New Australian CeNTIE supernet to support telehealth and interactive surgical training

Sydney 01 June 2001A new "super" Internet, hundreds of times faster than the current one, being designed by an Australian consortium will have huge ramifications for telehealth, media systems, information brokering, distance education, and tele-collaboration. The consortium led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will be granted $14 million seed funding to establish a Centre for Networking Technologies for the Information Economy (CeNTIE). The partners in CeNTIE will receive the grant as part of the Australian Government's Building on IT Strengths (BITS) Advanced Networks Programme.


The $14 million grant will be augmented by another $30 million contributed by the members of the CeNTIE bid. These members are CSIRO, Nortel Networks, AMCOM Telecommunications, the University of New South Wales, the University of Technology in Sydney, and the Western Australia Interactive Virtual Environments Centre (WA-IVEC). A large number of end-user companies in the health, media, education, and other service delivery industries have also agreed to participate in CeNTIE's activities.

"The new network will deliver performance at a level not expected in commercial systems for five years, so we are bringing the future forward. Participants will be part of technology in the making. They will be using the network while innovative features are being developed and added to the system", stated CeNTIE's director Dr. Terry Percival.

"The most demanding applications that will be developed constitute interactive surgical training and tele-presence surgery utilising networked virtual environments, which will place extraordinary requirements upon communications networks way beyond those currently employed", explained CSIRO business manager Gary Doherty. This challenging task will be conducted in Perth at IVEC and in Sydney based on existing CSIRO work in this area.

"This will mean that a student can practise surgery using the haptic workbench in Sydney, with an expert giving him guidance from Perth. Or you will be able to have more than one student connected, so that what you have is a virtual classroom with students in different cities." Mr. Doherty explained that it will help to make interactive telemedicine possible. "There is the potential for people in remote locations to receive a better and more timely quality of health care. A patient in some remote area of Australia could have an ultrasound examination directed by a radiologist in Sydney or Melbourne for instance."

"We cannot do these things using current technology because the capacity and performance needed is too great", added Dr. Terry Percival. This project will provide demonstration systems to break down the barriers of speed and geographical extent of information exchange while building on CSIRO's existing initiatives in tele-ultrasound, decision support systems, and home health care.

Researchers are the most demanding users of collaborative technology and so the members of CeNTIE will be used as guinea pigs for their own research. This work will be based on the existing virtual classroom at the University of New South Wales, and the CSIRO tele-lecture theatres at Marsfield and at Lindfield in Sydney. Smaller scale facilities will be established at other sites. The collaborative systems will be established for sharing of research results and facilities and project management in the Centre. Strong linkages will also exist with the work in shared virtual environments and digital media systems, and exploration of the related human factors. This work will be led by Associate Professor Robin Braun, head of the Telecommunications group at the University of Technology in Sydney.

Dr. Percival noted that the CeNTIE project will utilise dedicated fibres laid in capital cities whereas Nortel Networks will provide the dense wavelength division multiplex (DWDM) optical equipment to achieve connectivity in 10 Gbit/s increments for the links between major nodes. Interstate capacity between Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth of 10 Gbit/s will be provided by another consortium member, AMCOM Telecommunications. "The East Coast capacity will be provided by arrangement with another ANP winner, GrangeNet, and this will result in a national backbone from Brisbane to Perth", Dr. Percival stated. CeNTIE will also provide connections to, and collaborate with, another successful bidder mNet.

The business systems will run on their own individual virtual networks, a new feature made possible by the world's most advanced programmable network technology, to be provided by Nortel Networks. This new technology allows the routers and switches which comprise a network to be reconfigured dynamically in order to create new services such as virtual private Internets. "These devices will allow applications specific services to be installed on the network", stated Professor Aruna Seneviratne, the Mahanakorn Professor of Telecommunications at the University of New South Wales, who will lead research in this area. The development of this technology forms an extension of existing collaborative research between Nortel Networks and CSIRO.

Leslie Versweyveld

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