back to article Waleed Aly's NBN intervention is profoundly unhelpful

Australian political commentator Waleed Aly has made a spectacularly non-useful intervention into the debate about the technologies used to build Australia's national broadband network (NBN), setting the ridiculous expectation that streaming video must always load in under a second and must never pause. Aly's piece on The …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another lawyer sounding off

    Waled Aly when speaking within his competence is very articulate, interesting and often makes valuable contributions to debate.

    However, he tends to blow with the wind of popular opinion, and this is just another example of this. Basically, it means that he is just part of the background noise when mentioning anything about technology or science, and should be ignored or politely be told to remain silent.

  2. Likkie

    A Misunderstanding....

    I don't think he was talking about downloading an entire video file in a second.

    I think what Waleed was referring to was when you're playing a video and it stops whilst refilling buffers because the network isn't fast enough for streaming.

    The whole point of having those buffers is to smooth out playback whilst taking network variability into account. We should never be seeing those buffering messages mid-stream unless theres a network problem.

    1. ssharwood

      Re: A Misunderstanding....

      Agreed. But the notion that FTTP will mean buffering never happens but FTTN means it will is ridiculous. It's just not the final carriage medium that matters.

      1. Jasonk

        Re: A Misunderstanding....

        So ADSL is fine or even dialup

    2. Mark 65

      Re: A Misunderstanding....

      I think his mention of a second was more figure of speech than absolute time interval.

  3. Knoydart

    Dear El Reg,

    I think continued robust coverage of the nbn build is what is required. Yes the buffering argument is prob not the best metric to use but your humble commetards expect that nbn co (well the coalition's) mix choice of technology to be tested again and again.

    A previous article on here about how fiber fetishists should give up the game because copper will deliver blazing fast speeds as long as its less than 100m in length and in prefect condition drew a lot of heated comments and showed the desire of IT bods to have a decent nationwide FTTP build that may not be the fastest build time but will deliver the better long term network architecture.

    If the FTTN is going to be the dominant technology in the nbn build from now on, then well Australia is going to fall behind in the long run and have increased opex costs from keeping the copper in decent shape and powering all those nodes as well. The irony is that cost overruns of the FTTN are kicking in and price is now matching the FTTP build cost.

    Anyway we look forward to robust discourse - remember to keep biting the hand that feeds it.

    1. Diogenes

      Sorry to down vote you .

      I am on the end of long piece of string tied between 2 string cans on a really good day, at 2am I get 12mb, when the kids get home from school or if it rains - 1-2mb . I would rather a good solid 25mb within the next 3 months (when our FTTN node goes live), rather than wait for 2020 to get the Rolls Royce solution.

      As South Korea has had super doper fast internetz for years - what is the killer app use there that would make me want to reach my hand into my pocket to buy the Rolls ?

      1. DeKrow
        Stop

        2016 versus 2020

        Who knows, had the current government continued rolling out FTTP without stopping to do six different reviews and re-negotiating contracts and re-purchasing infrastructure, then you may have had your Rolls Royce much sooner than 2020. We will never know.

        Do you know what your suburb's rollout schedule was prior to the 2013 election?

        1. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: 2016 versus 2020

          I think we can get a good idea. We know that in H2 2015 nbn added about 200k FTTP premises. There's nothing I have ever read suggesting that that continuation of all-FTTP policy would have resulted in those connections being made any faster, given that nbn stuck to the already-planned FTTP footprint for its own FTTP efforts

        2. Richard Freeman
          Facepalm

          Re: 2016 versus 2020

          But they had to do 6 different reviews, after all the first 5 said continuing the fibre roll out made more sense, and it wasn't until the 6th (or was it the 7th) that they stacked the review board with enough cronies for them to get the 'right' result ....

        3. mathew42

          Re: 2016 versus 2020

          > Do you know what your suburb's rollout schedule was prior to the 2013 election?

          Fanciful? My suburb was on the stage 2 maps published by Labor prior to the 2010 election. We might be on a rollout for 2017. Prior to the 2013 election we weren't on the rollout schedule.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        This is about more than personal choice and someone being happy with the minimum amount of something that they need to be happy.. Australian Technologists, in the past took pride in being a technology leaders, hard to continue doing that when we have fallen well behind with one of our core technology infrastructure components - communications. . We have done some amazing things with technology in the past and our government should support us in continuing to do this in our future.

        1. mathew42
          FAIL

          Leaders?

          > This is about more than personal choice and someone being happy with the minimum amount of something that they need to be happy.

          The challenge is that currently 79% connected to NBN Fibre are connected at 25Mbps or slower. That means more than 80% of the electorate simply don't care about the difference between FTTN, HFC or FTTP.

          > Australian Technologists, in the past took pride in being a technology leaders, hard to continue doing that when we have fallen well behind with one of our core technology infrastructure components - communications.

          We were behind in the rollout of ADSL, HFC and every technology since then with the exception possibly of mobile.

      3. Tac Eht Xilef

        "I would rather a good solid 25mb within the next 3 months (when our FTTN node goes live), rather than wait for 2020 to get the Rolls Royce solution."

        And I'm in a similar, but opposite boat - inner suburbia, ADSL is 12mbps on a good day, half the local exchange area is already cutover to the NBN, my part is in the queue for rollout to commence in 3 months, and preliminary survey/remediation work has already commenced.

        Well, at least that was the case in late 2013 - right before the Government changed and Abbott & Turnbull brought FTTP to a screaming halt. 2 1/2 years later, and we've seemingly been bumped off the end of the list - the NBN's website says "Not currently available. The nbn™ network rollout has not started in your area. Keep checking the website for more information".

        Meanwhile, the "new, improved, FTTN / Technology Mix" NBN timetable & costing have blown out to match the original FTTP plans, and the o-side cabling around here is in such bad shape we're averaging a voice/ADSL service affecting fault every 3~4 months.

        Such is the power of anecdotes - for each one, you will always find the opposite...

        1. Faceless Man

          'Well, at least that was the case in late 2013 - right before the Government changed and Abbott & Turnbull brought FTTP to a screaming halt. 2 1/2 years later, and we've seemingly been bumped off the end of the list - the NBN's website says "Not currently available. The nbn™ network rollout has not started in your area. Keep checking the website for more information".'

          You're not in Braddon, by any chance? Exactly what happened here, although my ADSL2+ is a bit faster than that, usually. One street over is all FTTP, and despite being promised we would have it rolled out by the end of 2013, and all the initial work being done, nothing. What we get for being a safe

          Labor seat, I guess.

          I don't really understand why The Reg gets so upset about what are basically minor errors on the part of entertainers. One might dismiss Aly's claims about buffering as a mere rhetorical device (hyperbole, for example), but instead we have to be told he doesn't know what he's talking about, and how he's doing more damage than good to the argument.

          Is this going to turn into another public feud like the Stephen Fry thing? I hope not.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

            1. Faceless Man

              Yeah, ADSL coverage in North Canberra sucks. My brother's in Watson and can't even get ADSL2, so he has to pay more for an ADSL1 connection. (Not just ADSL1 speed, actual ADSL1.)

          2. Frank Oz

            Mmmmm .... Pedantry gone mad

            "I don't really understand why The Reg gets so upset about what are basically minor errors on the part of entertainers. One might dismiss Aly's claims about buffering as a mere rhetorical device (hyperbole, for example), but instead we have to be told he doesn't know what he's talking about, and how he's doing more damage than good to the argument."

            Mmmm ... pedantry gone mad. Given the tone of this article if he'd said 'baud' rather than 'bits per second', or 'Internet' rather than 'internet' or 'bite' rather than 'byte' (!!!???) he would have been in for a REAL good-and-proper roasting.

            Can't have these journalist types from a non-IT background making minor technical mistakes, can we? I mean, that could lead to anarchy, dogs mating with cats in the streets, the world could end prematurely and pubs might close early.

            No ... far better to waste everyone's time picking at nits because there was no story worth writing about when you sat down at the keyboard.

      4. Knoydart

        No need to apologise for the down vote, I don't have to deal with rain fade unlike your situation (I wont tell you how close to the exchange I am!).

        Across the Tasman, the UFB build is a 10 year project. Now someone will always be last, you cant up skill a nation of techs overnight to install a once in a prob 50 year infrastructure build. Do you know where you might have been on the FTTP build if the original plan was executed?

        Netflix and streaming video appears to be heading towards the killer app for fiber and does not have the issue as much as copper does on distance vs throughput. That and cloud based services - accounting, image storage and so on are enabled by FTTP installations. Latency is never going to be beaten but having a decent 4 lane motorway rather than the one lane bridge allows capacity for the next generation or three to enjoy and make use of.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        12mb?

        Round here that's what's called dreaming!

        1-2mb is our all-time max.

  4. Mike Echo

    Slow news day

    I think Wally made a spur of the moment comment and you are making a mountain out of a molehill. I have seen more "profoundly unhelpful" comments from those in positions of authority (on both sides) who should know better and yet still do it intentionally.

    1. Shugyosha
      Meh

      Re: Slow news day

      Is it cynical of me to think that this article only exists as an excuse to leech site hits off Waleed Aly's name as he's probably trending in Google searches due to all the Golden Logie furore?

  5. DeKrow
    Facepalm

    Unhelpful? Let's call it going a small distance to balance the ledger

    Whilst Waleed's comments may not necessarily be absolutely technically correct, they're at least on the correct side of the argument. I'm a bit squirmy about having this opinion because I'd prefer the whole argument to be solid, but we in Oz are in serious need of arguments, or even rhetoric, that reaches the masses on a non-technical level to balance out the even-more-technically-incorrect statements coming out of the mouths of those who actually do know better.

    For example:

    https://delimiter.com.au/2016/04/05/nbn-ceo-morrow-says-hfc-will-30gbps-fttn-5gbps/

    https://delimiter.com.au/2016/03/22/google-fiber-shows-people-dont-want-fttp-says-morrow/

    And then there's all the political posturing:

    https://delimiter.com.au/2016/04/06/fifield-keeps-pressure-labor-lack-nbn-policy/

    We don't want the 2016 election result to be considered a 'mandate' to avoid FTTP, and getting the message out to the mass-market, rather than just the technologically literate crowd, is what's necessary for the government to have the vague possibility of getting the message.

    Good on you Waleed Aly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unhelpful? Let's call it going a small distance to balance the ledger

      His comments are not only not technically correct - they are 100% ignorant.

  6. Phil Kingston Silver badge

    Buffering? I *dream* of being able to get a stable and fast enough connection to even contemplate attempting to stream SD video. Let alone fill a buffer with HD content. And that's one train stop out from the CBD of a capital city.

    A situation I've had in several properties around the city, so not an isolated issue.

    Australia's broadband infrastructure is a joke. And whilst it would be good to get the NBN done properly I'd suggest that if we think having connectivity is in any way important we should get a wiggle on with even a half-baked NBN.

  7. HighHair

    Hmmm...

    RIMMER to WALEED: You know, sometimes, Waleed, you can be quite perceptive and thought-provoking. And other times, like this, you can rant and drivel on like a complete loonie.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a load of hogwash

    Waleed is acting the comedian, or at least is trying to be (funny) as I thought he was. Not for one moment would normal people take him so literally when he was clearly lampooning all the bozos responsible for mismanaging the most important piece of public infrastructure we have ever built. And compared to new subs, trains or ports in the barrier reef that we still don't need, it is not really costly.

    And whilst we are at it, Waleed's buffering comments are the most straight forward explanation for us masses.

    However the reason why most dsl connections are so variable is because your ISPs never bothered to put in upstream capacity capable of dealing with a 24/1 link to every house. The contention ratios have gone up with broadband adoption rates, as tgey knew they would. However they leave the overloaded links in place, totally saturated during busy periods because customers put up with it. They just avoid spending any capex. And no, the speed of your http streams are in no way comparable to the time it takes to load documents from an SMB share at work, whether your computer has a 100M link or a 10G one- the protocols and services work very differently to even the most traditional of streaming services.

    At least the show is covering the NBN football game in a balanced, humourous way, a bit like tony Abbott was trying to when he introduced the inventor of the Internet as he knew him. Waleed'd make a far more effective PM than turnabbottbull, and be far funnier too.

  9. jamesb2147

    I look forward to further reporting on the matter.

    My bit to contribute is that fiber is vastly better for anything that requires upload capacity, whether it's Facetime or PC backups. And, if you get a fast enough connection, you should be able to run thin/zero clients at home/work with iSCSI connections over the internet, even on a rainy day.

    Right now there aren't enough premises in the world for developing these platforms into consumer-facing products to be worthwhile, but if Australia had gone full FTTP perhaps things would be different. We might not know for another 10+ years.

    1. mathew42
      FAIL

      > if Australia had gone full FTTP perhaps things would be different.

      Sadly that is not the case. Labor's choice to introduce speed tiers mean that on fibre 79% of connections are 25Mbps or slower.

      > We might not know for another 10+ years.

      In 2026 Labor's plan was for less than 1% to be connected at 1Gbps and close to 50% connected at 12Mbps. Hardly visionary.

      1. rtb61

        The Liberal Alternative do even Less

        No matter what the claim about Labours design the Liberal plan was to do even less, please Newscorp by delaying broadband, each years delay means less competition and more profit for Newscorp and of course give away billions of tax payer dollars to pals who would obviously be willing to pay offshore commissions tax haven for that to happen and yes both News Corp and Telstra have offshore tax haven business units.

        Not to forget stick in crappy services at inflated prices and then replace it for even more money and still produce a crappy network so that it can be bought cheap and we are straight back to square one. The biggest con in Australian history.

  10. Shane 4

    Buffering

    He is right sort of!

    But it's not just your ISP and speed,Especially if he is talking about youtube, It is because they changed the way a video buffers with DASH(Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) and it sucks compared to the old way that would let you buffer the whole video and skip through it whenever you like. Even with a 100mbit connection youtube now sucks and stutters so much I find that I have to drop the quality settings down to 720p to have decent playback.

    There is extensions such as youtube centre that disables DASH, But it doesn't seem to work for me, Others have had success.

  11. Sandmann

    Sure it's unrealistic to expect every video to load with zero buffering even in the best of circumstances, but that doesn't mean Aly's comments are without worth. For the average, non-technically minded Aussie who doesn't know a kilobyte from a killer bee or a megabyte from a mighty bite, buffering is one real world consequence of bandwidth that they DO understand. The (then) opposition managed to get the Australian public to turn off from the NBN debate by elevating it to techno-babble beyond the average level of understanding of caring, Gillard & Rudd blithely went along with it, and "Joe Aussie" switched channels to watch neighbours or worried about his income tax instead. Putting it in terms that the average consumer can understand (even if a little unrealistic) allows it to remain in the public eye so that pressure can be put on Turnbull & Shorten to come up with better, slightly more credible broadband policies. While it remains the domain of an intellectual elite the average voter won't care, and the politicians will ignore it.

  12. RPG

    If Australians are so keen on getting on the FTTP bandwagon, how come there is less than 50% take up on RFS premises? Bearing in mind that most of these RFS premises are FTTP ready. I suspect premise occupiers are making a value call. Also, people who are comparing a 6 year old guesstimate costing for FTTP against current projections for MTM are not comparing apples with apples. It's time to move on folks, Labor has said they won't change from MTM now, so this discussion is now irrelevant. If you want FTTP then pay for it yourself, the MTM build allows for this scenario. The Australian tax payer doesn't need to pay for your Netflix or You Tube high speed connection.

  13. kwyj

    "The Australian tax payer doesn't need to pay for your Netflix or You Tube high speed connection."

    I'm sure if I pulled up a late 1800s copy of The Argus I'd find similar pig ignorant arguments against The Postmaster General's department starting to build out a telephone network. Some infrastructure projects have an ROI that's measured in decades, which doesn't really align with the private sector's short term need to report regular profits. There is also the fact that key projects such as historic telephony and current NBN rollout have the potential to affect the wider economy, so just measuring the ROI of the project itself (eg Will NBN make a profit) becomes almost meaningless. The overall gains are much larger than can be measured by NBN profitability. These are the types of projects where governments and tax dollars should be involved.

    As much as we complain about the current state of communications, could you imagine the mess we would have today if the government of the day had not deployed a network in the 1800's? It's the same now with NBN and whatever technology they deploy now should decided upon with a view to being able to continue using it for the next 100 years. As far as I'm aware, fibre is the #1 medium to fit that brief.

    1. mathew42

      > There is also the fact that key projects such as historic telephony and current NBN rollout have the potential to affect the wider economy, so just measuring the ROI of the project itself (eg Will NBN make a profit) becomes almost meaningless. The overall gains are much larger than can be measured by NBN profitability.

      Except that isn't how it was sold by Labor.

      If your 'national good' stance is correct and I would not disagree then either 79% on fibre connecting at 25Mbps or slower indicates that 25Mbps is adequate, especially when you consider Labor's prediction that very few on these speeds would migrate to higher speeds.

      > These are the types of projects where governments and tax dollars should be involved.

      Except that governments seem particularly bad at managing projects like this. Possibly paying Google $20 billion would have been good use of money.

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