NBN debate heats up at IEEE conference


blog I don’t want to get too deep into commenting on the merits of the various arguments coming from each side, but I wanted to make readers aware of a somewhat extraordinary debate which has been happening at, and on the sidelines of, the IEEE’s International Conference on Communications, being held in Sydney last week.

I’m still attempting to source a full copy of his speech, but it seems apparent that University of Melbourne professor Rod Tucker, who was on the original expert panel which recommended that the then-Labor Federal Government implement a full Fibre to the Premises NBN policy back in early 2009, caused a bit of a kerfuffle with comments arguing that NBN Co would still eventually need to go full FTTP in its network rollout. Tucker also reportedly argued that the NBN debate was mired in “ill-informed opinion”. The Financial Review has a good story on the speech (we recommend you click here for the full article). Tucker reportedly said:

“I tried to encourage quite a few of my technical colleagues to get informed in this technical debate and really get the message across … quite a few of them said it was too political.”

CommsDay publisher Grahame Lynch has weighed in to strongly attack Tucker’s comments, in a lengthy article published on the publication’s website. In it, he writes (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“… if you wanted to write the history of the sorry tale of the NBN—the progression from the cancelled FTTN tender in 2009 to a near-universal FTTH rollout that by this year has demonstrably failed in execution and any form of national benefit commensurate with its cost, then Professor Tucker would certainly feature as one of the lead characters, if not villains.”

Personally, I don’t think we’re really seeing a new debate about the NBN project evolve here — more the various sides restating their already entrenched opinions. Tucker is well-known as a FTTP advocate, while Lynch has long been cynical about Labor’s NBN project and supportive of the Coalition’s alternative visions for the project, including its focus on Fibre to the Node and HFC cable technology. However, certainly there is a lot of emotion being spilt here, indicating that these combatants consider these issues to still be of the greatest importance.

Image credit: Sias van Schalkwyk, royalty free


  1. One of the biggest issues with the whole NBN is its politicisation.

    With so many vested interests and such a technical and broad scale project one could call it inevitable.

    What we need is a truly non-aligned voice to rule on areas of contention based on a ‘best for project’ basis.

    I’m not going to hold my breath.

    • In an age where the High Court of Australia is overruling the Federal Government on a nearly constant basis, and then the Federal Government is legislating its way around High Court decisions- there is a power play taking place in Australia at the very highest levels of power.

      The High Court should ultimately have the last say on matters, not the government of the day!- yet that’s the situation we face.

      There is no chance of an independent voice when even the High Court is being over ruled.

  2. Got to love idiot Lynchs’ rebuttal. Let’s just ignore the fact that the Liberals are failing just as miserably in the short term and will be/make Australia as a whole worse off in the foreseeable future.

  3. I saw Rod Tuckers talk. He was actually very polite, and gave a rather straightforward history of the NBN (to a largely international audience who mostly knew very little about it (the history that is, not broadband)). He even gave credit to Malcolm Turnbull for bringing the coalition from a position of total opposition to the NBN in any form to their current policy. Pretty much all of what he said was quite uncontroversial for any informed audience. Probably the harshest thing he did was to put up a political cartoon showing a half built Sydney Harbour bridge being finished with a mix of technologies.

    For context, the conference was actually opened on the previous day with a talk by Malcolm Turnbull, who specifically criticized Rod Tucker, calling him “innumerate”, while he pushed the MTM model.

    The conference in question is the IEEE international conference on communications (ICC), which is the premier conference for communications related research, drawing top researchers from around the world. The technical sessions are mostly about wireless communications – for instance, the other keynotes were about 5G networks and E band wireless.

    It was, how shall I say, rather bold of Malcolm to attempt to push the MTM model in his talk. This is a highly technically literate audience, almost all of whom are at the conference to present papers discussing how we are going to deal with the vast increase in demand for data and bandwidth that is going on right now. I don’t think Malcolm had much sympathy for his position.

    Incidentally, I think it is pretty safe to say that most people at the conference saw the future of (consumer) wireless communications as consisting of very many very small cells with fiber backhaul.

  4. To be honest, based on some of the things Grahame Lynch has written his opinion is made irrelevant by his knowledge, or lack thereof. Just a few examples:


    Thus I have long since stopped paying attention to the jumble of broken thoughts he comes up with.

    • Indeed Karl…

      With any due respect which Mr Lynch may well deserve. After years of reading his blogs etc, I can’t recall him ever suggesting anything that wasn’t (inevitably, if not apparently) in the interests of Telstra…

      But hey that’s just my opinion and after all, I’m obviously just a fibre zealot, so…

  5. I think your last paragraph sums it up perfectly. I wasted so much emotional energy arguing for the FTTH NBN before the election. But now everyone has pretty much said all that needs to be said on the topic and I don’t think many people are going to change their opinion at this stage. I’ve come to accept the FTTNBN and am looking forward to getting it “sooner” than I would’ve gotten FTTH.
    Are other people starting to feel the same way?

    • Yes and no. I’ve accepted that FttP has been murdered good ‘n proper, but I still think Turnbull should be strung up for it.

    • I definitely feel a strong sense of “just get the f*** on with it” so we can take the Libs unnecessary baby step towards FTTH. The problem, however, is that it’s seeming less and less likely to be “sooner than I would’ve gotten FTTH”

    • My suburb was in the 12-month rollout plan prior to the election, and is conspicuous by it’s absence from the current plans. My parents’ entire *town* was in either the “Construction Commence” or “1-year” categories prior to the election, 9 months ago, and now none of it is even in “Build Preparation”.

      So, no, not sooner, probably not cheaper, definitely not faster speeds, and definitely not in the long term interests of the nation. What’s not to love about the CBN?

    • It’s like most highly politicised things. You get one side pulling it in one direction and the other side pulling it in another. The guys who have power get to drag it their way a bit and sometimes past the point of no-return. As power swaps between the two sides we end up with something that’s somewhere between the two.

      FTTH would have been nice and I’m still convinced that’s where we’ll eventually end up. Eventually. But lets not forget that what we’re actually getting is much closer to what the ALP wanted in 2007 & 2010 than what the Liberals wanted in those years. It’s just closer to what the Libs wanted in 2013 than the ALP did. Now they just need to get onto actually delivering it. Whatever it is that gets delivered it’ll be better than what we could have got.

    • I do not accept the MTM solution at all.

      If you look at the numbers for scenario 4 in the strategic review you will see the roll out is as fast as the MTM, it is cash flow positive at the same time as the MTM and it has a similar return to the MTM. What scenario 4 doesn’t have is much FTTN. It’s predominantly FTTP and HFC. So no need to upgrade FTTN to FTTP later as even Switkowski admits is required for the MTM.

      Even using the Coalition’s disputed figures it’s clear that scenario 4 is a better solution than the MTM. I’m staggered no one in politics or the tech media has taken this argument up to Turnbull. It might not change his mind but it would force him to provide an explanation.

      • I guess that’s a really good indicator of how farcical this system has become.

        We basically have a system where people are encouraged to disengage from it, or you can try to reveal the truth and be drowned in the endless hail of birdshit that is the rich conservative backlash.

        It’s no wonder that nobody wants to be the one who calls bullshit on all of this, why would anybody stand in front of the LNP firing squad?

        I… I… I think we’re serfs… fuck…

    • Mate, we’re not getting FTTN (or proper FTTN anyway). The copper is shafted, has been for years, and the fact that it’s not even been mentioned by the new government should set alarm bells ringing.

  6. Although I’m a technical guy by trade, and acknowledge the importance of financial responsibility and accountability (both of which I’m still waiting for with regards to this government), generally only one side here is actually focused on a solution.

    The other still can’t seem to understand that they need to put what they’re actually going to do in the forefront. Instead, what we continue to see is ad hominem mud slinging (not cool Mr Turnbull and Mr Lynch). While that might be easier to do than defend a bit of a technical turkey compared to the previous alternative, it’s not constructive, has no place in rational discourse toward the progress of the nation, and doesn’t give the public much faith in their capabilities to deliver “their” solution.

    Sooner or later (and my money’s on later, if the previous Howard government’s telecommunications lengthy exile is anything to go by, the hot air will be spent, and the public will start asking questions they should have asked at the start. It’s just a pity that in the meantime, we have to endure years of inactivity while any party tries to make “their” version palatable to voters. Note that I’m keeping this non-partisan, Labor did the same thing for theirs previously, it’s just easier to sell because of the technical merits (which they did an abysmal job of selling anyway).

    Of course, one could also add that this new MTM is a solution, just not for the Australian voting public as well, but that’s a whole other discussion.

  7. By the way, I do not recall Rod Tucker saying that “NBN Co would still eventually need to go full FTTP”. What he said was more like (from memory) “I still think that fiber broadband will come to Australia eventually, it will just take a bit longer”. Malcolm might argue against this, but it is really not a sentiment that any informed person would disagree with.

  8. As in many areas of society, public debate and even legislature, the unscientific ill-informed opinion of the technically illiterate are given tremendous weight and ‘air time’ to influence the opinions of the uninformed masses. There is an active ban on the dissemination of ‘Holocaust denial’ publications, because such material seeks to rewrite historic facts to deliberately subvert the uninformed and the easily influenced to the cause of fascism. Surely the same bar should be applied to any topic of important public debate and opinion? If publicly published debate and propaganda attempt to rewrite indisputable facts with technically indefensible misinformation, such publications should be universally derided and even banned and the authors prosecuted for attempting to deliberately mislead the public for political and ideological gain.

    Before you object on the basis of ‘free speech’, as I said there is precedent to this approach in an applicable area. I would go on to say that I have nothing at all against free speech insofar as a technical theory or approach is raised and debated in a sufficiently technical forum, but such a technical debate should *not* be occurring in the public arena, particularly when the technical argument is sufficiently flawed and no politically independent technical expert would stand behind it.

  9. Wait, “CommsDay publisher Grahame Lynch has weighed in to strongly attack…” someone who supports the NBN’s full-fibre goals? Surely not…

    I do note that the criticism by Lynch was one of character assassination, rather than being a critical

    Further, referring to a Professor as “Mr” by the AFR’s James Hutchinson (and editors) certainly fails to pass the “respect of position” test.

    For the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull to also sink to character assassination is a woeful indictment of the man’s own character (but with a little more credibility in criticism).

  10. Lynch should know better by now. Frankly. Throwing fuel on a fire — apart from gaining attention — does little to actually further the current issue.

    Which is a distinct lack of action. On anything. Anywhere. At all.

    I don’t care, now, what we build. Because ultimately whatever it is now, it’s not the end-game (fibre) so we’ll just pay more (one way or another) to get there. Eventually.


    What I care about – is that people are still too stupid, frankly, to understand that Turnbull will debate people to the eventual heat death of our planet as the sun, finally exhausted of fuel, expands to engulf the earth and exterminate all life as we know it.

    He will still be there, in his leather jacket. Happy to expand (much like the sun) on the glorious topic of how I stopped caring about policy and learned to love ad hominem.

    End result? Planet dies. We all die (even Malcolm, still practising yo mama jokes and occasionally dropping-the-mic).

    And no network.

    I say this because rather than arguing; you, we, all of us should be asking the Minister for Non-delivery, where the hell is the network.

    Where is the network, Malcolm? It’s a very simple question. Where is the network?

    Stop arguing over technical delivery, and start asking. Where’s the network? Pretty soon you’ll find the entire debate shifts from an area people do not give a monkey’s left testicle of, to one people can understand.

    I paid for shit I don’t have. Where is it?

    You said there would be a fully costed, delivered solution by 2016. Where is it?

    Start asking.

    • “Stop arguing over technical delivery, and start asking. Where’s the network? Pretty soon you’ll find the entire debate shifts from an area people do not give a monkey’s left testicle of, to one people can understand.”

      +1 Brendan…

      And if anyone doubts it. just think back 12 months when we had the superior network rolling out, somewhat slowly, and those exact cries )simply overlooking everything else) were coming from MT and Co…

      It obviously works…

  11. Lynch arguments to what was said by Rod Tucker are just wrong technically. As Tucker himself said “…Australia’s broadband debate has been mired in “ill-informed opinion” and lack of technical expertise from engineers.” See:


    Don’t even get me started on what Turnbull said at the conference. As usually Turnbull personally attacks Rod Tucker calling him “innumerate” of all things. Unbelievable!

    The type of strong attacks by people like Lynch on Tucker’s Keynote Address is noted by Rod Tucker himself. Rod Tucker said in the above linked article “..such political attacks showed why engineers had failed to publicly engage in debate around technologies, a problem he said contributed to a lack of confidence in Labor’s fibre-based proposal.” and as you referenced in your article “…I tried to encourage quite a few of my technical colleagues to get informed in this technical debate and really get the message across … quite a few of them said it was too political.”

    This is exactly right. People who have no idea (technically) write articles such as Lynch, speak on radio (including shock jocks) & television and tell the general public all this crap.

    Unfortunately what they say and write aren’t the facts, and the general public believe this crap because they don’t know any better. Engineers who do know, avoid commenting because they get attacked by people like Lynch & Turnbull. So it’s just not worth it. You have seen Turnbull personally attack people all the time. A case in point is him saying that Rod Tucker was “innumerate” at the IEEE Conference.

    A respected IEEE Fellow (no less) gives the keynote presentation on the NBN at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ annual international communications conference and Lynch writes this crap.

    Tell me what are Mr Lynch qualifications that give him the right to criticise Professor Tucker? He only gets away with writing this crap because he run Commsday.

    Sham Grahame Lynch, Sham!

    As a fellow member of the IEEE, Grahame Lynch is way out of his depth! I only wish his article was open to comments. It’s easy to write crap and not to be challenged and held accountable for it.

    Do a Google search and you will see what Rod Tucker has actually contributed to Worldwide Telecommunications.

    Tell me what Mr Lynch has actually contributed to Worldwide Telecommunications?

    Rod Tucker- Brief Biography

    Rod Tucker is a Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. He is Director of the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES) and Director of the Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET), in the University of Melbourne’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

    Professor Tucker has held positions at the University of Queensland, the University of California, Berkeley, Cornell University, Plessey Research, AT&T Bell Laboratories, Hewlett Packard Laboratories and Agilent Technologies.

    He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and a Fellow of the IEEE. He received the BE and PhD degrees from the University of Melbourne, in 1969 and 1975, respectively. In 1997 he was awarded the Australia Prize for his contributions to telecommunications.

    Taken from (As I’m too busy to write it myself):



    • > http://www.commsday.com/commsday-australasia/comment-sorry-professor-tucker-your-facts-are-not-what-they-seem

      Sigh. Let’s have a look, shall we:

      > there is close to 85 GHz in service of the nation’s communications needs.

      OK, let’s look at an actual standard, WirelessHD, at some high end of that, 60 GHz.

      > The WirelessHD specification is based on a 7 GHz channel in the 60 GHz Extremely High Frequency radio band. […] The goal range for the first products will be in-room, point-to-point, non line-of-sight (NLOS) at up to 10 meters. The atmospheric absorption of 60 GHz energy by oxygen molecules limits undesired propagation over long distances and helps control intersystem interference and long distance reception, which is a concern to video copyright owners.

      Up to ten metres. Nice.

      > copper would more likely offer bandwidth of up to 500Mbps or more.

      And that trial was run by Ericsson over what were apparently six bonded lines. Most households in Australia barely have one. But 500 Mbps over a distance of 500 metres, sure. Was it Cat 5, wasn’t it, what diameter was the copper? Who knows. VDSL2 can do 500 Mbps in this press release, shove it in Commsday, good enough to prove the wrong academic, who is wrong, wrong.

      > One common specification for the latest DOCSIS standards is about 1.25Gbps down and 245Mbps up—a factor of about 5 to 1

      Oh no, if only the likes of Paul Budde had read the DOCSIS specification they’d all have realised how wrong they were. In fact, if we look at DOCSIS 3.1, it can do 10 Gbps / 1 Gbps with 4096 QAM, says the spec. Wow, those fibre zealots are so utterly wrong. What’s that? 1.7 GHz? Sure it’ll go up to that, why wouldn’t it? What do you mean ‘topology’ or ‘split’? Those aren’t real words! ‘Attenuation’? Now I know you’re making up words!

      • And lest anyone be all like ‘but what if you GHz different’ or whatnot, this here thing shows the 85 GHz point Lynch is talking about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Absorption_spectrum_of_liquid_water.png

        And this is water only – never mind the oxygens and all. So I guess technically speaking he’s right. It’s out there for service. It’s the reason why on Ku-band as long as you have a large enough dish things will work out fine, but on Ka-band you’re needing to take very good care with your modulation scheme. And I quote, from just one random thing to illustrate the point, ‘Estimation of Rain Attenuation at C, Ka, Ku and V Bands for Satellite Links in South Africa’:

        > It is observed for example in Figure 6(a) and more clearly from Table 3, that a fade margin in excess of 50.7 dB is required for 99.99% availability in Klerksdorp considering circular polarization at 26.5 GHz. For the same location, availability, and polarization, a fade margin of 79.3 dB is required for the operating frequency of 40 GHz.

        That’s a near 30 dB difference in the SNR between the bottom and the top of Ka-band.

      • Good analysis.

        Grahame comes off like un informed hack in his arguments. There’s only 6 to 12GHz of spectrum that’s really useful for point-to-multipoint communications like mobile internet (that’s compared to 150,000GHz per fibre strand!). After that, things like terrain, walls, foliage, raindrops, etc. start playing havoc…

        Sure, there’s plenty of spectrum for LOS point to point links, but 85GHz is a very high estimate. I would expect the actual practical range to be lower than that.

    • Maybe Mr. Lynch needs a comments section forcibly added to his website… by helpful internet citizens looking to even the score…

  12. Lynch is a bonafide moron.

    On twitter I listed benefits of the coalition’s plans at the time which while I did not support I can see some positive aspects.

    I challenged him to list a single positive of Labors NBN plans he refused and immediately blocked me!

    I have no respect for a person who can not be objective enough to list a single positive of a plan that they choose to oppose.

    Graham Lynches blind faith and refusal to even say FttP is faster than FttN shows he is just a Zealot worshipping at the Temple of Turnbull.

  13. As the “wireless guy” on the expert panel with Rod that recommended the way forward the basis for the previous Government’s NBN, I wrote a letter to the Editor of Comms Day suggesting the need to balance vision with realisation options on the journey towards that vision.

  14. Except that Tucker is a scientist and Lynch acts like a Liberal shill, you mean?

  15. Before the election, I was 12 months out from NBN being connected. I even contacted Turnbull’s office to confirm their plans for my area, and was assured that “regardless of the outcome of the election”, I would still be getting FTTP by the end of 2014…

    I’m now nowhere to be found on the rollout maps, and have since had correspondence confirming there isn’t any plan (not on the rollout, not on the schedule, and not even on what technology will be used). Its likely to be 2019 before I see anything, and its not guaranteed to be really any better than what I am on now.

    Anyone who puts their faith in the Coalition’s NBN plan is either an idiot or has a vested interest in it failing…

    • Exactly IthieI, just as we Delimiter posters noted at the time of the pre-election spruiking by Mr Turnbull & Co.

      Anyone who would have received FttP via the previous plan and hasn’t as yet received FttN, HFC (or FttP) availability under the current plan, has already proved the sooner promise to be at best, incorrect and at worst a blatant lie. Then there are those like you who if they don’t receive the new plan by a certain time, will simply reaffirm the broken promise/lie.

      Again, contrary to the assurances of MT and those, of course “legitimately apolitical (ahem)” FttP NBN detractors here (yes we all remember them, the ones we said would, and have, disappeared post Sept 2013)…who claimed the current plan superior by telling us everyone should be happier, because we’d receive improvement sooner…

      :/ amazing

      • Oh, I’ve just realised – I’m a clear example of how the Noalition has delivered the CBN ‘sooner’.

        You see, thanks to pair gain / RIM issues, my only (non-mobile) option for internet is HFC… ergo I’m *already* on the MTM CBN! Take that, Labor!

        Yeah, sure, I only get 6Mbps down at peak times, but that’s beside the point! Being on 6/0.5 HFC now is *soooo* much better than Labor’s plan, where I would have been on 100/40 fibre in a year’s time…

  16. david Posted 17/06/2014 at 11:52 am “Incidentally, I think it is pretty safe to say that most people at the conference saw the future of (consumer) wireless communications as consisting of very many very small cells with fiber backhaul.”

    Now theres an idea worth pursuing, Malcolm could even claim he was right about WIRELESS BEING THE FUTURE (not that he had any such idea) Why not let them build their precious nodes, then for the final hop, use wireless? There’s only three clear channels in consumer 2.4g, but more bandwidth could be used in high frequency spectrum (didnt they fail to sell some?) for the last leg to the residence.
    They are already commiting to finding power supplies and installing nodes, why not admit the copper sucks and complete the link with wireless? It might even increase their 300 meter spacing, which is going to bite them on the behind as well.

    BTW Lynch and Turnbull do belong in the same sentence, but I think one of the names should be a verb. Again we see clear facts and mature presentation on one side, and mud slinging personal attacks by the other when their faulty ideas cannot be defended.

    You say innumerate Mr.Turnbull? How about you and your victim complete a year 12 maths exam? Even better, a physics exam regarding electromagnetics and their potential to carry data. Then look at the issue of slander. Doesn’t parliamentary priviledge only apply to statements within parliament?

  17. I’m not particularly certain why Grahame Lynch was quoted in the blog post. Is he a reputable source? Is the CommsDay publisher (what, of relevance, does he do, specifically?) generally considered to be a trusted authority?

    I would appreciate any clarification.

    In other news, I’m genuinely sick over how the NBN has been corrupted, and all the bullshit that gets repeated about it.

    Good on Rod Tucker for standing up for what he believes in, and shame on his colleagues for backing down because it’s “too political”. It’s too political because you have a huge ratio of misinformation and spin by politicians and “journalists” to cool, factual analysis by experts.

    I mean, does anyone actually disagree that we’ll need a full fibre to the premises roll out eventually? Does anyone actually disagree that fibre is the only medium that will allow us to meet our future bandwidth needs, and we’ll need it sooner rather than later? Does anyone actually disagree that the natural monopoly cross-subsidy model is the best way to deliver it by the time we need it?

  18. I fall outside the FTTP/FTTN footprint and have a fixed wireless tower going up about a kilometre away. Although I’m not getting wired/cabled access I still believe FTTN should be going everywhere else. Apart from the superior bandwidth and upgradability it’s vastly more ecologically friendly due to the high power requirements and number of node boxes needed. However as the LNP has no belief in global warming it’s something they don’t care about.

    • “I still believe FTTN should be going everywhere else.”

      Hopefully i think you meant FTTP?

      There is nothing friendly about FTTN. Apart from the bond it creates between queen mal and king rupert


      • Yikes. Yes I do mean FTTP.

        Thanks for alluding to my atrocious dyslexic tying error. What on earth were my fingers thinking.

  19. Has anyone noticed on the Commday website up the top there is a section called FTTHAP.

    Clicking on it takes you to an FTTH advocacy site. Does it strike anyone else as odd that that link is there?

    I might contact them and point out that a site that appears to be associated with them in some way is so vehemently arguing down adoption of FTTH. Who knows, someone might care. Its not like CommsDay has any actual advertisers that I could see.

    • I have always wondered who would bother reading the articles or visiting the site, the ONLY reason I ever visit is when an article appears on a MTM article or on Google News.
      I truly wonder how he can afford to maintain the site

  20. The best way to attack the MTM is to highlight success stories with FTTP where FTTN wouldn’t have helped them succeed. That’s the only way the public will endear themselves to a technology that they don’t really understand the benefits of.

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