It is whinge time. As a front-end developer I am working on the Internet every day, uploading and downloading files from server, working with databases, participating in Skype and Google Hangout calls, reading documentation and pretty much relying on the Internet to do my job properly.
When Labor announced the original NBN plan all those years ago, I was excited. The promise of fibre-to-the-premise made my mouth water, not having to rely on my dismal ADSL connection (because my suburb has no fibre) even though I am 15km out from the CBD. But then LNP came into power, and doing what political parties do best, they criticised the original plan as too expensive and proposed their own solution that was actually worse.
The current LNP NBN plan (so many acronyms) is something called fibre-to-the-node also called FTTN by the hipster kids. Basically it means instead of the fibre optic cable running right into your home, the cable will instead run to an ugly node box somewhere nearby and the rest of the distance will use old preexisting copper phone lines.
Yes, the same copper phone lines that suffer from all kinds of issues from degradation of the copper itself. If you’re on ADSL, you might have noticed your Internet gets even shittier when it rains. You can thank Telstra’s dodgy technicians for that. It is like putting a new engine in an old rusted chassis, eventually the rust is going to destroy the vehicle and all you have left is a brand new engine that can’t do anything.
The promised average speed will be a minimum of 25mb, which for some like me is definitely an improvement, but it also makes me cry to think just how wasteful the plan actually is. Especially considering in many parts of the world you can get a minimum of 100mb and in many parts of Europe, you can get gigabit connections (1000mb for those playing at home).
I mean, New Zealand are even beating as us they have stuck to their promise FTTH rollout (which Labor original proposed). Come on, are we really going to let a country a fraction of the size of Australia beat us in Internet speeds? Seems like it.
As the content streaming wars kick off in 2015 with Netflix, Presto, Stan and other services launching in the coming months, it will be heavily apparent our infrastructure is not currently built to handle such content heavy streaming halting mass adoption. We will be barely able to support 4k streaming which Netflix has said they’re bringing to Australia.
It is important to note that dismal Internet speeds don’t just affect content streaming or downloading, think of all of the businesses who have offices all over the world, who need to communicate.
I can’t make a video call without experiencing a drop in quality or drop-outs completely. Sectors such as health and science are also affected because it means research and data can’t be freely and easily shared due to horrible speeds. There are so many sectors that low internet speeds affect that people might not even realise.
It feels like Australia is still stuck in the old mining mindset. Newsflash: the mining sector has tanked and if Australia wants to successfully do business on a global scale, we need a reliable network that is future proof, not 3 years into the future proof. This is why many successful startups eye places like San Francisco because Australia is the backwater of the technological world.
While LNP’s current NBN plan might be cheaper and easier to roll out because it uses the existing copper phone lines, people fail to take into account that copper lines require a lot of maintenance and suffer from all kinds of issues.
Fibre optic cabling lasts considerably longer as it doesn’t suffer from the same kind of degradation issues that copper lines do. So in the end once you factor in the constantly ongoing copper maintenance costs, the FTTN plan will eventually cost more than the originally planned FTTN.
Depending on the quality of the copper line, speeds will vary from street-to-street, suburb, home and all kinds of other factors. Most likely still falling prey to issues caused by weather.
Another factor that will determine speed is also the width of the copper lines. Speeds will differ greatly from areas serviced by new 0.6mm copper compared to those who are being serviced by old 0.4mm copper. Once the NBN is rolled out more widespread, you are going to be hearing reports of less-than-promise speeds and other countless issues that no labatory conditions based test will yield.
While the current plan is considered a viable alternative to a full fibre-to-the-home plan originally proposed, it is not easily upgradable to a FTTH network down the track. The FTTN plan currently being rolled out requires powered cabinets, as opposed to the FTTH plan which doesn’t require a powered cabinet, the size of said cabinet is therefor cheaper to build, considerably quicker and more straightforward as no electrical work is require to get it to work.
Just because a large majority of Australian Internet users do not need high speeds, doesn’t mean the investment into a solely fibre network isn’t worth it. While for some right now 25mb might be plenty, in the future as websites get bigger, content becomes more globalised and we become a more interconnected society, the need for greater speeds and bandwidth will increase considerably.
The perfect example is a modern day car. A brand new car is capable of reaching speeds well beyond current speed limits. While I doubt we will see speed limits increase to the 200km/hr+ range quite possibly ever, the capability is there for a modern car to do so if it ever happens.
Think bigger. The NBN is aking to building a road network. Do you think that most major Australian cities would have been able to cope if they only had two lane highways leading into them? The Internet is a highway. The more lanes you have, the faster it will be. The better the road, the faster traffic can flow.
The current NBN plan is a two lane dirt road highway full of potholes. Those who barely drive anywhere will be more than happy with the dirt highway, others who drive everyday out of neccessity will soon get frustrated with the limitations, but have no choice but to keep driving as the condition of the highway slowly but surely degrades.
The thing is, there is nothing else out there currently that will supercede fibre. Some countries and regions all over the world offer 1gb+ speeds which even streaming something like 8k content would not even get anywhere near. The issue with FTTN is that it has variable limits, for some, those limits are lower than others fortunate enough to be close to a footpath box.
The bottom line is, yes, fibre is definitely more expensive, but investing in a fibre network gives you tonnes of options in the future. The only thing that really changes with a fibre network is the equipment at the endpoints responsible for handling traffic. The future is fibre. You need that direct connection to have a true future-proof network.
If Australia ever wants to go down the full fibre rollout, undoing the current work will be extremely expensive as most of the equipment used for a node style network will either not be compatible with a fibre network or be made redundant. It will basically involve throwing away tonnes of equipment which can’t be repurposed if and when the network is upgraded in the future.
There will be an option for those who want to pay for it to get FTTH, but you will be paying for the cable, the installation of said cable and depending on the distance to the intersecting point, it could end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars to get fibre-to-the-premise style Internet.
As the world moves away from the likes of FTTN, I find it ironic that Australia is adopting such technology all for the sake of a quicker rollout.