news Radio shockjock Ray Hadley has joined fellow 2GB commentator Alan Jones in attacking Labor’s National Broadband Network project for using fibre technology to upgrade Australia’s broadband infrastructure, with Hadley claiming the fibre could be superceded over the next two decades by “something we don’t even know about”.
Last week, Jones used an article published by The Australian newspaper to argue that the NBN had admitted facing competition from wireless networks, and asked how “dumb” “these people” and the Government were, as “everybody” has known for years that wireless is the way of the future. Jones added that the Government was spending borrowed and taxpayer money to roll out the NBN, which was going to be “obsolete” before it was finished, and said the Government should be sacked on the basis of the NBN project alone.
Jones’ comments aren’t the first time he has claimed that wireless broadband represents the future of Internet access in Australia; he initially made the claim in October last year. Later on Thursday last week, Hadley — broadcasting on the same station as Jones — added his comments to the fray, using the same story in The Australian as the basis for his attack on the NBN. You can listen to Hadley’s comments here — the NBN segment starts after the 1 hour, 24 minute mark.
Hadley pointed out that when he started broadcasting on radio back in 1982, mobile phones did not exist, and radio newsreaders read out printed news bulletins on air.
“Now you can present a bulletin without touching a typewriter … it’s just there on the computer system, you don’t need a reel to reel tape recorder. I’ve got a touchscreen in front of me. Back then I had a big cartridge deck,” Hadley said. “Can you imagine the advances in technology in the next 26 years? I can’t. I can’t comprehend it. By the time they finish the NBN, it could be superceded. By something we don’t even know about.”
“Currently wireless-only premises sit at about 10 percent, by the way,” Hadley said, noting that NBN Co had noted that under certain conditions — if it increased its broadband prices to the maximum over a sustained period — Australian premises using wireless options could rise to 30 percent by 2039.
“A senior NBN executive has reportedly said wireless networks have the potential to offer a substitute for the NBN. Thank you, scoop,” he said.
The idea that Australia’s broadband needs could be served in future by wireless technology — especially 4G mobile broadband is not a new one. It has been raised repeatedly by the Coalition over the past several years as an alternative to the fixed FTTH-style rollout which predominantly features in the NBN. The case for wireless as a future broadband replacement for fixed infrastructure has been strengthened by the huge growth in uptake of 3G and 4G mobile broadband services in Australia, with telcos like Telstra adding on more than a million new customers a year.
However, the global telecommunications industry is currently almost universally in agreement that in every country, telecommunications needs will continue to be served by a mix of fixed and wireless infrastructure.
In Australia, for example,, commentators such as Telstra CEO David Thodey have consistently stated that they expect Australians to buy both mobile and fixed broadband packages in future, as they serve differing needs; fixed broadband to supply homes with powerful connections to facilitate big downloads such as video, and mobile broadband when outside the home, for access to services which typically require lesser capacity. In addition, mobile towers typically also require their own fibre connections to funnel data back from wireless connections to the major fixed-line telecommunications networks.
Secondly, the comments by Jones and Hadley that the NBN will be obsolete before it is built is also incorrect. The fibre technology while will constitute the vast majority of the NBN rollout contains the potential to be upgraded to deliver 1Gbps speeds to premises and potentially higher speeds in future; the deployment of this technology universally around Australia is expected to place Australia amongst the global leading countries when it comes to telecommunications. It is expected that this technology will be in use for multiple decades – at least between 30 to 50 years.
It’s not the first time that Hadley has sharply criticised the NBN. In April 2012, for example, NBN Co shifted some of its radio advertising away from 2GB after Hadley and another presenter standing in for his colleague Alan Jones criticised the project on air, directly before reading paid advertising for NBN Co which factually explained details of the rollout.
In general terms, the evolution of the global telecommunications industry is seen not as a pure technology upgrade issue — similar to the way PCs and mobile phones are upgraded — but is more approached as an infrastructure issue, similar to the way roads are upgraded into highways and electricity power lines are upgraded. This means that telecommunications infrastructure is extremely long-lived. The copper network currently owned by Telstra has been in place for much of the past century, and its upgrade path has been well-understood for many years.
Even mobile broadband networks, which are broadly seen as being easier to deploy than comparable fixed broadband infrastructure such as the NBN, are still seen within the telecommunications sector as being long-term infrastructure developments rather than pure technology deployments. For example, Telstra first deployed its current Next G network from 2005. It has taken seven to eight years of continuous development for the network to reach its current level of 4G speeds — and those speeds are not yet universally available around Australia.
I can understand how radio commentators such as Jones and Hadley can make the mistake of assuming that technology in the telecommunications sector behaves the same way as consumer technology such as mobile phones, desktop PCs or tablets, for example. From the perspective of an outsider to the industry, it must seem like ‘technology’ per se is not predictable, and that today’s fixed broadband technology could easily become obsolete as wireless technology comes to the fore.
However, the truth is that technological development in the telecommunications industry is actually more along infrastructure lines rather than being similar to consumer technology; and it requires very long-term thinking — on the scale of multiple decades (usually 30 to 50 years).
In pushing the view that wireless technology could make the NBN’s fibre to the premise rollout (or even the Coalition’s fibre to the node rollout) obsolete, Hadley and his colleague Jones are just flat out wrong. The NBN’s fibre will not be made obsolete for the forseeable future. Humanity has found no other technology than fibre (whether it’s FTTP, FTTN or even HFC cable) that can deliver the broadband speeds which Australians are increasingly demanding. And that’s something which even Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull would have to agree with.
Image credit: Website of Ray Hadley