6 Reasons Why We Don't Need Fibre-To-The-Premises NBN

Image: NBNCo

Back in 2006, when the first seeds of the NBN were planted by then opposition leader Kim Beazley, we were promised a super fast network. By the time Rudd 1.0 rolled into Canberra, more detail was provided with the promise of optical fibre cables being distributed to almost every house and business in this wide brown land.

But then Rudd 1.0 imploded and by the time Rudd 2.0 was bundled out of office, the Abbott, and now Turnbull, government opted for a multi-technology mix that uses cables laid last century. So, why don't we need FttP?

It's too expensive

One of the primary arguments made by the Liberal Party, when Tony Abbott (The Minister for No) was running the party, was that the original $43B price tag was too expensive.

But recent reports suggest the costs are now closer to $50B using the new multi-technology mix while even NBNCo concedes that the cost of fibre is falling.

In other words, we are now paying more than was originally estimated for a network that is being cobbled together with some fibre, copper, HFC and other technologies.

NBN Hacker: The World's Most Confusing Network Explained

'.We thought we were going to enjoy 100Mbps of speedy internet access. Then the politicians got involved and we ended up with something of a dog's breakfast - or dog's vomit according to some. So, what are the connectivity options that the NBN will deliver and how do they differ? Let's take a look..'

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No one needs 100Mbps

I don't know about your household but I currently have a 100Mbps HFC connection over Telstra Cable (coincidentally, a Telstra technician is currently outside my house surveying the local cables as part of the HFC remediation work that is delaying the NBN rollout in some areas) and it gets plenty of use.

With five kids in the house as well as two adults who work from home a lot of the time, a fast connection is important. And while not everyone needs 100Mbps or more today that will change. As we decouple ourselves from traditional TV we'll only stream more and more content. And as more devices in our houses connect to the Internet there will be more drawdown on the megabits we need.

The neat thing about the NBN is you can choose the connection speed you want. If your needs are simple, just pay for a 12Mbps connection. If you need more, jump to 50Mbps or 100Mbps.

And besides, if no-one really needs 100Mbps, why has the PM had it installed to both his residences?

So, perhaps no-one other than the PM needs it.

The multi-technology mix is "better"

We all know that the NBN, as it was originally envisioned was meant to deliver FttP to most of the country, but not all. There are some areas that are so remote as to make it really uneconomical to run fibre. For those areas, satellite was proposed as the preferred solution.

But now, we have a mix of FttN (fibre to the node) where fibre is delivered to a box where the connection is then distributed to houses using existing copper or HFC cables, as well as satellite, Fibre to the Basement (in buildings where Ethernet of something else is used to get connections to all the apartments or offices) and the lesser known Fibre to the Distribution Point (which will use whatever it can to get from the edge of a property to the house).

The reality is, there are remediation works happening on the HFC network that NBN procured from Telstra, the HFC network from Optus has been scrapped as it's... well, the documents don't officially say crap but that's what they mean, and there have been problems using copper.

With myriad complaints from people saying their NBN connections are unreliable and slower than their old ADSL 2 connections, it's hard to argue that connection over old cables are better than a shiny, new piece of fibre.

In other words, this excuse seems pretty lame.

We don't need it today

Running alongside the "No one needs 100Mbps" argument is we don't need FttP now.

Several years ago, I interviewed the IT director for a major health care network spanning an area of about 300km. That network connected hospitals, clinicians and doctors working in many different places. Some were in large buildings where a basic network connection was relatively easy to deliver while others were doctors working solo from private rooms in small country towns.

The healthcare network management wanted to connect everyone over video-conferncing (this was in the days before FaceTime, Skype, Hangouts and others were in wide use) so the decision was made to deploy a WAN connecting all the sites. But the management didn't want to spend the money to do this right the first time.

So, the technology lead built the network his budget allowed and, pretty soon, everyone was complaining about shaky connections, pixelated images and spotty audio. That's when the budget to do it properly appeared.

We can build a half-arsed NBN. Then, when we discover it's not fit for the 21st century, we can go back and fix it. Experience tells me the labour cost alone will what's been spent already pale into insignificance.

If we build it right today, it will be ready for what we need tomorrow.

The technology will become obsolete

The beauty of fibre optic cable is that it uses light that travels at... well, the speed of light. Thus far, nothing we know of can go any faster.

While it's true that the devices connected to the ends of the fibre will get faster, it's unlikely that we'll find something that travels faster than light any time soon. So, upgrading a FttP network to get better performance will be a matter of upgrading end-point devices, not ripping and replacing all the fibre.

While it's likely that the modems installed in homes and business, and the switching equipment in exchanges and other core distribution points will be upgraded over time, the likelihood of needing to replace the fibre because we find something so much faster that we need to replace them is quite remote.

But... wireless!

I feel like we're in an episode of The IT Crowd when this one comes up. Yes, wireless can deliver really fast connections and 5G will make them even faster.

I've already covered this recently but, in summary, wireless costs a lot more to access. And while recent data points to how slow our internet services are, I think the numbers are pulled down by poor ADSL services that drag the averages down.

And we won't see our rankings on those lists rise because many people will, at least initially, choose slower services such as 12Mbps and 50Mbps services, depending on their current needs and budgets.

What's your favourite excuse for why the NBN shouldn't be built on a FttP foundation?


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