[the australian] THE Australian media establishment has a chequered history when it comes to investing in the telecommunications sector but Ryan Stokes believes the Seven Network has come up with a business that will buck the trend.
Stokes says while "we never want to take our focus off our core business, which still revolves around (free-to-air) television", it is the "right time" to launch Australia's first fourth-generation wireless broadband network in Perth next month.
It is an ambitious plan representing a new direction for the company controlled by his father, Kerry, and best known for a collection of media assets spanning newspapers, magazines, free-to-air and pay-TV.
Some of the biggest names in Australian media, including News Limited (publisher of The Australian) and PBL, have tried -- and failed in the case of One.Tel -- to crack the telco market. But Stokes says he "is very confident" Seven's model will succeed.
"Strategically, we are keen to be sure that we are prepared -- that's our message," he tells Media in an exclusive interview. "We've been very aware of the dynamics of technological change."
Stokes is sitting in the Sydney boardroom of Unwired, the broadband company Seven bought in late 2007 for $127 million. The view is impressive and overlooks the type of inner-city residences Seven hopes to capture with its Vividwireless brand.
Unwired had a chequered operational history before Seven took over and these days its original business is largely moribund.
But its main asset was a large chunk of 4G spectrum that has become increasingly valuable, given the growing demand for data-hungry wireless devices such as the iPhones, netbooks and e-readers.
The number of Australians with mobile data plans doubled last year. "Wireless will have another enormous year in 2010," notes Goldman Sachs JBWere analyst Christian Guerra.
"We think that the spectrum has an incredible value," says Stokes. "We are building a network to realise that value."
Perth, where Seven controls the main TV station and newspaper, is an obvious starting point. But in a speech last week, Stokes announced plans to roll out the network in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane, starting with major university sites. He described it as "the most exciting development in the broadband market in 2010".
Stokes has good reason to be upbeat. Vividwireless uses a 4G standard called Wimax, which is theoretically capable of peak download speeds of more than 20 megabits per second. This is about 10 times faster than existing 3G networks (and five times slower than the Rudd government's proposed national broadband network). Vividwireless also has the capability to upgrade its network to the rival Long-Term Evolution 4G standard.
Earlier this year, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced the government would auction off analogue spectrum vacated by the switch-over to digital television, which is due to be completed in 2013.
Seven's ambitious plan for fourth-generation wireless broadband