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Australia went to the polls yesterday and gave the Coalition a thumping majority. That's democracy. What will happen to broadband?

The Abbott government policy of broadband simply cannot be installed as quickly as they say. It will take time and will be out-dated soon after it is completed. Is the being responsible to the taxpayer?

One of the issues that I have been concerned with is the National Broadband Network.  I have made no secret of what I think is in this country's best interests.  The National Broadband Network is an import issue.  Broadband is already starting to be seen as an important utility along with telephone, electricity, gas and water.

The current Coalition policy is better than their previous position of ripping the fibre back out.  But it is still rubbish.  Fibre to the node and copper to the premises is a short term solution that does not stack up in the long run.

An upgrade to fibre to the node (FTTN) will at best, last 10 years before it is obsolete and then guess what.  The nodes will need to be decommissioned and the last several hundred metres will need to be replaced with fibre.

Changing to FTTN requires a number of steps.

Contracts will need to be renegotiated with Telstra over the copper.  Currently Telstra gives up its copper network to the NBN because it is not in use and is therefore of no economic value. With FTTN, the last part uses the copper to deliver broadband. The copper is in use and there has economic value.  Will Telstra give this away for free? Hardly. They have duty to shareholders to maximise returns and if they give the copper away, I doubt they are fulfilling their duties to their shareholders. 

The government will want to build FTTN quickly.  This becomes a bargaining strength for Telstra. Unless the government caves quickly, I don’t see new contract being signed within the next few months.

The nodes themselves are an issue. In order to meet the promised speeds, they will have to be no more than 400 metres from any given property.  That would mean around 60,000 nodes placed around our towns & suburbs.  I can imagine some suburbs will be unhappy with big, ugly boxes on their leafy streets. Don’t think it won’t happen somewhere. Back in the 90’s when Optus & Foxtel were putting up HFC cable for pay tv, they ran into objections.  In some areas, the cable was coloured grey because the black clashed with the surroundings.

They will need places to put these nodes. The government will have to deal with local councils and possibly property owners and body corporates over the placement of these boxes. Add to that the fact that these nodes need power.  Electricity supply will need to be negotiated. This will add another layer of complexity.

The condition of the copper in some areas is questionable to say the least.  In many areas it degraded to the point that it simply will not be capable of the promised speeds and will need to be replaced. Replaced? Where is the sense in that?

Does FTTN meet our needs?

The Coalition promise of 25-50Mbps is a lot better than the 4mbps I currently get. So, anything will be an improvement. They have often said that their FTTN speeds will be good enough. This fails the test of understanding how people use the internet.

Not so long ago when we had dial up, we would connect up, check our mail and browse the web for a while and then log off.  Our web usage has changed markedly since then.  We expect a connection to be on 24/7.  We watch videos and listen to music. We play online games. We even download and install software now. Apple’s OSX, Adobe Creative & MS Office spring to mind. All this would have bee unthinkable on dial up. Remember how we moaned when we had to download a 50meg file for Internet Explorer?

Technology marches on as we find new ways to use it. IPTV or tv over the internet is gaining traction. Ultra high definition 4k tvs are being sold in shops now.  This kind of technology will spread. 4k tv currently needs 20-30Mbps to stream one channel.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out that it wont take long for 4k tv to exhaust a FTTN connection.

One of the things that was highlighted during the Christchurch earthquake was that of computer data.  Businesses very wisely back up their data. Typically that back up server is on the premises. So, if you building is destroyed, so is your data. That was a problem faced by may Christchurch businesses.  Even those in the red zone whose data was not destroyed could not gain access to their servers.

The obvious solution is to back up offsite.  There are many services currently offer that.  I have around 1TB of backups here.  With my current ADSL, it would take almost 3mths with a perfect connection to upload 1TB.  The reality would probably be more like 4 months. The fact is it is not tenable with my ADSL. My connection probably isn’t that different to a lot of other Australians.

Let’s assume I have a 50Mbps FTTN connection, I would most likely have an upload speed of around 10-12Mbps. That would put the time to around just over a week.  Compare that possible speed to 400Mbps on fibre.  That equates to 6hours.

FTTN may meet some domestic needs for the next 3-5 years, but may will strain at the lack of fast broadband. To say FTTN is enough is just paternalistic.

"Nielsen's Law of Internet bandwidth states that: a high-end user's connection speed grows by 50% per year."

FTTN has a use by date. That is at best 10 years.  That means the final copper will need to be replaced with…. You guessed it: fibre.  Why not do the job properly in the first place? Surely that’s the responsible thing to do for the taxpayer.

What’s the solution?

Copper has limits that we have already come to.  It was technology based on engineering standards from the 1920’s.  It is miracle we have been able get what we have got out of it.  The time has come to retire the copper network.

I often hear that wireless can deliver the speeds we need. That argument is flawed. We only have limited frequencies available and that means limited bandwidth. Fibre on the other hand uses light.  Light is electromagnetic radiation just like radio but at a much higher frequency.  That also means the sideband is wider which means more bandwidth.  If you want more bandwidth. Just add another strand of fibre.  You can’t argue with the laws of physics.

Fibre is the only solution.  It is faster than copper.  It lasts longer.  Speed doesn’t degrade over distance like copper does.

A fibre network is more expensive to build than a FTTN network in the short term.  However, in the future, the FTTN will need to be decommissioned and replaced with fibre. That seems illogical. Surely the responsible thing to do is to do the job properly in the first place.

The biggest criticism of the NBN has been cost.  We need the NBN. Can it be done for less? I think the answer is yes.  It has been over-engineered.  Check out Internode founder Simon Hackett’s presentation called “Building a Fibre NBN on a Copper budget” for some ideas   

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