Australia and the doomed NBN

In Australia there are basically two camps in the government that promote (or make it seem like they do) very fast internet connection speeds. The Labor party started this off a couple of years ago with the introduction of the NBN (National Broadband Network). Its intention is (or rather was) to provide almost every household in the nation a piece of fibre-glass to the front-door to be able to hook up current and future transmission technologies to be able to provide a multitude of services over the internet. The exponential growth of content, services and other possibilities that are able to make full use of such a network provides the Australian people the position of front-runner in the world. Every new technology invented by people and businesses all over the world from the shop around the corner to large healthcare companies will be able to have adequate internet line quality in order to make sure their services do work flawlessly with their products and provide the customer the best satisfaction of those services.

Now, I’m not only talking of Apple bringing out the iPAD 15 and Foxtel the iQ5 so we can download and watch hi-res Blu-ray movies without a pixel missing but also services like medical equipment being hooked up so that doctors and nurses can monitor people at home so they don’t need to occupy an expensive bed in a hospital, CFA (Country Fire Authority) being able to notify people in bush-fire prone areas in real-time so people can take appropriate actions in case needed or even the ability to have a multitude of devices connected like your fridge which automatically takes an inventory via RFID chips so if you’re at the supermarket you don’t need to wonder if you do have the correct amount of sausages for your afternoon BBQ. So all-in-all an extremely wide variety of useful, handy cost-effective and life-saving services can, and will, be used on the NBN.

And then there was the September 7th, 2013 election. This resulted in a shift of Government from Labor to the Liberals under the leadership of Tony Abbott. Notwithstanding the qualities of the Liberal party they did make a significant mistake in their decision process around the NBN and that is to take a major shortcut in the technological side of the NBN infrastructure. Instead of providing Fibre to the Premises/Home (FTTP/FTTH) they want to provide Fibre to the Node (FTTN). I’m not going to bore you with all the technical details but basically what it comes back to is that they do want to keep the infrastructure that runs between your phone exchange and your house like it is now and only upgrade the kit that runs from the major hubs to those exchanges. What this essentially means is that, to make an analogy, the coalition wants to create brand new and extremely wide freeways with bright and shiny new bitumen on top especially made for Ferraris however when you do want to get off that freeway you end up on a dirt-track which was already there when our great-grand parents were already using these with horse and carriage. This in effect renders the entire infrastructure obsolete from day one. Although you might notice a somewhat better overall response-time on your web-pages initially, it will diminish very quickly when these new and high demanding services start to kick in.

If you ask me why I have this opinion it pretty easy. I work in the IT industry and have so for the past 20 years. I’ve seen the Internet rising from the days only a 300 baud modem with UUCP and telnet was the only way to get connected to todays technologies where equipment can push almost a terrabit of data through a single glas fibre each second. (Ohh, if you want how much a terrabit is. 1 trillion bits (10^12) or bits which on average equals 76.923.076 A4 pages. If you have around 250 pages in a book you do the math on how many books you can shove each second though those lines^.) The increasing rate of technology development regarding content will ensure these sort of capabilities are needed end-to-end.

Malcolm Turnbull, in his infinite wisdom, defends the coalition’s decision on his blog here and argues that by winning the election the entire Australian population is behind this plan. Given the fact that only two days after the election an online petition was started by a Liberals voter (kudos Nick Paine) to convince the government to reconsider the FTTN plans and to retain the original FTTP plans and got signed by over 150000 people in less than a week should show enough.

If you, as myself, are really worried about the plans then sign the petition as well over here.

Basically there is just no way an FTTN approach can and will help Australia in the short term and it will surely create an outdated platform from day one which will set Australia back on the international technology ladder very shortly.



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About Erwin van Londen

Master Technical Analyst at Hitachi Data Systems
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