Today 40 members of the FTTH Special Interest Group (SIG) which come from a variety of industries including telecommunications, power and housing met with The Hon. Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to present our collective vision for a National Broadband Network.

At a roundtable in October, Senator Conroy had promised the industry that if Labor were to win the election he would invite us to come back to him with an industry vision on his plans for a National Broadband Network. Today, that report was presented to the Minister.

The Minister clearly demonstrated his commitment to the industry and his interest in the group's input by providing more than 3 hours of his very scarice time. Getting any time with a government minister at the moment is difficult, let alone 3 hours.

The core of the report consists of seventeen recommendations that the SIG would like the Minister to consider for inclusion in the National Broadband Network tender to be released in the next few months. The single most important message the Group put to the Minister related to the need for regulatory clarity around the proposed open access model – this would allow companies to develop a serious response to the tender document.

The Minister invited the SIG to elaborate on the recommendations so that they can be considered by the "Expert Group" that will be appointed to guide the tendering process. The SIG decided to set up several working groups to this end, and the Minister has promised to assist us in contacting the people we should be talking to within Government. These working groups included:
  • Open Access
  • Greenfields
  • SmartGrid/Applications
  • Brownfields
The Minister again showed his commitment to FttP, open access, symmetric services, backbone networks, and greenfield deployments. I think the two most significants statements made by the Minister where:
"If it is within my power I will ensure even new home in a greenfield
development is connected to FTTH"
"The minimum bandwidth requirements for the National Broadband network is 12Mbps Symmetrical"
The first is exciting to see a strategy being put in place for greenfield development which we all know is a "no brainer" when it comes to the future deployment of telecommunications. But it was the second statement which I found most interesting. Symmetrical internet services offering 12Mbps cannot be delivered by ADSL2+, nor can it be delivered using VDSL2! Contensious statement I know, but the former government and industry talk has always been about asymmetrical services. Delivering higher speed asymetrical services is pointless; we already have networks capable of delivering on average 10-12Mbps in the downsteam. In 2003/4 the government's own Broadband Advisery Group produced a report which defined "true broadband" as symmetrical 10Mbps. What is really needed to enable applications such as Teleworking, eHealth, HD full motion Video Conferencing (telepresence), and even take full advantage of the growing use of YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace is more upstream speeds.

Telstra (and G9) propose to install nodes to ensure every home is within 1500 metres of Fibre. At this range VDSL2 can offers a maximum of 25Mbps downstream and 5Mbps upstream using 24AWG cable. However Telstra currently deploys 26AWG (0.40mm) cable and as we well know there are many joints and bridge taps in the aging plant which cause further attenutation, thus reducing the speed further. These speeds are also based on transmitting at full power. Discussion within the ACIF working group on VDSL2 deployment has been around lowering transmit power levels at Remote Nodes to lessen the impact of midspan crosstalk.

When taking all these issues into account, it will be highly unlikely for the FTTN proposals of Telstra and G9 to meet the 12Mbps Symmetrical speed requirement set by the Labour Government. The only way to get the speeds higher (particularly the upstream) is to push the nodes closer to the homes and/or to replace the copper. This means more nodes, more cost and more problems (both technical and environmental). It is going to be very difficult to get any copper based technology to deliver the 12Mbps in a typical Australian suburban environment. Furthermore if we push the nodes close and replace the copper, then we might just as well install fibre all the way - particularly in Victoria where every home will have to be visited within the next 4 years to upgrade power meters to Smart meters.

The Minister was very open in speaking of the problems he is facing here, and we concluded that the industry should put more effort into educating and lobbying other departments about the benefits of the NBN in relation to current health, educational and environmental issues.

The NBN can be a catalyst in all of this. While there definitely is interest from other ministers and their advisors the opportunities created by the NBN around these issues are not yet fully understood by most of them. The synergistic effects of an NBN could be enormous if a whole-of-government approach could be achieved.

The full report can be viewed here


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