How the NT government wired up remote Aboriginal communities

Bringing reliable broadband to remote areas requires overcoming many obstacles.

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The Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin in the Timor Sea, are home to several remote Aboriginal communities. There are around 2,500 people living on the islands, with 89% of residents being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.

Quality telecommunications infrastructure is crucial to overcoming disadvantage in this area of Australia. “The evolution of telecommunications services will continue, and COVID will keep placing demands on telecommunications that must be met if communities are to have the same opportunities to grow and prosper like the rest of Australia,” says Ewan Perrin, the Northern Territory’s government’s executive director for digital government.

To achieve that, in September 2018, the NT government spent $8.5 million with Vocus to deliver an undersea fibre cable to connect the Tiwi Islands to the national telecommunications network. It would be supplemented with $3.4 million in upgrades to telecommunications infrastructure on the islands as part of a $28 million co-investment program with Telstra. The Vocus link was completed in December 2019 and with Telstra taking up services on the fibre link in mid-2020. The upgraded Telstra infrastructure was completed in December 2020.

So far, three Tiwi Islands communities have benefitted directly from these upgrades. The work included an upgraded trunk radio network on Bathurst and Melville Islands—which are part of the Tiwi Islands—and the installation of equipment to provide much improved broadband services at Pirlangimpi, Milikapiti, and Wurrumiyanga.

Residents are also benefitting from the replacement and upgrade of multiple batteries that provide power to Telstra services. The upgrades provide as many as 24 hours of reserve power in the communities and seven to 10 days of power reserves for the trunk and telecommunications network. The effort earned the Community Program award in the CIO50 Australia awards in November 2021.

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