Coalition NBN will suffer in the long term: Experts


This article is by Liz Minchin, Queensland Editor, The Conversation. It includes comments by Terry Percival, director, Broadband and the Digital Economy at NICTA, and Dean Economou, technology strategist at NICTA, as well as Mark Gregory, Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University. It first appeared on The Conversation and is replicated here with permission.

analysis The federal Coalition’s new A$30 billion plan for “fast, affordable” broadband is a quick-fix strategy, which is likely to cost more and be less reliable long-term, according to experts.

Launching the plan at Fox Studios in Sydney, shadow communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull promised “this [the Coalition’s policy] will deliver all of the services that Australians want online, but it will do so sooner and cheaper” than Labor’s current National Broadband Network (NBN).

Mr Turnbull conceded that homeowners and some businesses wanting the fastest possible internet access would have to pay thousands of dollars to upgrade their home from a neighbourhood fibre to the node connection, to having a fibre internet connection direct into their homes.

But he and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott defended the user-pays charges, saying the plan would save billions of dollars, make it possible to complete the national broadband rollout by 2019, two years sooner than under Labor, and that most Australians would find their internet speed more than adequate under the Coalition.

The A$29.5 billion plan aims to give most Australians access to internet speeds of at least 25 megabits per second by the end of 2016 – about five times today’s average speed – increasing to a minimum of 50 megabits per second by 2019, with top speeds of 100 megabits per second. The NBN rollout under Labor has been progressing slowly.

NBN Co’s goal is to deliver speeds of up to 1000 megabits per second to 93 per cent of Australian homes and businesses by 2021, with the remaining 7 per cent on slower fixed wireless and satellite connections. But Mr Abbott dismissed the need for that much speed. Using the example of a home with four people streaming four high-definition movies or sports shows, he said: “We are absolutely confident that 25 megs is going to enough, be more than enough, for the average household”.

Mr Abbott also promised three inquiries if elected in September: a commercial review of the NBN, to be completed within 60 days; an audit of Labor’s current NBN rollout; and an independent study about future broadband needs. The Coalition says its basic broadband plans would be cheaper than Labor’s, estimating a typical household would pay A$66 a month for access in 2021, versus A$90 under Labor’s NBN.

Experts respond
However, some experts warn that spending less today to build a national broadband network is likely to mean expensive fixes in future and less reliable services.

“The Coalition is taking a very short-term approach that ultimately is going to cost Australia far more in the long-run,” said Mark Gregory, a senior lecturer in electrical and computer engineering at RMIT University. “All the advice from people in the industry and from academia has been for the Coalition to not go down this path. So my question is, why have they decided to ignore all that advice?”

Dr Gregory has been an outspoken critic of the “glacial” pace of the NBN’s construction. Yet he said he backed the government’s plan ahead of the Coalition’s, because “it’s not going to put Australia in the position of having to catch up with the rest of the world in the future”.

He also predicted that the Coalition would run into major delays with its “faster” rollout, like having to renegotiate with Telstra. “I don’t personally see them being able to negotiate with Telstra in under two years,” Dr Gregory said. “It took NBN Co 18 months to do it, and there’s no reason for Telstra to move at a faster pace for the Coalition.

Speed limits
World-leading broadband expert and one of the inventors of Wi-Fi technology, Terry Percival, said: “Whatever the technology we end up using, we know that Australia will be consuming more and more data as time goes by – as the latest internet usage figures from the ABS indicate.

“Data will drive Australia’s future economy. As Australia transitions into a more internet-based economy, how data is used, exchanged, uploaded and downloaded will become more important – whether it’s for large or small businesses at home, providing home health services and consultations or making better use of collective infrastructure like smart grids to save power.”

New Australian Bureau of Statistics released yesterday show that the total volume of data downloaded over the internet in the December 2012 quarter was 33 per cent higher compared to the June 2012 quarter.

“When we invented Wi-Fi technology capable of 100 megabits per second in the 1990s, everyone said we were crazy and no one would need that speed. Now you can buy 300 megabits per second Wi-Fi at any electronics store,” said Dr Percival, the director of NICTA’s Broadband and Digital Economy Business Team. “The point is that if you’re using copper to deliver broadband to the home, it’s almost impossible to conceive of going above 100 megabits per second, it’s pretty much a hard limit.”

NICTA technology strategist Dean Economou said to put the local debate about internet speeds into a global context, Google is running a trial in Kansas City already offering 1000 megabits per second internet plans. Dr Economou said the next generation of technology on its way to Australia, including high-definition smart phones and internet-connected televisions with dramatically better screens, would keep driving up file sizes and data use.

“The Japanese are working on a television with eight time the resolution of a current high-definition screen, and the human eye can deal with resolution hundreds of times that too. So there’s not really an end point in sight to this,” Dr Economou said.

A 2011 NICTA submission to the Inquiry into the National Broadband Network charted typical modem speeds in recent decades, jumping from 300 bits per second in 1984 to 31 megabits per second with a cable modem in 2010, a 100,000-fold increase. If current trends continue, NICTA forecast that by 2020 it was conceivable some users would consume 1000 megabits per second.

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation


  1. I think that there is only one way to know if the Coalition really believe their claim that 25Mbps is enough.

    We need to require them to sign contracts under which they undertake to never use a service that is faster than this. Not for the entire course of their lifetime. The contract will also stipulate that their children, and their grandchildren will likewise never use a service that is faster than 25Mbps.

    Breach of the contract will be penalised by the entire party being forced to dissolve all of their assets and donate them to charity, and to divert 100% of all earnings to charity as well.

    If they can sign such a contract then I will believe that they are sincere when they claim that 25Mbps is sufficient. I will know that they are dead wrong, but at least I will know that they are sincere.

    • Actually, is there anyone with sufficient knowledge to draft up such a contract? I would love to see it presented to Turnbull.

      The expression on his face would be awesome.

    • > If they can sign such a contract then I will believe that they are sincere when they claim that 25Mbps is sufficient. I will know that they are dead wrong, but at least I will know that they are sincere.

      I’d like Labor to sign a similar document that they consider 50% of Australians on fibre connected at 12/1Mbps is a great outcome.

      • I believe that you think there was a point in the post you just made. If there was one, then it wasn’t put across as well as you may have hoped.

      • “I’d like Labor to sign a similar document that they consider 50% of Australians on fibre connected at 12/1Mbps is a great outcome.”

        That’s not a “dictate from the ALP”, it’s just an estimation by them at what the uptake will be to work out return/revenue. Considering the uptake of 100Mbps plans, they are most likely wrong anyway, and will make a lot more than they forecast….

  2. There’s no long term saving here. It’s stalling for time.

    The coalition will build this monstrosity, and then either fail to fund the eventual push to fibre, which even Turnbull agrees is the end game, or they will spend yet more to do so.

    Neither is saving money. The single best option remains the NBNco’s current mandate. It’s not perfect, it’s not as simple as anyone thought it might be (delays are going to happen under either plan) however it delivers the end goal outcome.

    Turnbull wants to spend almost the same amount for 30% less of the population, which requires a rebuild to deploy fibre to the kerb in future.

    At some point this will have to be funded (likely by a not-coalition government) which is why Turnbull really has no intention of seeing this to completion.

    Band. Aid.

  3. First it was, “The future is Wireless”. Now the future is century old copper??

      • I think that would be a bit too predictable. Given the random nature of the Coalition policy, I would expect something like ‘the future is space gigabits’ before moving on to ‘the future is carrier pidgeons’.

        After that we might get ‘the future is quantum gerbils’ followed by ‘the future is banging rocks together rythmically’.

  4. Renai, please raise the issue of upload speeds if you get the chance, as there has been no focus on this. How does Turnbull expect HD videoconferencing to be possible with 5 Mbps upload speeds, when he stated 6 Mbps is required for HD video? FTTN will be inadequate in terms of upload speeds for those far away from the node already, let alone when 1080p becomes standard on webcams, and 4K in the near future.
    Cloud computing will also be extremely restricted. The NBN will support 400 Mbps in the next cew years with the move to 1 Gpbs downloads. 5 Mpbs vs 400 Mbps is a HUGE difference which needs to be explained to the public.

    • +1.

      Upstram is the key. 80Mbps downstream, or even 25Mbps, would be usable (ignoring the near-future needs and upgradeability concerns for the moment). But the miniscule improvement in the upload speed of FTTN is what makes it basically unusable for serious videoconferencing, telecommuting, cloud computing and business needs in general.

  5. “All the advice from people in the industry and from academia has been for the Coalition to not go down this path. So my question is, why have they decided to ignore all that advice?”

    It’s obvious – the Liberal Party is led by somebody who by his own admission is “not a tech-head.” I could tell everybody what kind of “head” I think Tony Abbott is, but I’d like to see this comment actually get published.

    • my suspicion is that like last election, the LNP still haven’t got their heads around this whole broadband thing (excepting Mr Broadband of course).

      so they’ve released a policy that is enough to get everyone off their backs about their lack of NBN policy.
      they’ve done it early so that it can be a distant memory by the time they start trying to hammer the ALP on other topics in the run up to the election.

      i think they’re hoping that the NBN will not be the driving force behind the election campaign.
      leaving them open to attack on other fronts.

      but i think they’re about to find out that they have made a massive error of judgement.
      the australian people want the NBN, but they don’t want a half arsed effort such as we will get from the LNP.
      they want the full banana.

      what the LNP should have done was just copped it on the chin and said “you know what? we’ve looked into it and the ALP is right. the NBN they’re building is right for the nation. we’re going to give it our full support”, because what happens then is the NBN is taken completely out of the equation when it comes to the election.
      they can devote all of their time to campaigning on the issues that they can win on.

      but now it’s too late because IMO this election will be decided on the NBN.

      • I really don’t think that the election will be decided on the NBN. Not even close. It will be a small factor at best.

        • it’s what the last election was decided on.

          no reason it can’t be the same for this election.

  6. Tony Abbott said “that most Australians would find their internet speed more than adequate under the Coalition.”

    Reminds me of the quote: “640K is more memory than anyone will ever need on a computer.”

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