news A British telecommunications expert has issued a detailed statement highlighting a number of what he alleged were factual errors contained in a speech given by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy yesterday, including a rebuttal of the Labor Senator’s claim that Australia’s current copper network can’t support high-speed broadband based on fibre to the node.
In the speech at the National Press Club yesterday, Conroy systematically attacked the technologies at the heart of the Coalition’s telecommunications policy — describing technologies like HFC cable as leading to a “dead end” for Australia and being limited in able to provide for Australia’s broadband needs in future. Conroy attacked Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s claim that fibre to the node (FTTN) technology could provide speeds of up to 80Mbps, using portions of Telstra’s existing copper network to do so. Conroy alleged that such speeds could not be obtained using Telstra’s copper network because it did not use dual copper pairs, and the length of the copper loop was too long.
However, UK-based telco consultancy Communications Chambers overnight issued a paper “fact-checking” Conroy’s speech. A copy of it was provided to Delimiter by the Coalition this morning. Turnbull has previously used reports by the firm to aid him in policy debates relating to the communications sector. In the paper, CC co-founder Robert Kenny, who has previously worked with a number of international telcos and with US-based fibre company Level 3, wrote that Conroy’s claim yesterday that achieving speeds of 60 to 80Mbps over a fibre to the node network would require bonded copper pairs.
“This is simply untrue,” he wrote. “Alcatel recently announced that they were achieving VDSL2 speeds of 100Mbps at distances of 400m (using vectoring, not bonding). This was not a lab experiment, but based on field trials with a range of European carriers.”
Because FTTN was getting “massive investment” from carriers around the world, Kenny wrote, equipment manufacturers like Alcatel-Lucent were in turn investing in technology development, and as a result, “performance over copper is improving rapidly. As Turnbull did yesterday, Kenny cited the example of UK-based telco BT, which has announced that it plans to roughly double its FTTN speeds to up to 80MBps in 2012, again without the bonded pair requirement which Conroy had described.
FTTN upload speeds, which Conroy had also targeted, wouldn’t be a problem, Kenny said, noting BT’s FTTN rollout would have upload speeds of up to 20Mbps from 2012. “This is actually as fast or faster than all but the most expensive NBN plans, and is sufficient for a household to upload two HTV streams simultaneously,” wrote Kenny. “Unless someone is planning to run a datacentre from their garage, this is likely to be more than enough.
Kenny also took aim at a number of other claims by Conroy which he stated were also inaccurate.
For example, Conroy claimed yesterday that HFC cable was a “dead-end” solution technologically and also limited in terms of its upload speeds. In response, Kenny highlighted a passage from NBN Co’s corporate plan (PDF), which points out that Telstra is upgrading its HFC network to the DOCSIS 3.0 standard, supporting speeds of up to 100Mbps. The next “possible upgrade”, NBN Co noted, would be using node splitting technology, to reduce the number of end users sharing each segment of the network.
“Node splitting could be implemented as early as 2013-14,” NBN Co wrote, “and would result in an increase in typical downstream speeds to 240Mbps and upstream speeds to 12Mbps.” Comcast in the US was already offering speeds of 105Mbps down and 10Mbps up over HFC, Kenny added, and trials had shown HFC to be theoretically capable of speeds up to 1.5Gbps. Other problems Kenny claimed with Conroy’s speech were:
- Conroy’s statement that download speed requirements had increased dramatically for more than two decades: Kenny stated that Conroy’s chart displayed yesterday (PDF) showed an increase in download speed capabilities, not requirements
- Conroy’s statement that massive volumes in data growth would strain broadband infrastructure: Kenny acknowledged the growth but implied that although core network infrastructure would require upgrading, access networks might not
- Conroy’s statement that an analysis by local comparison site WhistleOut (PDF) showed that entry level NBN prices were lower than comparable ADSL2+ plans: Kenny stated that NBN Co’s business plan was built on the premise that consumers would pay much more for higher speeds, but evidence internationally showed that they wouldn’t
- Conroy’s statement that a report by Citigroup showed demand would exceed the capabilities delivered by the Coalition’s rival broadband plan: Kenny stated that Citigroup was using the same flawed chart relating to speed capabilities
- Conroy’s statement linking the NBN to infrastructure such as water, roads, rail and electricity and economic growth: Kenny stated that although broadband did bring benefits to society, high-speed broadband didn’t necessarily bring greater benefits
- Conroy’s statement citing a report by Deloitte Access Economics (PDF) which found the Internet contributed $50 billion to Australia’s economy: Kenny stated that the analysis had been “extraordinary generous” — included, for example, billions of dollars of public spending on ICT by government. “It is far from clear why a government office buying a printer or a telephone or a large software system should be treated as part of the Internet economy,” he said.
Well, yesterday we threw down the gauntlet to Turnbull, claiming his rebuttal following Conroy’s speech displayed a lack of evidence for his claims, and the Member for Wentworth has delivered in spades. Kudos.
The speech that Conroy delivered yesterday was received very well by Australia’s technology community, with Conroy finally discussing expertly the technical strengths of the NBN’s fibre compared to rival technologies. My feeling is that Conroy has been kind of circling this area for years but hadn’t quite nailed why fibre was a superior technology before. Yesterday he struck the nail firmly on the head, and it was satisfying for many to hear.
But Kenny’s analysis released today pulls the rug out from underneath Conroy’s feet, competently skewering many different aspects of the Labor Senator’s argument with a hard dose of technical reality sourced from international experience. The net effect of this is that it gives the Coalition the chance to once again swing the debate back to the finances of the NBN and competition outcomes which would result from its implementation. In short, if Turnbull plays his cards right, the debate can shift away from Conroy’s home ground and back to his own.
For the Coalition, this is great. For Conroy, not so much.
Of course, the Coalition still hasn’t made any ground by releasing this report. They’re just back to where they started before the Minister made his speech yesterday. All of the same questions around the Coalition’s own rival NBN policy still remain, and it needs to be fleshed out further. But at least, after what looked like a potential knockout blow from Conroy yesterday, Turnbull’s argument has recovered most of its poise and is now standing up straight in the ring again, waiting for the next round.