A historic high-speed computer link between the Australian National University and institutions in Japan will begin operating later this month.
It will be the first time that an Australian academic institution has had a direct link with an Asian country. Currently, all academic traffic, either incoming or outgoing is routed via cables from the United States.
But the new dedicated "private line" will provide information transfer up to 100 times faster than most Internet connections, enough to allow for limited video and sound.
With financial help from the federal government, the ANU's cooperative research centre for advanced computational systems (ACSys) has established the 1.5 megabyte per second link in conjunction with its Japanese counterpart, RWCP.
The Australian-Japan Network Link will use part of an undersea optical-fibre cable as the result of a $2.4 million deal negotiated with Australia's second telecommunications company, Optus, and the Japanese telecommunications provider KDD.
The link connects Australia into what the ANU calls "the digital backbone of Asia" through the Asia-Pacific Advanced Network. This is a system of high-capacity data cables connecting Japan with five other Asian countries.
Researchers from across Australia will be able to apply to ACSys for access to the link, although an ANU spokesman said only collaborative groups would be accepted.
The university's Australia-Japan Research Centre is expected to be first off the mark. It will use the link to tap into the huge databases of the Nikkei publishing group, which has the largest and most comprehensive online information service in Japan.
Negotiations are also taking place between the university and Fujitsu Japan to give Australian researchers access to Fujitsu's latest supercomputer. Complex problems requiring significant computing power could be tackled by connecting computers on different sides of the Pacific Ocean.
The ANU spokesman said that co-operation between space scientists with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Sciences would also be enhanced.
"Both institutions record information from orbiting satellites that is combined using a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry to create an extremely accurate geographical positioning system," the spokesman said.
"The system can detect continental movements of just a few centimetres in tens of thousands of kilometres."
According to the ANU, the high-speed link will also be used to beam classes and lectures throughout Asia, with live video images and lectures transmitted to students in remote regions.
ANU vice chancellor Deane Terrell said the new data link was an important preliminary step in building vital connections with the rest of the world.
"The long-term efficiency of Australia depends on the provision of good communication and transport links between highly-skilled people," Professor Terrell said.