Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday claimed about half the cost of the Government’s flagship National Broadband Network project could be chopped and comparable broadband speeds of 60MBps could be achieved through proceeding with a fibre to the node approach, instead of the planned fibre to the home model.
In the early stages of the NBN project’s development, it was primarily discussed as a FTTN project, which would have seen fibre extended from Telstra’s telephone exchanges to neighbourhood cabinets, with the existing copper cable making up the rest of way to houses and business premises.
The model was promulgated by then-Telstra chief executive Sol Trujillo back in 2005 as a cost-effective way of upgrading Telstra’s ageing copper network to higher levels of speed and reliability. However, the model was dumped in April 2009, with the Government pledging instead a much more costly FTTH model which would allow higher speeds and – in effect – the structural separation of Telstra through the replacement of its copper network.
However, in a major speech in Parliament yesterday, Turnbull suggested the idea still had legs. An affordably priced NBN, the Liberal MP said, would see a mix of technologies used – including FTTH in greenfields estates, but also FTTN.
“With a fibre-to-the-node configuration like that, if the last segment of copper was 750 metres or less—and we had this confirmed only today by one of the leading telecommunications companies in the world—a download speed of 60 megabits per second would be very achievable, along with an upload speed, depending on whether it was 750 metres or closer, of five to 10 megabits up to an effectively symmetrical speed of around 50 to 60 megabits per second,” he said.
“That type of bandwidth is more than adequate to cater for every conceivable application that a residential user would need. To go from 50 megabits per second to 100 megabits per second in a residential context would be imperceptible; the user experience would be no different. You would not be able to tell the difference because there are simply not the services and the applications to take advantage of that higher speed.”
Most of the applications which currently require high-speed broadband are applications such as videoconferencing and high-definition internet video, however individuals are also increasingly looking for higher speeds for multiple users to use the same household broadband connection simultaneously, or to upload large files online.
Turnbull said the cost differential between rolling out a FTTN network instead of using the FTTH model would be 50 percent, according to US telco equipment supplier ADTRAN.
“ADTRAN, one of the leading American telecommunications equipment suppliers, effectively have a fibre-to-the-node product where the fibre runs down the street and connects to the various existing copper pairs through one of their fibre termination nodes,” said Turnbull “They say that the cost differential, where they have deployed this in America, is in the order of 50 per cent—that is to say, you can halve the cost with a different network design.”
The Digital Economy
Turnbull’s comments came as a large number of different companies, non-profit organisations and politicians – including state and federal representatives – were highly engaged in the CeBIT trade fair and conference series in Sydney this week.
At the keynote speech on Tuesday morning, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy launched the Government’s Digital Economy Strategy – a document which will guide the nation on how best to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the rollout of the NBN and the high-speeds and capacity it will offer businesses, governments and individuals.
The areas the Government wants to focus on are participation in the Internet by households, businesses and non-profit organisations, smart management of the environment and infrastructure, improved health and aged care, expanded online education, increased teleworking, improved online government service delivery and engagement, and greater digital engagement in regional Australia.
By implementing the strategy, Conroy promised this week, Australia would become “a leading digital economy” by the year 2020, when the NBN construction is slated to be finished. Australia has not typically been seen as strong when it comes to creation of new technology, with international markets more associating countries such as the US, Germany and Japan with such strengths — and Australia with mining, farming and tourism.
However, in a lengthy statement following the publication of the strategy entitled ‘Conroy’s Digital Economy Con’, Turnbull went to lengths to critique the Government’s eight goals that it will seek to achieve through the strategy. Overall, the MP argued that while the goals were sound, they could all be achieved by spending much less than the NBN would cost.
For example, Turnbull noted that statistics from the Organisation for Economic Development showed 96.6 percent of Australian businesses with 10 employees or more were already using broadband. “So this is hardly an argument for completely scrapping out existing competitive broadband market,” he wrote.
Another goal of the Government is that four out of five Australians will eventually choose to engage with the Government through the Internet or other type of online service. “It is difficult to think of any Government service that requires 100mb/s bandwidth to residential premises and it is worth noting that none of the services referred to by the Government in this paper require such high bandwidth to be delivered to homes,” replied Turnbull.
“Senator Conroy’s National Digital Economy Strategy is simply a thinly-veiled spruiking of the NBN,” he concluded. “It does nothing to reassure the Parliament or the Australian people that there is any likelihood the NBN will be delivered on schedule, on budget, or amounts to the best use of taxpayers’ funds.”
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull