News, articles and opinions on the current trends in the IT industry.

NBN – left or right?

There is ongoing debate about the NBN from both sides of politics in Australia, each looking to present their vision of telecommunications over the next 25+ years.

Whilst businesses and consumers are left with a harsher reality of telecommunications in its current form, inconsistent in availability and speed, sometimes unreliable and with a myriad of technology complexities affecting delivery.

GCOMM, as a wholesale aggregator of telecommunications services for businesses, is involved with these issues on a daily basis, recommending the best current technology to businesses in their unique physical location.  Right now the broadband technology available across Australia is not always consistent; therefore speed, reliability and price are also not consistent.  Both sides of the political debate have agreed the need for a renewed approach to telecommunications nationally is justified.

Of course businesses and consumers are understandably left wondering how the two options (Labor or Coalition) will impact the ability to gain high-speed broadband in their area and for their requirements.

NBN Labor

The NBN plan presented by Labor chooses to eradicate the old copper network and replace it in full with fibre cabling into 93% of the population’s premises (Fibre to the Premise or FttP).  Fibre is the current best available technology for terrestrial connectivity (ranging from 1Mbps to 10Gbps commercially, and even 1Tbps in special environments).  The only current limiting factor of fibre speed is the hardware devices you place at the “edge” of the fibre to “light up” the service.

This is the underlying reason for using fibre, whilst copper in the late 1800s was the best available connectivity for terrestrial services. It has now been replaced by fibre as of late 1970s (a 100 year gap between major technology evolution) when the first commercial beam of light was shot down a fibre optic cable at 45Mbps and then deployed across oceans in the late 1980s at speeds of 1.7Gbps. 30 to 40 years later this fibre technology is still the foundation of telecommunications networks globally.

The time, complexity and therefore cost to deliver this next generation fibre into 93% of the population’s premises is extensive. Estimated at 10 years and likely much more, given the current scheduled timeframes already being missed, and of course $47 billion dollars, again likely much more, given current delays.

Undoubtedly this FttP technology will provide a completely new foundation for connectivity for the great majority of Australia over the next century, just as copper did 100 years ago.

More relevant, given the current political climate, and of interest in this article is the “other” NBN proposed by the Coalition and how this may impact businesses and consumers when subscribing to their new NBN services.

NBN Coalition

The key differentiator between the two NBN options centres on 93% of the population.  The other 7% remains delivered via fixed wireless and new KA band Satellites for both political parties (not in question by either).

Where the major deviation in policies lies is the suggestion of the Coalition to re-use the copper network to deliver high speed broadband across Australia.   By delivering fibre to nodes in the street (Fibre to the Node or FttN) and then using existing copper cabling for the remaining 500 to 1000 metres into homes and businesses, it will save tens of billions of dollars and deliver the network within 5 years (as opposed to 10+ years under Labor).

Interestingly, the issues GCOMM and other telecommunications companies currently battle with on a daily basis are very much created by the fact that we are pushing copper networks (installed many decades ago and originally developed a century ago) to the limits of their capability. Varying copper quality and distance of transmission across copper is the very reason why we need a new model.

Whilst new FttN technologies being developed will allow 50Mbps, 100Mbps and even up to 200Mbps to be pushed across copper using vectoring equipment (vectoring alleviates electrical interference on copper cables, which is inherent in copper technology) we shouldn’t forget this is still a fraction of what fibre can achieve (1Gbps, 10Gbps and beyond), particularly if we are looking over timescales of decades and centuries.

Should the Coalition’s NBN be rolled out across Australia the reality of copper infrastructure, being its inconsistent quality, susceptibility to environmental and electronic interference and how far you are actually away from the nearest node, will determine the speed available to you and the reliability of your service.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a big improvement on current copper to exchange based solutions, but is certainly a technological step backwards on the FttP proposal that completely eliminates these problems. FttN will keep many of the issues we are familiar with today in play:

  • Service drops out often and unexpectedly? Copper related.

  • Wet weather affecting your service?  Copper related.

  • You can’t get a service because of cable shortages? Copper related.

  • You can only get half of the advertised speed? Copper related.

These common themes will continue under the Coalition NBN and whilst there will be an improvement on the speed available, it will still be subject to your distance from the node and the local copper quality at your address.