Above: Hands-on internet entrepreneurs Michael Hoggett and James Lock (holding fibre-optic cable)
KOORALBYN RESIDENT Michael Hoggett wanted fast and affordable internet for “the valley”, as he calls it. His company is Kooralbyn Community Broadband or KCB and its tagline is Better Internet For Everyone. KCB has been up and running for a year, even connecting homes in signal “black spots” which have never enjoyed internet before.
Michael Hoggett is a leader with the community’s interest at heart. He’s also my neighbour.
KCB is a company of four: Founder and majority shareholder Michael, Co-Founder and tech guru James Lock, Chief Construction Officer Brent Somerset and Michael’s 18-year-old son Toby.
“What I thought was going to happen was very different from what we actually built,” Michael recalled. “In my first conversation with James, I wanted to dig a trench out to the (Mount Lindesay) highway, connect to the NBN out there and bring my own fibre optic cable into the valley. James said: No, that’s not what you need to do. I would not have gotten any further than that if I had not met James.”
Brent Somerset is KCB’s builder. “I worked with Brent when we were rebuilding the (golf) resort,” said Michael. “He has knowledge, he’s fabricated a lot of the metalwork for our towers. He also has no fear of heights! I did not know this before I started, but I have a morbid fear of heights! My knees go as soon as I’m off the ground, although I’m pushing through that now.”
Michael has worked for the big telcos.
“I worked on technical support on the lines for AAPT (Australian Associated Press Telecommunications) and Telstra between 1998 and 2006. So if something went wrong with your internet you’d be ringing me, and I’d be the one talking you through getting your computer back up and running. If I couldn’t handle it, I would pass it up to a guy who had less skill than James, but who would have a better understanding of what was going on than me. Further up the chain you’d have someone like James overseeing things.”
What KCB has done
- KCB has erected four transmission towers across Kooralbyn, with the main tower on Mount Kooralbyn. The towers are 12 metres high and considered “low-impact” towers. A tower is divided into sectors and the sectors shoot signals in different directions, transmitting to dishes which sit on customers’ roofs, within a secure network.
- The location of the towers were determined by expressions of interest in the service. KCB focussed on areas where people wanted internet and could not currently get it.
- KCB built its towers on private property and in exchange offered the property owner free internet for as long as KCB is in operation
- KCB tested two transmission systems (2.4 gigahertz and 5.8 gigahertz), and went with 5.8 gigahertz, considering the topography of the area ie., valleys, trees and distance.
- KCB uses equipment by Ubiquiti which is off-the-shelf technology, a well-known brand in the industry, and relatively inexpensive. Equipment is ordered through an Australian importer/retailer.
- All the towers are solar powered; they have panels and battery storage systems. They are standalone structures that require no power lines or trenching.
The tower on Mount Kooralbyn can run for four days without sun. However, on the shortest day of the year and five days without sun, Michael had to take a generator up to the tower. Luckily that won’t happen much in Queenland!
James said, “Part of the reason we needed a generator for that tower was because it services the most customers and has multiple sectors on it. That’s a lot of power draw. The other towers are fine.”
James is originally from Bristol, England, and came to Australia as a child. He moved to Kooralbyn three years ago and has been developing software commercially since 2000. He has worked in the information and communications technology area building computers, repairing computers, building, installing and fixing networks, and worked in customer support for different private and government agencies.
The main telecoms exchange in Kooralbyn is on Routley Drive. Internet has only been available through ADSL, which stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line and means internet comes to Kooralbyn via existing copper telephone lines. All internet providers operating in Kooralbyn, including KCB, have had to connect to the ADSL.
When KCB has had interruptions with its service, it has generally been because its new technology is receiving slow and unreliable feed from the old copper telephone lines.
This is about to change. NBN is the National Broadband Network, providing internet via fibre optic cable. Originally, NBN roll-out for Kooralbyn was scheduled for the end of 2019. This was brought forward and NBN is operating in Kooralbyn now.
KCB will connect to the NBN.
James explained that fibre optic cable is glass.
“Inside the fibre glass cable, there is a tiny hole which is capable of carrying a light signal. A light signal is transmitted, and that’s optical fibre.” It’s fast.
Michael recently appeared at the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network to talk about KCB and how a very small team of people brought fast internet to a rural town. If you click the link above and download the document, pages 5-13 details the panel’s comparison of KCB’s infrastructure, costs, product offerings, and very modern equipment with the same for its larger competitors.
“Following that appearance, the local Federal member The Honourable Scott Buchholz is coming in to bat for us,” said Michael.
“He’s providing a staff member to work with us. This means we don’t talk to NBN on our own, we have a member from the Federal member’s office sitting in meetings with us, dealing with the NBN, just to give us more gravitas.”
The future is interesting for KCB. It could negotiate better connections with the NBN, look at tackling black spots in other areas of the Scenic Rim, or help other small communities build a community network.
I feel people are being driven to the edge. When you are just committed to maintenance budgets; paying for internet, power, water and rates, you have nothing else left to put back into the economy.
We believe in trying to give control back to the consumer. We keep prices low, we don’t contract, we don’t lock you in. You can change your plans. Michael Hoggett
KCB – our local heroes.