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Community & Business

27 November, 2022

New era of connectivity

LOCALS will no longer have to suffer with internet that makes them feel like they are stuck in the 90s with locally born company technology, AirBridge Networks, bringing the revolutionary Starlink system right to the region’s doorstep.

By Rhys Thomas

AirBridge Networks founder and managing director Douglas Stephens with Jaques Coffee Plantation owner Jason Jaques after installing the new Starlink system
AirBridge Networks founder and managing director Douglas Stephens with Jaques Coffee Plantation owner Jason Jaques after installing the new Starlink system

After noticing a shortfall of effective and affordable internet service providers, Tablelands local Douglas Stephens founded AirBridge in 2016, setting out to bring meaningful connection to people who needed it most.

With previous experience in the tech and connectivity space as a Telstra network architect and comms consultant, chief information officer for local government and at a web design marketing firm in the United States – Mr Stephens knows a thing or two about keeping people connected.

“Like all good businesses we started from a humble beginning in our garage,” Mr Stephens said.

AirBridge recently announced a platinum partnership with lead-ing Australian telecommunications giant Vocus – a competitor to both Telstra and Optus – which has installed the ground stations and provides the internet backhaul for SpaceX’s revolutionary Starlink system in Australia and is now able to distribute the low earth orbit (LEO) solution across the country.

AirBridge boasts a large customer and employee base on the Ta-blelands including local coffee plantation Jaques Coffee Plantation which recently got Starlink installed, providing a new, more powerful engine to their existing WI-FI network which was also installed by AirBridge.

Because Starlink is a low Earth orbit satellite solution, Mr Ste-phens said the level of connectivity speed and reliability clients gain in regional areas like the Tablelands is unmatched.

“There are plenty of places where there is poor mobile reception and, in some cases, no actual connectivity, it’s painful, you are wait-ing and waiting and it still feels like old technology,” he said.

“There will be one, maybe two megabytes (MB) available through existing technologies, however with new LEO connections you will be provided with instant, 250MB download speeds – so it is not a small change it, is a significant one.

“Traditional satellite solutions take a really long time to transmit data to and from the satellite therefor you experience around 600 milliseconds of latency – the time it takes for that data packet to commence its journey from its origin to the sky and then back down again.

“That translates to a really poor experience when you are browsing the internet, downloading files, and running business applications, but because Starlink sits in Low Earth Orbit, it’s latency is really low, 20 to 40 milliseconds in fact.”

AirBridge looks after 26 councils across Australia and over the years have provided solutions for mining and agricultural companies

and even the defence force, it mainly focuses on two separate veins of connectivity, telephony and carrier services.

It provides carrier services, point-to-point networks, routing switching, WI-FI, CCTV and more

“We look after many Indigenous communities, remote stations and regional Queensland businesses so connectivity has always been a drama,” Mr Stephens said.

“Our whole mantra is ‘Connectivity. Everywhere’, it is our tagline, our motto.

“With that in mind we have had to develop solutions to try and give meaningful connectivity to places where it previously didn’t exist.”

However, faster internet speeds are not all what AirBridge is about, they are the one-stop-shop for connectivity and are able to sup-ply, install, and manage their products and services, end-to-end.

“The company started with its golden offering as a point-to-point solution. In loose terms, if you run a blue network/data cable, it has a useable length of up to 100 metres,” Mr Stephens said.

After that, you then have to switch to fibre, which involves drilling through the ground, digging up garden beds, streets, pits and pipes and that sort of stuff which can be horribly expensive.

“With an AirBridge point-to-point solution, we can do up to 40 kilometres wirelessly and have it finished in a day.”

The applications for having AirBridge installed on an agricultural property can be hugely beneficial, having WI-FI in the shed enables the farmer to look up serial numbers of equipment to find the right parts, then and there.

Farmers can check their pump sheds through a camera instead of having to go back and forward on a bike to see if the pump is going to go underwater, they can see it in real time.

“This is the sort of enablement that we are talking about,” Mr Ste-phens said.

Jaques Coffee Plantation outside of Mareeba is run by third gen-eration owners Robert and Jason, who have had a working relation-ship with AirBridge for the past five years.

AirBridge has helped Jaques connect all its infrastructure together to one unified network, Jason can manage and control just about any facet of the business from water irrigation, solar monitoring and café bookings all from one platform, even when he is away from the plan-tation.

The installation of Starlink two weeks ago has provided a massive boost to the business compared to the previous fixed wireless NBN system.

“We used to get around 5-10MB of internet with the fixed wire-less, sometimes slower,” Jason said.

“On Starlink we are getting up to 150-200MG download speed with a 30MB upload, whereas before we could not even get four or five.

“Now we can offer our customers higher speed, free WI-FI and because many are tourists, they come visit our café and they are on TripAdvisor, Facebook, posting pictures and things like that.”

Jason said without fast and efficient internet, the plantation would not exist.

“We run a massive online business from here as well, we would not survive without decent internet,” he said.

“Running with no mobile phone reception out here, internet is life for us.

“We have struggled for years but AirBridge has made life much more connected.”

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