AUSTRALIA-US: Ultra-resolution broadband link opened

A global collaboration laboratory between the universities of California San Diego and Melbourne was launched last Wednesday with the opening of a super broadband network between the two nations. Scientists and engineers who demonstrated the new technology, 250 times faster than a standard broadband connection in Australia, said it had the potential to transform interactions between researchers on each side of the world.

They spoke of surgeons conducting brain surgery with help from colleagues 10,000 kilometres away, of climate change experiments or interpreting human genome data in real time with high-definition, wall-sized video screens and audio – and eliminating the need for two or three-week turnaround airplane trips.

Over the past two months, Melbourne engineers built a massive 96-million pixel visualisation wall – dubbed ‘OzIPortal’ – from 24x30 inch LCD screens (that compares with the standard PC screen of one to two million pixels). The ultra-resolution wall is the biggest in Australia and was used to demonstrate cutting-edge medical and environmental research to participants at both universities using an interactive high-definition television stream over a 1,000 megabit/second super-broadband optical fibre connection across the Pacific Ocean.

Melbourne’s dean of engineering, Professor Iven Mareels, said the real-time nature of the technology meant people on opposite sides of the globe could work together on major data-intensive projects. Mareels said a surgeon in Australia could direct an emergency surgical intervention by operating a robot in Antarctica, scientists in Australia and Japan could share research tools such as the synchrotron or operate an underwater robot on the Great Barrier Reef – all from the comfort of the OzIPortal room.

Speaking in San Diego, Professor Larry Smarr, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology ( and inventor of the system, said that based on Wednesday’s success, the Americans would connect other Australian universities together with those in the US and around the world this year.

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, Julia Gillard, attended the opening with other ministers from the new Labor government. Speaking after the demonstrations, Gillard said she hoped more Australian universities and households could be given access to the ultra-resolution broadband.

Commenting on the technical glitches that interrupted the demonstrations during the interactive discussions, Gillard said it was cutting-edge technology “and when you have cutting-edge technology, there are things that can go very, very wrong”.
* For a profile of Julia Gillard see our People section