincial Broadband Extension) is an initiative led by the Ministry of Education, with support from the Ministry of Economic Development and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, to expand broadband telecommunications infrastructure in rural New Zealand. The objective is to provide every school in the country with access to a broadband connection (minimum of 512kbit/sec) as a first step. The establishment of an Advanced Network is not directly related to PROBE, although it has been recognised that an Advanced Network could connect to the regional PROBE networks to allow better access for schools to Advanced Network members. In the future schools are also expected to be potential users of the Advanced Network.

What are the next steps?
Comment is being sought from potential users and network providers during March. Subject to government and user decisions, implementation could begin soon afterwards, with the first services becoming available later this year.

ENDS

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