4G networks to match NBN, claims Liberal MP



news A Queensland Liberal MP who has been described as a “Malcolm Turnbull lieutenant” and a long-time critic of Labor’s popular National Broadband Network has made a number of inaccurate statements in Federal Parliament about the project, claiming it could be matched by 4G and 5G mobile networks without spending “some $90 billion of taxpayers’ money”.

Steve Ciobo, who has held the seat of Moncrief in Queensland since 2001, was previously the tourism, arts, youth and sports spokesperson for the Opposition, but was demoted to the backbench in September 2010 by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. At the time, a columnist for The Australia, Peter Van Onselen, speculated that Ciobo was “a Malcolm Turnbull lieutenant”. He is currently Parliamentary Secretary to Treasurer Joe Hockey.

Ciobo has been a long-time critic of Labor’s NBN project, but has not always gotten his facts right with regard to the project. In June 2013, for example, the MP wrote a controversial letter to his constituents making a number of false claims about the project, including the false claim that the Coalition’s version could be completed “six years earlier”.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday this week, Ciobo made a number of inaccurate allegations about Labor’s NBN policy.

“We remember the NBN because originally it was going to be about an $8 billion exercise to provide high-speed broadband. Then that was scaled up to being about $14 billion or $15 billion and then we saw projections of $29 billion,” Ciobo said.

Ciobo added: “We understand, when you look at the costs of Labor’s rollout — how slow it was, how many targets were missed, how many inefficiencies were built into the system, how many disputes there were with contractors — that we saw the actual cost of Labor’s NBN rollout forecast to reach over $90 billion. I see in recent media reports that Telstra on their 4G wireless communications network are providing speeds of — you guessed it — 100 gigabytes.”

Labor MP and former Telstra employee Tim Watts interjected to Ciobo’s speech, stating: “You’re rewriting the laws of physics!” In addition, a member of the Coalition also corrected Ciobo, claiming that the correct term was “megabytes”. However, what appeared to be a different member of the Coalition was then forced to correct that initial correction, noting, correctly, that the appropriate term for measuring broadband speed was ‘megabits’.

“I have not rewritten the laws of physics at all, actually,” Ciobo continued. “The reality is that, when it comes to commercially viable opportunities, there are download speeds the private sector provides on wireless communications today that are comparable with what Labor wanted to do with over $90 billion of taxpayers’ funds. So we see forecasts as well that predict under 4G and possibly the 5G network that is currently in the R&D stage download speeds of up to one gigabyte and not at a cost of some $90 billion of taxpayers’ funds. This is just another example of the way in which Labor was recklessly spending people’s money.”

In actual fact, Labor’s initial NBN project was costed at $4.3 billion in November 2007 for a national Fibre to the Node-style rollout, and then increased to $43 billion when it was expanded in April 2009 to a technically superior Fibre to the Premises build. In December, NBN Co’s Strategic Review produced under the Coalition estimated that Labor’s version of the NBN could be completed for about $54 billion — only $15 billion more than the Coalition’s technically inferior version. Both versions are slated to make a financial return for the Government, however — meaning that neither would ultimately cost the Government anything.

Ciobo’s claim that 4G and 5G mobile broadband networks could provide an alternative to the fixed optic-fibre networks utilised under either version of the NBN has some basis in truth.

Technology vendor Samsung, for instance, has already tested 5G mobile speeds of up to 1Gbps in its home country of Korea, demonstrating similar peak speed capabilities to those possible on Labor’s FTTP-based NBN policy. Similar trials are underway in Japan, and in Australia, Telstra has tested 4G speeds up to 300Mbps. In Australia, the 4G mobile networks of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone already deliver speeds comparable at least to ADSL broadband.

However, these speeds are also contingent on several factors. Mobile networks are a ‘shared’ medium, meaning that not all users connected to a mobile tower would be able to achieve those speeds, and the more connections take place, the slower the speeds will be. In addition, these speeds are expected to be severely limited in commercial usage by the limited availability of wireless spectrum, which is already constraining the growth of 4G networks in Australia.

It is universally accepted in the global telecommunications industry that future telecommunications needs can only be served by a combination of both fixed and wireless networks, with fixed networks taking most of the bandwidth load and wireless networks providing mobility where needed — for example, to smartphones and tablets.

In the same session of Parliament, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull was also active. Turnbull broadly attacked the previous Labor Government’s stewardship of its NBN project, which he described as “utterly catastrophic”.

Turnbull repeated several inaccurate claims which the Liberal MP has repeatedly also made in public over the past several weeks. “If Labor had been allowed to continue the project on their plans, Australians would have had to pay up to 80 per cent more of the already high prices in order to pay for what would have been a $73 billion project—$30 billion more than they
told Australians it would cost,” he said. Unfortunately, there is little evidence for Turnbull’s claims, as detailed in NBN Co’s Strategic Review, and based on NBN Co’s wholesale pricing model, which is fixed for a certain time and then linked to inflation.

It appears that Shadow Deputy Communications Minister Michelle Rowland and Member for Perth Alannah MacTiernan tried to interject and correct Turnbull. However, the Speaker did not allow the interjections.

Wow, haven’t seen the “wireless will kill the NBN” claim for a while. Quite amusing that Ciobo attempted to roll that one out. I imagine Tim Watts must have had a chuckle to himself about that.

Image credit: Athmitchell, Creative Commons


  1. What does the liberals know about anything apart from being greedy and lining the pockets of the rich and screwing the rest of us.

  2. “So we see forecasts as well that predict..”

    Isn’t it funny how the ‘wireless will kill fixed line’ argument always starts with this proviso.

    The thing that connects will always need to be as fast, indeed somewhat faster, in an aggregated scenario.

  3. Isn’t it great to know that our technological future rests in the hands of people who think that data speeds are measured in “gigabytes” and that wireless is somehow faster and more reliable than fixed-line? And isn’t it also spectacular that Mr. Turnbull can continually make the same lies over and over without ever being called out and corrected on it?

    Yep, Australia’s got one bright, shiny digital future ahead of it!

  4. I can understand the Speaker not wanting interjections, but why didn’t they have the opportunity to respond?

  5. And 100 Gbps is $10,000 a second at the current Telstra excess rates for mobile broadband.

    The genius here is my local member.

    What a complete and total waste of oxygen.

    • Surely if he’s your local member you have a responsibility to ‘do the right thing’ here? ;-)

      • I’m not an Australian citizen, thank god for that, if that’s what you’re implying in terms of voting rather than contacting him. I like this place, and I really want to stay here. But with house prices being what they are and all of my grandparents and soon parents-in-law on three different continents being on FTTH and living expenses I have to wonder whether it’s all really worth it.

        I’m still going to stay here, but I’m always going to wonder about whether it’s the smartest thing to do not just for me, but my family. And half the customers of the Australian company I work for are overseas, fairly close to one set of grandparents.

        Anyway, staying here. But Jesus Christ, The Lucky Country syndrome strikes again.

        • Can I ask you something then? I’m genuinely curious what would lead you to want to stay here. I’m born and bread Aussie, so I don’t have the experience of living in other countries (travelled to yes, but not lived in). What is it about this country that makes it so appealing? For one thing, it’s not the cost of living which is rather high by international standards – house prices as you mentioned, plus the cost of food, goods and services. It’s not the broadband infrastructure which has been doomed to obsolescence for the next decade thanks to the Coalition.

          So what is it? Is it the people? The beaches? The 40+ degree heat waves? :P

          • All my stuff is here :P But no, seriously, Australia is pretty damn awesome. There’s an undercurrent of social justice hardly seen in any English-speaking country (and let’s face it, the English-speaking countries, Scandinavia included, are the best), informality and approachability is – usually – treasured, the people are driven and its opportunities are golden. When it takes advantage of them. Australia deserves to be some kind of intellectual superpower, probably more so than any other country. With a constant disdain towards its past and its accomplishments it’s a country that’ll always keep moving forward.

            I also hope, in the coming decades, to see it develop a real cultural drive. How that’ll come about is anyone’s guess. It’ll take a while, but maybe. I look at YouTube and see Neel Kolhatkar and shooterwilliamson, I look in the news and see Julian Assange and even Rupert Murdoch. I think of politics and back to Paul Keating, Whitlam and Scott Ludlam. David Thorne? Yes, please. People who contributed to open-source so much like Andrew Tridgell and Con Kolivas and Rusty Russell. And I turn on the TV and see 非诚勿扰 (which was actually originally based on a program airing on Ten!) right next to The Feed… and, frankly, Australia punches well above its weight in so many aspects in having a kind of cultural consciousness that’s just utterly brilliant. Cultural cringe? Yeah, at some point we’ll just keep churning out culture and science to such a degree that we won’t be able to cringe any longer. On the IT side, there’s also such an undercurrent of wanting to develop useful applications here in Australia, more so than any other country, that’s it’s without a doubt not in the least surprising that Atlassian got its start here. And Google Maps. And John Lions’ book. And we can do it well. Even if we have an inferiority complex about it all. We can be a better Europe and we can be a better China and we can be a better America, but we can also be so much more on top of that. For 20-odd million people Australia is doing pretty brilliantly. A sandstone university in every major city and then some.

            There’s an undercurrent of next generation thinking here that may well not even be possible in so many other countries. I mean, we even had a government that was actively in the process of rolling out freaking fibre to 93% of the population. And sure, it didn’t work out because god damn politics is stupid in this country, but that doesn’t negate any of the above. And yes, sure, the beaches and the people too.

            And, yes, I may have derailed from the original thread. Sorry. Point being, go damn is our federal politics ass-backwards. Australia has been an innovator in democracy before, maybe it’s time it did something again. Maybe… sigh.

          • Well said. I’m an Australian currently living in the UK and exploring Europe in my free time, and there is certainly something special about Australia, despite our current political climate.

            Sorry, off topic.

      • He’s my local member too. I’ve tried, but it’s like beating your head against a brick wall…

        • and sadly beating his head against a brick wall is not only frowned upon but also illegal, though judging by his statements.. it wouldn’t do much anyway ;(

    • Our pollies don’t have to pay for their mobile data useage, so yes, quite happy with wirless.

  6. It seems to me that the only defence we could have against political ineptitude is a more educated electorate… Any ideas how that could actually be achieved? (short of not allowing people who have no idea to vote in the first place)

    • Replace elected career politicians with policy juries drawn by lot from ordinary citizenry.

    • Easy done. With a ubiquitous broadband network, that would not only enlighten any of the public caring to learn about the issues, but would allow them to have input (even vote) on the same issues. See the problem? Live feedback from the entire (engaged) populace, or current select statistical samples for polls.

      Not to make light of issues suffered in countries such as China, Russia, but the official will to constrain, restrict and filter the internet seems to match regimes of a certain type. Are we moving in the right direction?

    • I think if we allocated voting capacity to ‘actual’ tax dollars paid we would get more sensible politics. You pay $1000 in tax you get 1 vote, $2000, 2 votes. You minimise your tax through whatever means, less votes.

      At the very least I would be curious to see the result.

  7. Total ignorance + unshakeable confidence + government power; Not a combination to chuckle over.

  8. The lack of understanding evinced by the Liberal Party never ceases to astound me…nor ceases to depress me.

  9. We are spending Billions on new roads aren’t we just a few years away from flying cars

    so what is the point ;)

    • Closer to the truth than you think – what about self-driving cars.

      Renting a self-driving car has got to be cheaper than buying a car in the long run. I’ve always kind of believed the future will be chaotic. What does it matter when you have two self-driving cars head towards each other at an intersection without traffic lights and they miss by only ten centimetres? Truth is, it doesn’t. What does it matter if there’s no lanes on a road instead of four lanes on a road? It doesn’t. What does it matter where your car is while you’re not using it? It doesn’t. What does it matter if a pedestrian randomly walks across the street and a self-driving car misses by just a centimetre? It doesn’t. What does it matter if your suburb has two lane-streets instead of just a tiny single lane with opportunities for passing? It doesn’t.

      That’s why I think building more huge roads is going to be seen as a complete waste of money in the long run. Maybe not in the next decade or during a transitional phase that might last another two decades after that. But by the time half of this century is over, it’s quite possible not a single four lane motorway – in the way we think of motorways – will ever be built again anywhere, worldwide.

      But we’ve got an infrastructure PM on our hands, so watch out!

      • “What does it matter if a pedestrian randomly walks across the street and a self-driving car misses by just a centimetre?”

        You obviously don’t do the laundry for many pedestrians missed by cars by one centimeter. ;-)

  10. Well it might now that the libs have gutted the project and likely wont’ deliver anything to most of Australias population who will be covered by these services.

  11. Not to mention is incredibly more expensive to purchase data on 4G, works out to be ~$5/GB. Let’s not forget that the ABS shows that 90%+ of downloads are via fixed lines.

    Aren’t facts inconvenient.

    • Well actually, that is pretty much what Vodafail did (DSL connections back to the exchange) and look how that….well…failed for them…

  12. Hell I agree with him if I can get 100 Gigabytes per second on 4g why would I want fixed line broadband

    • Because A) it won’t achieve those speeds if everyone is using it as their primary connection, and B) it would cost you an arm and a leg to do anything other than check an email and browse your Facebook feed.

    • Sitting at my desk right now. testing. I was one of the early adopters of 4g in my area, at that time I was getting ~80mb down and 20mb up 40-60ms latency, current test has that at 20/10 with 110ms.

      Now pricing for the 4G mobile connection is broadly inline with our primary fixed connection, if I avoided excess data fees by swapping modems out every time we used the max 25gb allowance. Of course we are paying for a real business connection with actual enforceable performance guarantees. This is great when a storm take out the special modem on a Sunday night before a public holiday and you can get the connection fully up and running again before anyone actually notices.

      We can’t get cost effective fiber to our building to our building (and again I mean cost effective in a actual business connection case not home connection with static IP), the above connection is 4 copper pairs. This is even after I showed our Telstra rep the fiber connection they ran into the building 15+ years ago that has been sitting unused for most of its life.

  13. I’ve lost hope in a decent future of any type under This mob. Technology nor economics and finance are not their forte. Just the destruction of the once clever country.

  14. Recently, I’ve looked into 4G as an option to to replace my current rusty, intermittent copper connection in suburban Perth, delivering 4 Mbps at peak times, sometimes as many as 10 Mbps, of a nominal 20 Mbps ADSL2+ . Firstly, Telstra’s and Optus’ 4G coverage maps place me precisely on the border of coverage. IINet’s map of Optus coverage shows I’m not covered, and Vodafone’s shows full coverage..Secondly, nominal speed is quoted as 1 to 50 Mbps. Thirdly, real world testing of 4G speeds in the US and UK reveals they are mostly in the range of 4 > 8 Mbps

    So I/m not about to jump to 4G.

    • Their strategy was brilliant. They didnt encourage you to vote them in, only to vote Labor out. Big difference, same result.

      They highlighted the “mistakes” made by Labor, offered no concrete alternatives, and let you judge who was better by seriously distorting the debate against Labor.

      And it worked.

      • Actually, that makes sense really, look at the number of indies that got in this time round…

      • Yeah. It was brilliant politics, that’s for sure. Helped by Labor’s absolutely shambolic politics and a free pass from Murdoch, of course.

        Until we stop voting governments OUT and start voting governments IN, we’re going to continually find ourselves in this situation – where we end up with a government no-one actually wants and a political debate that centres around scoring cheap political points rather than proper policy discussion.

  15. I had to run an office of 4 people off a Telstra 4g connection for a week while waiting phone connections in the new office. It was woeful (awesome sometimes, disruptive others) Everyone complained.

    4g is awesome on the road on my mobile and tablet, but a replacement for fixed line? ROFL

    (+ it cost us $280 for the week for about 8% of the data of our ADSL connection)

  16. The Libs are fully aware that what they say about the internet is technically incorrect. They’re fully aware their VDSL2 scheme will fail because we would need 100 times as many nodes and they won’t build any. When 2019 comes most people will be out of VDSL2 range and they’ll be using the same ADSL2+ they have now and Turnbull will claim they’re getting “up to” 24mbps. The truth is the Libs deliberately sabotaged the NBN because Murdoch bribed them because if Australia had fast internet no one would want Foxtel anymore.

  17. Although the blood and guts approach does have its appeal, wouldn’t it be easier just to vote them out?

  18. Did anyone tell this idiot that mobile wireless runs on 99.9% fibre and its the last .1% that’s the slowest part, the shared component.
    The Coalition seam to keep rolling these idiots out, is there no end to them.

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