Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) will reach a “key milestone” on August 22, as this is the date by which carriers must submit the remaining “network information” to the Government so they can distribute to the NBN bidders, ultimately restarting the twelve week clock to finish proposals.

The problem I have with bidders relying on this network information (which will be predominately about the Telstra infrastructure) means they are most likely continuing down the path of Fibre to the Node. In my opinion, which is gathering support as each day passes, any proposal to build a network based on Fibre to the Node is already out of date, and one fraught with economic disaster.

What started out as a great policy by the Labour Party which was the keystone of every speech by Kevin Rudd leading up to the 2007 federal election, has been obfuscated by the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) approach by some in the Australian Telecommunications industry. Making claims that FTTH will cost between $30-$50billion is outrageous and is motivated by self interest and without regard for the community or the greater good of the economy.

As highlighted in an article published last month; twelve months ago most national incumbent telcos said no business case existed to support an FTTH rollout. Today however - even in the light of the "credit crunch" - investments funds worth tens of billions of dollars are flowing into the telecommunications market with the specific aim to deploy FTTH.

Deploying FTTN even with VDSL2 technology will only deliver a maximum of 30Mbps down and 5Mbps up (see Myth of FTTN) which will put Australia well and truly behind when it comes to the world's digital economy.

The sad fact is that the current policy now being discussed in Australia is already outdated. There are few countries that are announcing strategic plans (or even rolling out) a next generation of broadband infrastructure based on FttN. They are all talking FttH, starting with the delivery of minimum broadband speeds of 30Mbps-50Mbps symmetrical. Even countries like Brunei and Rwanda have developed national strategies for FTTH.

If we continue down the FTTN path, according to my statistics based on our current growth rates of FTTH we will only reach 80,000 households within the next five years; by which time Japan, China, United States and Europe will have over 100 million FTTH subscribers each receiving at least 100Mbps SYMMETRICAL.

If we are serious about maintaining or growing our position in the world's digital economy we must forget about FTTN and last mile copper loops and start thinking about deploying FTTH, even if it is only to 85% of households.

This percentage is an interesting figure, as it represents the top 30 cities in Australia all of which have a population base of over 50,000 people. If we build a backhaul network for less than $3b (which is viable according to Axia); pass 100% of the homes in the top 30 cities for $3billion (at $500 per home); and connect 50% of these homes for $4billion (at $1200 per home) Australia would have 85% of households passed with fibre for less than $10billion dollars.

The Government should "break their promise" to ensure 98% of all households would receive access to their National Broadband Network by lowering the figure to 85%. At the same time they should demand bidders propose only FTTH based solutions that will deliver a minimum of 50Mbps with scalability to at least 100Mbps.

Some will say, this will create an even larger Digital Divide between the city and the country; to which I am well aware of the consequences. However if Australia continues with this outdated notion of FTTN being a suitable Next Generation Network that will support our competitiveness in the global digital economy, the Digital divide is NOT going to be WITHIN Australia, but between Australia and the rest of the developed world!


At 15 August, 2008 09:58 Chris Knight said...

As someone who lives in a regional area (Northern Tasmania), I wholeheartedly agree with your statements. The coverage of FTTH will improve over time, just as we've seen with ADSL and ADSL2+.

If the Federal Government want to dish up $4.7 billion for the NBN, then it should be allocated to directly fund coverage to the smaller population centres in conjunction with the tender awardee and state and local governments. This would help accelerate regional deployment.

At 15 August, 2008 12:56 Stephen Davies said...

Dont get me wrong, I think the NBN should be a national strategy, not just the 85% or even 98%.

What I am saying is the NBN for this first part should be FTTH to 85% of homes.

The remaining 15% then comes into using other technology such as xDSL or Wireless (LTE/HSDPA/WiMAX).

And from my experience in regional communities you would find that many will get off their own back to help build their own FTTH network if they really wanted it.

Some community funding, state and federal funding and the locals getting in on a "busy bee" to build the network.

Eventually the regionals will also get FTTH, but the importance at this point of time is to ensure we start with the urban fringe, working back into the cities and then the regionals

At 15 August, 2008 14:01 Chris Knight said...

Agreed. Percentages are for milestones only and should not exist in the strategy at all.

I don't really care what technology is used. So long as upstream and downstream bandwidth is reasonable and latency is low for interactive apps. But it needs to be able to scale efficiently as the load and traffic patterns change over the years.

Your comments regarding regional communities is exactly what I meant - the money should be used to incentivise regional expansion and not to build the first phase. The first phase should be to those areas that will maximise the ROI, which is what you appear to be suggesting.


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