Australia's communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has today given an interview to TV show Meet the Press in which he appears to have softened his line on fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections for the National Broadband Network (NBN). The transcript of the interview can be found here and the most interesting bit is the …
It's not that complicated
The NBN as implemented by the previous government was going to cost a lot more money than the current government considers prudent. They will therefore go with the cheapest solution that provides what they consider to be an acceptable result. Most people will be happy because the Turnbull NBN will let them stream Netflix at 1080p, but a lot of antipodean Reg readers will weep at the perceived injustice of it all, because it won't support 4K TV.
Turnbull (like any good politician) will throw a verbal bone to the opponents to take the sting out of their arguments. It will not make a real difference to FTTP's outlook because it breaks the war down to many battles each with it's own pros and cons, each which is likely to fail due to lack of media attention and loss of focus for the opponents of FTTN.
Of course it could be incompetence since Turnbull has a habit of sticking his foot in his mouth.
When I say a "good politician" i mean one well versed in double-speak, weasel-words, and bread and circuses for the masses. It has nothing to do with morality.
Labor FTTP fanbois are the problem
The biggest risk to FTTP in Australia are Labor FTTP fanbois who refuse to acknowledge that the plan has faults:
- How many people will really connect to more than one RSP?
- How do you justify building a FTTP network when in April 2013, 47% of fibre connections were 12Mbps (NBNCo Corporate Plan 2013) and the prediction is that in 2028 less than 5% of connections will be 1Gbps?
- Is FTTB reasonable for multi-dwelling buildings?
- Should the rollout focus on areas of need first (e.g. areas with the lowest average speed)
Re: Labor FTTP fanbois are the problem
I don't think that in general FTTP supporters fail to acknowledge that the original plan had faults. I think they rather expected Mr. Turbull who waxed on and on about the faults prior to the election would by now have had a plan to rectify those faults.
People may not connect to more than one RSP, in fact I think it would be unusual for people to do so. I can however see people having more than one service, maybe streaming TV, maybe a government service, who knows, that option has been taken away now.
It has been pointed out to you many times that if 47% of premises connect at 12Mbps then that by definition means that 53% are connecting at speeds higher than 12Mbps which is not at all bad. As for the 5% of connections at 1Gbps, who bloody cares, it's an option available to the user, if no one takes it up it doesn't make FTTP a failure and by your own figure taken from the prediction, it won't be zero, but how many will connect at 500 Mbps, or 200 Mbps these are the very users that make the NBN fibre cost effective and viable.
Surely, he means, where there is existing copper TTP infrastructure (brownfield) do FTTN, because digging up and replacing that last km is ludicrously expensive. Where new infrastructure for new connections is being built, stick in fibre not copper.
in areas where FTTP planning is advanced that rollout continues
"in areas where FTTP planning is advanced" probably means "in electorates where we would like people to have a better opinion of us".
Turnbull Reason Number Five
"Despite inventing the Interwebs I have no idea what it is. Besides, I only do what Tony tells me and he has less of a clue than I do."
this was always going to happen.
remember how this started out? Labor said "we're going to build this fabbo network", Abbot then immediately countered (without talking to anyone who had a clue) with "that's a bad plan, because, Labor bad".
from that point on, Turnbull was painted into a corner. I think it's pretty clear that to him, the concept of FTTP (implementation notwithstanding) was always going to be the preferable solution - but due to Australian politics he couldn't immediately come out & say that - he had to support the party line or else end up not being in any position to change it.
Instead he has been slowly slowly manoeuvring away from the original "NBN bad" towards one where universal broadband is acceptable. eventually once the coalition won government, he was able to implement "a review", which is often political-speak for "make it look like we're going to make sweeping changes, but instead take the heat off for a bit, while we work out a way to do the thing that we know is right, but that we have previously argued against for no good reason".
his recent comments hint that he's confident that they've found some technical loophole that allows fttp in a way that is "better" than the previous proposal - or at least a way to package it in enough gobbledigook to make it seem that way to the mainstream.
the next phase will be the announcement of the review's findings, indicating that there will be mostly fttp possible due to something special that the Labor govt "ignored", or something like that.
Australian politics as normal - at least Turnbull seems interested in the subject.
The devil is in the detail
Spoke to a Telstra techy recently. It appears Mal's proposed VDSL model for the network in many brownfield areas around the country is going to flop. VDSL relies on 0.7mm copper. Most of Australia's old copper is 0.4. We might therefore see more back-peddling from Mal as his dream vapourises in front of him. It's a complexity he could have determined by just asking a few more questions when he puts himself up as an expert in the field. Sorry Mal: Fail this time!
Re: The devil is in the detail
Yes - nowhere have I seen any mention that the Coalition sought, or had, access to Telstra cable records that would let them make more than a wild guess as to how much copper would (in principle, at least) support VDSL.
Add to this the elephant in the room that is Telstra's level of commitment to proper maintenance of their copper network in the last decade. My mother's last house, build in the late '80s, had decent ADSL2 a couple of years ago, until a fault brought out a Telstra tech who, between complaints about how crappy his job had become, mentioned to my brother, "yeah, you probably won't have such good ADSL anymore". Whatever work he did on that line to get it working again, he wasn't lying.
The opinion of Telstra executives at a Senate hearing in 2003 was that their copper network was "five minutes to midnight", and they would only guarantee its function to 2018. An optimist might say that those executives lacked the vision to see that networking technology would eventually find ways to wring decent speeds out of a few hundred meters of copper; but the real question is whether that view of the copper network, and their focus on higher margin mobile services to drive revenue growth, led to such cost pressures that they effectively gave up on maintaining the copper to the standard where VDSL2 speeds were uniformly achievable.
For what it's worth, I see FTTB for multiple dwelling units as one place where it makes sense to use VDSL2. The copper runs are shorter, and hopefully the deployment could be done in such a way as to leave open the possibility of fibre retrofits back to the basement, for tenants who manage to get the body corporate to agree and are prepared to pay for the retrofit.
The view from government
"See, the problem with the project as it’s – as Labor framed it – they massively underestimated the cost, the complexity, and the time it would take to complete."
Sounds like what Mr Turnbull did when he said every day from April to September that the gross cost of his 72% FTTN and 22% fibre would be $29 billion, and that he would complete it by 2016.
The fact is that Labor told NBNCo never to use copper inside buildings. For mine, this is the only constraint that should be relaxed. Fibre should be laid to all urban premises because it will generate higher wholesale revenue to repay sooner, yet cost about the same (money and time) as buying and remediating ten million copper pairs, building/electrifying/maintaining 60,000 nodes and taking responsibility for asbestos, which is currently Telstra's contracted responsibility.
Every urban building should get fibre, and only where internal fibre is genuinely frustrated should copper or Wi-Fi be used within the building to deliver the service to the occupant.
This will reduce the cost of FTTP, compared to forcing internal fibre to be delivered where impractical. but if fibre is not laid to the building, the wholesale revenue stream will be inadequate to self fund the project.
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