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An election, an NBN, a hung parliament, and a whole lot of sucking up…

Like every other Australian, I’ve been subjected to this whole “election” and “hung parliament” rubbish that’s been littering our news for the past few weeks. Secretly, I’m hoping for the Coalition to take it out (who at the time of writing this, have something like a 4000 vote lead for the entire two party preferred vote). Although it seems unlikely, there’s still a little hope.

As an IT professional, I’ve been asked numerous times, why don’t I support Labour, given their ambitious 43 billion dollar National Broadband Network?

Well, there’s a number of possible reasons. Let’s see…

So this morning, I sparked off this post after reading Mitchell Bingemann’s article title (the) Shape of regional internet hangs on battle to form government. To quote, “areas such as Cloncurry in the Kennedy electorate and Kempsey in Lyne will be served with broadband speeds of up to a gigabit per second” under Labour’s proposed NBN network.

Okay… Now let’s just take a step back… When is this so called NBN due to be rolled out? When will the service be switched on for regional areas? Rolling out a fibre network (fibre to the node, for that matter), isn’t just an overnight process.. I’m skeptical of the validity of this plan in general.

The Coalition’s plan, however, is to boost “minimum peak” speeds to 12mbps. This is faster then my current ADSL2+ connection, which syncs at 4mbps, in the Brisbane Metro area! I have to argue – who really needs a 100mbps connection? 4mbps does the job just fine for me, I get my emails done, do my banking, update my blog, Facebook (alot) and do a bit of online gaming and general downloading, and I certainly am not complaining about my connection speed – even if I can theoretically have a faster connection if I lived closer to the Exchange…

“Moving forward”, to quote our current “prime minister” Julia Gillard, I think the Coalition’s plans are more strategic. Yes, you need to lay fiber to get these regional areas faster speeds, that’s a con for both parties. What happens next is the massive difference in strategy. Labour calls for a much longer term implementation, by deploying fibre to the node, whereas the Coalition calls for an upgrade using existing technologies.

Here’s a quick table of pros and cons, from my perspective:

Labour Coalition
Pros Cons Pros Cons
  • 100mbps/1gbps fiber connection
  • Regional fibre to the node
  • $43bn cost to tax payers
  • Time to implement – 2020?
  • Current infrastructure does not allow sustained 100mbps/1gbps speeds on a national level
  • Labour still has the Internet filtering policy hanging over their heads.
  • Reduced cost ($6bn?)
  • Time to implement – 2012?
  • Current infrastructure will support the national approach
  • Laying fiber to regional areas and improving current service allows for later implementation of higher bandwidth NBN – “proof of concept?”
  • Improved regional coverage
  • “minimum peak” speeds of 12mbps in regional areas

I received a forwarded email from a previous colleague last week, with the subject “NBN – by someone who knows, so therefore not a labour politician” – this alone made me chuckle. It goes something like this:

I am a network architect for one of Australia’s largest Telco’s – so I speak with some authority on this issue.

Here are the technical reasons this will fail :
1) fibre optic cable has a maximum theoretical lifespan of 25 years when installed in conduit.  Over time, the glass actually degrades (long story), and eventually it cant do it`s bouncing of light thing any more. But when you install fibre outside on overhead wiring (as will be done for much of Australia’s houses, except newer suburbs with underground wiring), then the fibre degrades much quicker due to wind, temperature variation and solar/cosmic radiation. The glass in this case will last no more than 15 years. So after 15 years, you will have to replace it.  Whereas the copper network will last for many decades to come.  Fibre is not the best technology for the last mile. That’s why no other country has done this.

2) You can not give every house 100Mbps.  If you give several million households 100Mbps bandwidth, then you have exceeded the entire bandwidth of the whole internet.  In reality, there is a thing called contention. Today, every ADSL service with 20Mbps has a contention ratio of around 20:1 (or more for some carriers).  That means, you share that 20Mbps with 20 other people.  It`s a long story why, but there will NEVER be the case of people getting 100Mbps of actual bandwidth.  Not for several decades at current carrier equipment rates of evolution.  The “Core” can not and will not be able to handle that sort of bandwidth.  The 100Mbps or 1Gbps is only the speed from your house to the exchange.  From there to the Internet, you will get the same speeds you get now.  The “Core” of Australia’s network is already fibre (many times over).  And even so, we still have high contention ratios.  Providing fibre to the home just means those contention ratios go up.  You will not get better download speeds.

3) new DSL technologies will emerge.  15 years ago we had 56k dial-up. Then 12 years ago we got 256k ADSL, then 8 years ago 1.5Mbps ADSL2, then 5 years ago 20Mbps ADSL2+.  There are already new DSL technologies being experimented on that will deliver over 50Mbps on the same copper we have now. $zero cost to the tax payer

4) 4G wireless is being standardised now.  The current 3G wireless was developed for voice and not for data, and even so it can deliver up to 21Mbps in Australia. There are problems with it, but remember that it was developed for voice. The 4G standard is specifically being developed for data, and will deliver 100Mbps bandwidth with much higher reliability (yes, the same contention issues apply mentioned earlier).  $zero cost to the tax payer

5) The “NBN” will be one of the largest single networks ever built on earth.  There are only a few companies who could do it – Japan’s Nippon NTT, BT, AT&T;, Deutsche Telekom etc.  Even Telstra would struggle to built something on this scale.  Yet we are led to believe that the same people who cant build school halls or install insulation without being ripped off are going to to do it ???  Here at Telstra, we are laughing our heads off !! Because when it all comes crumbling down, after they have spent $60+billion and the network is no more than 1/2 complete, it will be up to Telstra to pick up the pieces !  (shhhh don’t tell anyone, it`s our secret)

<name suppressed>

This bright so and so confirmed a number of my suspicions. Lets revise my pros and cons:

Labour Coalition
Pros Cons Pros Cons
  • 100mbps/1gbps fiber connection
  • Regional fibre to the node
  • Telstra not necessarily the “owner” of the infrastructure
  • $43bn cost to tax payers $60bn cost to tax payers
  • Time to implement – 2020?
  • Current infrastructure does not allow sustained 100mbps/1gbps speeds on a national level
  • Labour still has the Internet filtering policy hanging over their heads.
  • Fiber has a life span of around 25 years
  • Telstra possibly left to pick up the pieces
  • Reduced cost ($6bn?)
  • Time to implement – 2012?
  • Current infrastructure will support the national approach
  • Laying fiber to regional areas and improving current service allows for later implementation of higher bandwidth NBN – “proof of concept?”
  • Improved regional coverage
  • Private service providers pushing technology forward already – no cost to taxpayers
  • 4G becoming standard, and faster ADSL over existing copper infrastructure constantly being improved, may soon reach 50mbps
  • “minimum peak” speeds of 12mbps in regional areas
  • Private enterprise to fund infrastructure
  • Telstra still “owns” the copper network

Biased? Maybe… But as our nation lies in limbo, trying to decide on who should be running our country, we have a number of key power holders who are highly affected by Labour and the Coalitions plans. It’s up to them to side with the party that will deliver them what they want, but in choosing, they hold a greater power over the governing of Australia’s internet plans… In simple terms, my only question for the Independents is will they benefit more from 100mbps service in 10 years time, or 12mbps “now”?

Whirlpool has alot of reading material indexed over at http://whirlpool.net.au/wiki/NBN – I suggest anyone who has taken the time to read this far takes a look at the wider community’s input, as there’s alot of valid points, for and against.

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