Chris Hancock – CEO of AARNet

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Local Armidale resident Chris Hancock talks to Focus about his family life, his role as the CEO of AARNet and what high-capacity, leading-edge internet services mean for education and research communities.

How long have you lived in the area?

I moved to Armidale from Sydney with my wife Trudy and our daughters Lizzie and Katie earlier this year. We moved to our home in June of this year and currently live in Kellys Plains on a 25 acre property.

Why did you move to Armidale?

We moved to Armidale because we wanted a tree change and change of lifestyle. My wife has family in the area, so we wanted to move closer to them. My daughters are also keen horse riders and we own several horses, so it was a wonderful opportunity for them. We were really keen to relocate before our daughters begin high school, at a time when they are still young.

I now commute to Sydney every week for work and travel interstate and internationally frequently. I spend one or two days a week working from an office within the University of New England (UNE) and spend the rest of the time at the AARNet office in North Ryde.

Another reason for the move to Armidale was that I wanted to practice what I preach. AARNet provides high-capacity internet services and has played a valuable role in the evolution of the internet and the use of video conferencing facilities, enabling people to work from any location. I often use video conferencing facilities from the UNE office and as I travel so frequently, technology enables me to perform my job from anywhere. In the recent school holidays, I was able to work from home every day so that I could spend more time with my girls.

Tell us about your family …

My wife Trudy has her own graphic design business called Cherry Red Design. My daughter Lizzie is 11 and Katie is 8, and they both love horse riding. We brought Millie the family cat with us from Sydney, along with our two horses Gus and Squizzy. We have also inherited a baby pet lamb. The Armidale community is really accommodating to new families, and everyone has made us feel like we have been here for 20 years.

Where do your daughters attend school?

My daughters go to New England Girls’ School (NEGS). They really enjoy school and love playing hockey and getting involved in school activities. The music scene is brilliant in the Armidale area, and NEGS has a wonderful attitude for developing students in their musical pursuits.

What services does AARNet offer?

AARNet is Australia’s Academic and Research Network. It provides high-capacity leading edge internet services as well as other, more advanced communications services for Australia’s tertiary education and research sector.

AARNet was established in 1989 by a group of Australian universities and research institutions, with the aim of providing high-speed internet connectivity to serve the academic and research community. Today, it serves the vast majority of Australian universities, as well as a good cross section of research institutes, technical colleges, schools and medical institutions. More than one million end users access the AARNet network through local area networks at member institutions.

AARNet facilitates and enables research to take place between Australian and international research communities. It offers a range of services, including high-definition video conferencing, desktop multi-user video conferencing, dedicated lightpaths for data intensive research programs and cloud-based file transfer services for very large file sizes.

AARNet works with a number of National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) around the world in Asia Pacific, the United States and Europe.

The benefits of high speed networks …

One of the greatest benefits of high speed networks is the ability to connect researchers and schools from around the world, enabling instantaneous access to information and sharing of knowledge. High speed broadband has the potential to transform life for people in cities and rural areas.

The expansion of high-speed networks to regional areas such as Armidale is particularly important in bringing regional communities to the forefront of technology. Armidale is one of several trial sites chosen to rollout the National Broadband Network (NBN), in what is expected to be a nationwide rollout, with 3,000 local homes to be included in the pioneering link-up.

The potential uses of this new technology are endless, and the rollout has the possibility to dramatically change the future for a growing region like Armidale.

How do you see high speed networks evolving in the future?

I’m really excited about the potential benefits of high speed networks, particularly for rural areas. In the future, the ‘killer app’ will be video, and it will change the way we communicate, live and work – particularly in regional areas.

AARNet has already done amazing things with Australian students using high speed broadband. For example, last year Abbotsleigh Anglican School in Sydney enabled groups of students studying Antarctica to talk live via high definition video to a researcher at Scott Base in Antarctica. Other students studied the Great Barrier Reef by video in high definition, talking with a diver on the reef.

At a tertiary level, a large visual device called an OptiPortal has enabled Australian researchers to explore their fields of study in groundbreaking ways. Using the OptiPortal, doctors are already performing live surgeries and streaming high-definition video footage to colleagues around the world.

This is designed as a way of educating students, doctors and professors and highlighting the latest techniques through live, guided step-by-step demonstrations.

As high speed networks evolve, we will see this happening more, as what was once considered groundbreaking technology becomes commonplace. In the future it won’t be far-fetched for people’s homes to feature video walls which will be used for a range of tasks, such as interacting with doctors for a professional diagnosis from the comfort of home, or simply to have family ‘meetings’ with loved ones located all around the world.

The possibilities are truly endless!

Thank you Chris.

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