back to article It's time to suck the marrow from the NBN debate

Australia has, for the past decade, enjoyed a vivid but not-always productive debate on appropriate broadband infrastructure for the nation. The Reg wants to set that to rights. Australia's broadband debate has reached the conclusion that the nation should spend at least $AUD29bn on a National Broadband Network (NBN) and allow …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You have to be careful in examining this area - and from you questions and statements, it doesn't look like you are being.

    First, we are talking about the future, and you know how well predictions work there. Hell, smartphones were unknown 5 years ago. When you are looking out 30-50 years, be careful using the use cases of today. You need to be playing strategically.

    With that in mind, we'll probably be more interested and focused on 'telepresence' technologies, not just bozo TV streams but enough data to make you feel you are there (and other stuff as well) probably in real 3D. In that regard we are not only talking bandwidth, we are talking latency. Fibre to the Home has the advantage in downstream bandwidth, latency AND upstream bandwidth (which is usually much less than needed for 2 way telepresence).

    Frankly there is little question that doing FTTH now is the way to go. There is also little question that big ears will get in and can the whole programme with Turnball's daft idea. You want to examine things? Examine why numbnuts politicians continually get in and make a hash of things through crass stupidity - now there's a real question to get to the guts of.

    1. The Researcher

      Re: Careful


      Increasing down load/upload speed = fine, but at what cost?

      No problem with providing areas with snail mail faster than the internet u/d a major upgrade in facilities - but - again should there not be some incentive required at least? So create capacity to the node and if someone wants super fast speeds then they pay for last line connection.

      Argument that businesses will move to the country if they get super fast internet is a major fallacy. Certainly at the margin some people will move but hardly any families with school age or approaching school age children do. Often that group are the ones who cite on 'exit' surveys done by various State Govs over the years - that the better education facilities (larger & more diverse schools) are a key reason for leaving the regions.

      For a business to employ new staff with relevant experience - finding them in a population base of 1-4 million (major capital city) can even be difficult. Finding them in a 3,000 person major country service centre town is impossible. In Australia people virtually never move for a job (less than 0.4%) vs in the low 20%s in the US for example. Perhaps stamp duty has something to do with it, or the fear of moving and the company failing - whatever - people in Aust rarely ever will move interstate (if single) and virtually never when married/defacto with/without children

      Quite often, especially recently, reasons proposed are for 'tele-medicine', and HD TV etc.

      Now here's the great con job - why should the tax payer subsidize pay TV companies or IP tv?

      Doesn't Google make enough as it is?

      Sure there are some future uses that have not been invented yet - but that's a bit like saying every household should have a I7 Intel PC/Laptop with 64GB Ram, 1TB flash NOW to cope with the future.

      The future may also see new delivery mechanisms developed (or compression routines) that make the current NBN structure obsolete.

      Given current (and past 15 years virtually since the beginning of wide spread adoption) bandwidth volume hogging has been videos and predominantly those of a pornographic nature. Yes youtube has altered the balance slightly but porn is still the internet volume king - amateur porn a growing social issue.

      The claim that every house needs to be connected to super fast internet rings hollow when that choice was widely available (over 78% of population at last figure I saw a couple of years back) for a small cost.

      Perhaps that is why no analytical business case was ever released. That's the trouble with numbers (factually based ones that is) they can be a very inconvenient truth - so let's not show them.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This will bring on a world of hurt, but I'll try ...

    What broadband service does Australia and comparable nations require in the future?

    This isn't a meaningful question. Required to do what ?

    What broadband connection technology provides the longest likely working life and lowest operational cost to meet the demand identified in question one?

    It's not 'technology' - it's 'technologies' - plural. There should be a mix. I'll go along with fiber for the backbone. I'm less impressed with FTTP as a govt. funded option. If it was me, I'd be inclined to fund FTTN and then allow FTTP on an individual basis for those prepared to pay. This could work like cellphones or basic cable, where the operator pays for installation/kit as long as you sign up for a plan.

    My ideal node would be upgradable and have DSLAM, FTTP and also WIFI/4G capabilities. If you're going to build neighborhood broadband access points you may as well do them properly. Oh and add a UPS.

    What will entrepreneurs in business and government do with the NBN?

    The govt. will use it to force all govt services online - closing down offices and sacking thousands of staff. Once we're all online they will track everyone and hand that data off to the NSA.

    Entrepeneurs will use it to copy whatever is the latest fashion in Silicon Valley, desperately hoping to secure venture capital for the latest 'me too' website/app.

    A lot of this will involve cats.

  3. Denarius Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    hardware and software

    Probably already in debate and I have not seen it. (debate? what debate ? Mostly ignorant rants like a bad day on AOL and the spin doctors and pollies are worse )

    (a) Comms protocols. IPV6 only ? Tunnel IPV4 if you must. Goal: Simplify network management and routing to reduce packet latency. eg, At moment my connection goes through at least 4 NAT systems of some kind to get to me. All unnecessary overhead and additional latency so IPTV becomes something that might be possible. Tough if the crap on free to air broadcast TV goes away.

    (b) dump the one size fits all planning so beloved of the PHB class of manager and craven colonial minded thinktanks. This country is not structured like South Korea or some crowded northern hemisphere hellhole. A few high density centers, surrounded by by a mix of medium to low density conurbations with nothing or isolated users in between.

    ( c) planning for adaptabilty. So far, in the short term, (< 5 years) fiber seems to be continually increasing capacity. Conclusion: choose a higher cost quality fiber that can handle the newer multiplexed multi-frequency polyphasic whatevers for the backbone. Smaller long haul likewise if it is affordable. It is easier to upgrade 250 Km than 2000 Km of fiber.

    (d)v Decide what level to set as basic services level. Such as in the old days when public services were considered just that, not business enterprises. Dump Telstra basic service obligations so they can bankrupt themselves without bothering the rest of us too much. Fill basic obligation levels based on agreed basic service thru NBN.

    (e) Legislate immediate involuntary organ donation of any think tank (all of them) , foreigner, and local useful idiots within Oz that speak of selling off another basic public service to the inefficient bloated bureaucracy of the private sector.

    (f) Long term (over 10 years) is crystal ball fantasy that is best managed by not having long term plans. Having a national policy on basic service policies should allow career employees with corporate memory to change technologies as they become affordable and needed.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Upload speeds?

    It seems to me that all the debate is around download speeds on the assumption that we will all only consume content from the internet.

    I would like to see a debate around what Upload/upstream speeds we will require in the future and the best technology to accomplish these speeds.

    If video (High Definition H.264 Facetime, Skype etc.) becomes the norm for communications in the future then todays ADSL/Wireless Broadband infrastructure or even tomorrows will not be adequate with the available upstream speeds.

    In today's debate this question is not adequately covered...probably because politicians can tell the difference between upload and download.

  5. Splot

    What do we need

    What we need is a competitive wholesale market with multiple (more than 2) providers competing to provide the most cost effective wholesale service at the appropriate quality level. What we don't need is a politically motivated marketing that obfuscates the facts. Creating monopolies is bad for everybody.

    What we can get now are pieces of kit that will allow up to 400 MB/s (based on what is currently being sold to connect to Telstra broadband) but is limited and shaped by what the telcos are willing sell (configuration). What we get under NBN is kit that can connect at 100 MB/s (futures of 1GB), or for those areas with viable LTE coverage is up to about 80 MB/s. What we can’t get is universal coverage at the above levels. That is the core issue, it just isn’t commercially viable.

    Where it is not economically viable (i.e. rural and remote areas) the government has a role in assisting to ensure all people have access to services that meet their needs at a cost that is fair. Fair unfortunately is hard to define. If we had the numbers, the facts and the proposed benefits then at least we could see if what the NBN is meant to be solving is firstly fair and secondly affordable. If it were refocused on solving the inequality of service coverage for those outside the high profit areas of cities then may be a worthwhile money sink.

    1. Choofer

      Re: What do we need

      While a nice competitive landscape sounds great in theory, in practice it has failed Australia miserably. Mostly because of the way the Libs sold off Telstra with a virtual monopoly over the pits and pipes which has prevented any kind of competition apart from the most dense areas. But the reality is that the last 15 years of competitive Telco landscape in Australia has resulted in a broadband backwater.

      In that time, Telstra has also let the CAN decay. 10 Years ago, Telstra declared that the CAN had 10 years left in in MAX, and basically started a process of running it down to scrap value. We now have a copper network that is really worth only the weight of the copper - the pit and pipe infrastructure is the real gold-mine. Sure Telstra knows they have to spend $300mill fixing it, but that's pocket change for a country the size of Europe.

      And what's this magical 400Mbit service that's available? Are you talking the HFC network that they stopped expanding 10 years ago and only covers less than 10% of Australia's houses - once again in the most dense areas already?

      Many of the benefits of the NBN will be it's ubiquitous service. You can't plan on wholesale telehealth when people's upload speeds range between 1Mbit and 20. How do you do mass rollouts of VC solutions to the elderly when you have no idea if they will work or not? How do you enable the regionalisation of Australia's workplace when speeds and latencies are all over the shop? Under the Fibre NBN plan your physical location becomes almost irrelevant - not so under a variable speed copper plan. And Australia cricically needs a way to both boost national productivity while dealing with the massive infrastructure problems our capital cities already face.

    2. Thorne

      Re: What do we need

      "Creating monopolies is bad for everybody"

      Yes and no. This is an infrastructure monopoly owned by the government, no different to powerlines, railway tracks and roads.

      The problem in Australia is when the government sold off Telstra which owned the phone lines creating a private monopoly who screwed it's customers and competitors and refused to upgrade the system because it could make more money selling the old broken crap cause there was no choice.

      The NBN creates a government owned monopoly who then sells access to private companies at the same price unlike Telstra with it's customer arm and wholesale arm.

      Now if private companies just ran their own lines, it wouldn't work. They will create small monopolies in the profitable areas and the regional areas will get squat. No company will create duplicate fibre networks in an area where one already exists as then you spend a lot to buy into a market where you need to compete on price. Much easier to build in an empty area and rule it as your fiefdom...

      Now with a government controlled fibre monopoly, the profitable areas will subsidize the rural areas allowing all Australian the same level of access. As far as I'm concerned, everywhere that has copper running to it should be upgraded to fibre. If you didn't have copper before, then satellite or wireless.

  6. Darryl Smith

    Another thing about the NBN costs is that many of the costs must be expended anyway.

    For instance, the current broadband over satellite for the bush service is currently getting close to End Of Line. It will require about $7b from memory to replace it. These costs have been moved into the NBN, but will have to happen even if the NBN does not go ahead.

    Another of those costs is the cost of Fibre to regional centres. Once again, this has been moved to the NBN, and is needed anyway. Lets put a price of $1b on it. So we have about $8b of government costs, even if the NBN does not go ahead.

    Then Telstra would need to spend at least $10b upgrading it's copper network over the next 10 years, because it if falling apart. This puts the total to about $18b that needs to be spent regardless.

    On the other side, from the FIOS experience in the USA, I predict that there will be about four house fires during install caused by installers hitting gas or electric lines. I hope I am wrong, but this is a prediction.


    1. david 12 Silver badge

      >Another thing about the NBN costs is that many of the costs must be expended anyway

      Certainly. From 2000 on, there was public debate about the forms this would take. Telstra suggested a fibre-to-the-node system, but wanted a monopoly. The then government told them that if they had a good case for a monopoly, they should take it up with the ACCC.

      In 2006, the then opposition was successful in politicising this. Beazley made infrastructure spending central to his (Labour Party) policy, and proposed an infrastructure audit, but proposed that the new broadband network would go ahead regardless.

      As a result of the politicalisation, any consideration of the details you list became irrelevant to the plan.

      Calls for a business case justification, which would include the factors you list, have been condemed out-of-hand as troglodyte Luddite obstructionism, which hardly leads to rational consideration.

  7. david 12 Silver badge

    turned the NBN into a political football

    You mean that the NBN didn't start as a political football? tsk tsk tsk tsk.

    "These are simple choices between my economic vision and Mr Howard’s. That’s what I want the next election to be about. About who can build the type of nation we’re proud to hand to our kids and grandkids ...

    ... I’ll build a super-fast national broadband network to 98 per cent of Australians’ homes, delivering speeds up to 25 times faster than what’s available now."

    On my reading, the opposition has been asking the same questions you are asking now. Why start by kicking them?

  8. Vance P. Frickey

    TIme to leapfrog... and free up bandwidth from analog TV, other bandwidth hogs

    Arthur C. Clarke (who gave us the math for geosynchronous satellites, thus has had time to think of that technology's implications) said in one of his nonfiction essays that developing nations actually have the splendid chance NOT to make the mistakes of more developed nations - like laying out millions of miles of copper and/or optical fiber for telecommunications - satellites are the natural mode of communication for places with more land than money.

    If you're determined to drop a few billion dollars on a national broadband network for Australia, make every dollar count by saving the cost of physical transmission lines across the country. Instead, invest in a mix of satellite up and downloads between cities and townships, and/or line-of-sight microwave relays. LOS microwave worked just fine in my native state of Louisiana, where dry land is scarce and copper began becoming scarce as small communities wanted good quality phone service, and eventually corporate data connectivity to tie SCADA networks together, collecting production data on oil and gas wells, banking data and ultimately Internet connectivity.

    Now that Hughes Telecom has point-to-point high-speed Internet satellite networking getting faster and faster, their corporate parent General Motors audaciously put satellite phone and data links on every model of their most modest automotive line, Chevrolet (the American equivalent of GM's Australian subsidiary Holden). Before this, GM had traditionally tested new and advanced technology on the higher-priced car lines, like Buick and Cadillac. Satellite data transmission is getting progressively cheaper - so why invest in all that copper and fiber optic for the NBN?

    Of course, that's a rational question, and NBN is, like most political endeavors, likely to be controlled by a web of irrational motives. America sort of fell haphazardly into its web of high-speed phone and data network, shunning high speed fiber-optic lines until they became necessary to the cable TV and phone industries to provide progressively faster networks for distributing movies, hit television miniseries, and Internet games.

    MMPORGs are driving a certain percentage of demand for high speed broadband, and I can't help thinking that as the demand for bandwidth to allow people to become their avatars increases, NBN will need to be just as fast as it can physically be. Moore's Law might be a quaint shadow of the mid 21st century's demand for bandwidth as more and more people begin inhabiting Second Life, World Of Warcraft, and other virtual worlds where players' experiences are limited only by their imagination. As economics contracts possibilities for people to have intriguing real-life fun, virtual worlds will increasingly be an escape from drab and nasty reality.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: TIme to leapfrog... and free up bandwidth from analog TV, other bandwidth hogs

      The problem with satellites is the lag. If you don't want exponential costs you need geosynchronous sats and they are a long way away. Far enough to make any interactive or real time use problematic. The second issue is weather. You don't want to bring down your network for every bad storm. Microwaves suffer from the same weather issues and are also limited to line of sight.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You forget some important questions

    - What is the projected return on investment, based on quantitative analysis

    - Given the answer to the previous question, what level of investment over what period can be justified

    Several years and billions of dollars down the road, the first of these two questions has still not been answered.

  10. SD2


    What is up with all these people suggesting wireless technologies as a viable alternative to fiber for a NBN?

    People, this is not a debate where everybody gets a vote, and nobody is wrong.

    Wireless technologies are fine for casual use. They are insufficient for regular or heavy use. They need to be updated every 5 years or so to allow for more bandwidth (Look at UMTS -> HSDPA -> HSPA+ -> LTE).

    YOUR data traffic while remaining light by comparison to the average will increase, and has been increasing over the years.

    Fiber is the only technology that currently has sufficient bandwidth to not require an upgrade in the immediate future, while having plenty of upgrade options further down the track.

    1. Tim Bates

      Re: Wireless

      Totally agree - Telstra has been busy proving how crap shared bandwidth wireless connections are. They have been overselling their 4G WiFi modems as a solution to every internet connection need. They've even been calling ADSL users and selling it to them - major WTF.

      To provide suitable low contention wireless services to the masses, they need the fibre rolled out anyway. In fact, it would be similar to the coalitions plan as far as the fibre goes.

      Speaking of the coalitions plan - how can someone comment on the possible needs for the future, then fail to notice the coalitions plan is scalable for the future. The paper they published even mentions they intend to replace aging copper with fibre to the premises anyway.... Just not in one huge effort like Conroy decided we need.

      Personally I'd prefer the coalition plan purely on the time scale...

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