Australia - National Broadband Network - Contributions from Experts

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Last updated: 29 Apr 2009 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 7

Analyst: Paul Budde


Following the announcement of the NBN, BuddeComm asked national and international experts to comment particularly in relation to FttH applications and regulatory issues in relation to the future operation of the FttH network. This report lists their ideas, suggestions and comments. We have not edited them but have grouped comments.

IT Brookings (USA) found that for every one percentage point increase achieved in broadband penetration, employment rises from 0.2 to 0.3 percent, or about …and… it is most significant in explaining employment growth in education, health care, and financial services.

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is a vision of a ubiquitous, user-centric broadband system, one that enables innovation from all sectors. Our vision of a ubiquitous, user-centric broadband system is one that enables innovation from all sectors.

Public-good ‘grand challenge’ applications and the minimum network characteristics (speeds, latency, symmetry) that are required to serve them.

We believe this is an essential component in evaluating the minimum acceptable level of broadband services.

Key questions:

  • What applications can be provisioned at what cost in which time frame?
  • Is the network durable - likely to be used over a time period in which its economic life equals or exceeds it financial life?

One of the pitfalls is proceeding in too much or a rush. The challenge is how to (a) minimise the costs by smart approaches and (b) spread those costs over the broadest base of economic activity possible. It's a great vision that deserves to succeed.

  • Economic growth (digital economy, new high quality employment);
  • Health care from home (certain service);
  • Work from home (for certain kinds of work);
  • Education at home;
  • Shopping from home;
  • Interacting with the government from home;
  • Public safety;
  • Civic participation;
  • Energy independence/efficiency, management of renewable energy;
  • Entertainment.

Most people most of the time live in ‘meatspace’. Having a fibre optic link to my house doesn’t help me mow the lawn, or clean out the garage, or do the laundry. It doesn’t help me help my kids with their homework when what is needed is editing a draft of a paper or reviewing (drilling) on Spanish pronunciation, when what they need (as one of my kids does) is help with the discipline of doing it, not the pronunciation per se.

It does help with our work. But we have a bit-intensive job, as, we would submit, do most of us on the list.

BuddeComm think it is important not to ‘oversell’ the immediate, pragmatic, measureable benefit of universal broadband deployment. It is certainly true that good things can happen. But an appropriate humility about our own (lack of) ability to predict the chaotic, unplanned evolution of the economy and cultural and social life counsels against making specific predictions about what can or will happen.

High bandwidth is the effect of low latency for big payloads, not the cause. Low latency equals to fast response times, which is vital for humans in meatspace who have other things on their mind and a limited amount of time.

Low latency with big payloads allows you to hire a Spanish speaker/teacher living in Mexico to exercise/drill your kid daily on their Spanish with live video/voice, for a minimal cost. Or change the teacher to someone else living elsewhere if the “rapport” between your kids and the teacher does not work out.

This example is frequently offered and very cool, but how central is it life in meatspace? If the overwhelming majority of things people need to do can be supported by a technology that cost one-quarter (and therefore will be deployed much faster) and a technology that will remain useful for basic connectivity for decades if not longer, then prudence suggests we do that technology first with the limited resources we have available.

To pull this off, the government has to hire thousands of skilled people, undertake tens of thousands of mile of construction, verify and interconnect tens of thousands of miles of fibre into hundreds of millions of dollars of procured equipment, establish a large scale provisioning, management and billing infrastructures and then deploy personnel to connect subscribers while establishing call centres to answer technical and billing questions from people paying for service. It is questionable that this can be done at the velocity claimed (and required) by the politicians.

Very smart people, motivated by lots of money (definitely not wearing brown cardigans) have failed to achieve the goals the Australian Government is setting its self up for. Even Verizon, one of the world best run and financially secure operators has deployed Fibre-to-the-Home (FttH) much more slowly than their original plan.

The most critical action the Australia Government can take at this time is to establish regulation and pricing for the services its planning to provides so that the existing operators will be able to continue to invest in infrastructure and not exit. Unless regulation and pricing is established, including a mechanism to establish the NBN on equal footing to Telstra, the risk to the Australian people of continuing on the NBN path is unacceptable.

One of the obvious applications is metering – water, natural gas, electricity.

Key applications here include those for environmental purposes - track air quality, water quality, fire alarms, etc. Not only will it matter to green house gas emissions (the US already has a database capable of tracking emissions with incredible granularity; it was built in anticipation of increasingly intelligent infrastructure), but to all sorts of monitoring and control that will be associated with all sorts of new energy projects either planned or under construction out West (USA), particularly in the intermountain region. But these truths are not limited to U.S. borders either nor are they limited to energy production, environmental preservation, communications, or transportation either.

Networks extend our senses and increase our adaptability. Few, if any investments will have a longer and better return on investment provided there is agreement, intent and ongoing assurance that abundance is valued over scarcity; that open is understood to be more valuable than closed, and that the conceptualization and imagination brought to the effort are as unlimited as the minds that dare to imagine better worlds.

Another is to put a wireless access point every 10th house or so, in order that government workers, etc. have a way to ‘tap in’ to the network. They can use it for inspections, building permits, crime reporting, etc.

Fire fighting agencies could tap into all kinds of web 2.0 type data bases and geo marking tools and weather forecast models to plan and execute real time emergency responses to a fire disaster situation. They check the contents of a warehouse in the path of a fire found a dangerous chemical inside and then checked other database to figure out how to get needed equipment to the scene.

The New York Fire Department some years ago did run what basically was a Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service / Time Division Duplex (UMTS / TDD) radio system carrying IP, but the bit that stuck in my mind was some of the C3 applications running over it. The NYFD, by law, gets a copy of the plans of every building in its area of responsibility; they were digitising them and displaying them as a map overlay on a really big touch-screen. The cool bit, however, was that the current state of the map on the big screen at headquarters (or in the forward-command post) could be synchronised with the view on the mobile terminals, so you could sketch out a plan and have the crew in the field both see it and respond to it.

  • The NBN plan also allows for high-speed wireless out beyond the end of the fibre, this opens up opportunities for video applications for the Royal Flying Doctor Service? A caller in the bush with their big green medicine chest could show the Doc what's going on, improving quality of care and potentially reducing the number of sorties.
  • Similarly, there are quite a lot of small medical facilities in Australia that although in reasonable-sized towns are still quite a long way from anywhere; could benefit from a fast uplink for medical imaging.
  • It takes 2 hours and 20 litres of fuel to courier 1 x-ray the 200km from a remote hospital, to a regional centre hospital, for specialist assessment. It takes ‘one-click’ and less than 20 seconds on the NBN. (Saves time and carbon and provides economic benefit).
  • Regional health and educational professionals will fly, or drive, an average of 250km to reach ‘face to face’ vocational training at a central tertiary facility up to 4 times in a year. A PC, webcam and the NBN achieves that same ‘face to face’ professional development without anybody burning time and fuel, or leaving the district. (Saves time and carbon and provides economic benefit).

They will open access to critical, limited resources that allows students anywhere in Australia to use and learn using cutting edge research tools:

  • eApps will tap creative energy distributed throughout the country to unleash economic development.
  • The NBN will enable the full creative power of our entire population to compete in the global marketplace, and in the process generate employment, wealth, and new industries.
  • The NBN levels the global playing field. The new global economy is flat. With the NBN, we are a part of it not observers to it.
  • The NBN connects people, resources, heath care, and education into a seamless web to enhance well being, productivity, wealth, and social value.

A ‘trans-sector’ concept, and one that does benefit mightily from, if not require, high bandwidth is what we call ‘remote diagnostics.’ It’s where the remote location shows something to the central expert and gets advice. Examples range from life-saving to silly, and include:

  • Here is this cut on my back – do I need to come in for further treatment, or can you talk me through it
  • Here is me playing a musical instrument – are my fingers in the right places? How’s my intonation, tone, expression.
  • Here is a look at my washing machine trying to run and the sound it makes – can you help me repair it without coming out.
  • Here is my attempt at the latest dance move – what can you tell me about doing it better?
  • Here is the architectural plan for my addition – is this enough for a permit? Can you send out someone junior, who can consult with someone senior back at the office in real-time?
  • Here is a plant that looks damaged Here is can you tell me how to treat it without you coming out here or my bringing it in?

You get the idea - the remote location submits ‘things’ – whether real-time video, detailed photographs or high-quality sound recordings, elaborate diagrams (like architectural drawings), and can get feedback without travel to and from the remote location.

The key issue for the unserved is basic connectivity.

This is of course 2-way connectivity. The served are not just ‘sending out content’ for charity’s sake -- they are:

  • expanding the market for content sent out, whether an economic market or a social or political market when trying to persuade or educate;
  • creating a chance for the unserved to make contributions – ie to send things in – questions, comments, their own content.

It is the two-way nature of basic connectivity that is crucial, NOT just more TV channels.

All of these are ‘trans-sectoral’ in that they are applications not normally associated with telecommunications.

FttH is not about telecommunications, cable, or wireless as a business. It is about basic infrastructure used to connect increasingly ubiquitous and intelligent devices, whether they be institutions, public agencies, people, meters, appliances, buildings, or even bridges, but these applications are only the beginning.

Fibre optic is not the gold standard; it is simply necessary infrastructure. Pretending that it is somehow ‘gold’ is to pretend that there is some premium on it; that it is somehow ‘more special’ and likely more expensive than anything else. It is an old marketing trick, but has nothing to do with the obviousness and plainness of very conventional technology. It is no longer ‘magic’; it just is, so let us also disabuse ourselves of the notion that somehow pulsing light down a fibre is still FM technology where M = magic. This stuff is no more special than asphalt. Its stuff we use.

The magic is what we - all of us - the people - do with it.

BuddeComm was discussing the FttH opportunity with some technical colleagues recently. The summary of this discussion is as follows:

  • We doubt that the Australian Government even realises that what they have agreed to do is just the tip of an economic boom that is at our doorsteps;
  • Since FttH is the only standardised high speed (>1Gb/s) broadband to the home solution (HFC Network Terminal units mounted on the house outside wall are proprietary), it is possible for Australian research and industry product development to focus on developing innovative FttH ONTs that can be exported to the world market. Better still, no other country in the world will have a home-grown FttH market of the size needed to justify the initial R&D costs (before taking these FttH product to the world market). It doesn't matter if the OLT in the Exchange is from Ericsson, NEC, Huawei etc, the Australian developed ONT will be compatible. It is up to Australian regulatory authorities to make sure for the sake of Australian industry that the FttH standards are mandated.
  • The technology beauty behind FttH is that many other wavelengths can co-exist with the standard commercial PON wavelengths (whether GPON, EPON etc). RBN proved this for a Singapore FttH customer using Ericsson’s Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) back in 2007. Thus, any new products can be tested with trial customers on different wavelengths without interfering with existing commercial traffic. Once proven on different wavelengths, the new products can be simply transferred to the standard wavelengths for commercial deployment to existing FttH customers.
  • Australian Industry can leverage the Government’s $43 billion investment in FttH infra-structure to build a world-class FttH product industry (having multiple layers - including in-home and small business products). We can then attack the world market with field-proven FttH and related ICT products and create many Australian Ericsson type companies. Unlike the days when Ericsson was formed in a small country of 8 million people and grew due to the proximity of a large European market, there is no longer the tyranny-of-distance that prevents Australian companies from doing the same. In fact, the very FttH / FttP infra-structure that the Australian Government’s $43 billion investment is creating will further shrink the tyranny-of-distance problem to being non-existent.
  • Australia can now create a boom ICT industry. The FttH technology that is at the core of this industry is referred to these days as ‘Green Photonics’ since its saves fuel by avoiding many flights to overseas meetings and uses less power to run the all-optical FttH network.

BuddeComm would be happy to prepare a ICT Industry focused discussion paper on the above issues if you think that this would be worth while.

Note that technically, the HFC versus DSL bandwidth limiting issue is actually wrong when all services - Video/Audio (TV/Radio), Voice (Telephone) and Data (Internet) are taken into account. People need to understand this to understand the benefits of a PON based FttH network, which is conceptually just all-optical HFC. These are the issues:

  • DSL is guaranteed bandwidth from the FttN/Exchange to the Home is True - BUT - the FttN/Exchange routers to which thousands of DSL lines connect are single points of shared bandwidth and associated congestion;
  • DSL has fixed bandwidth, so if you need more bandwidth, you need to purchase multiple DSL connections. If you are not using your DSL line bandwidth, nobody else can use it either.
  • HFC (and PON) are shared bandwidth mediums. This is not a negative, since this means that statistical multiplexing - which is ideal for packet services - can be exploited. While one house is not using the shared bandwidth, another house can use this bandwidth. At the end of the day, the Exchange routers are still the main source of shared bandwidth and congestion in the network;
  • HFC (and PON) support broadcast services more efficiently than DSL networks. Broadcast Video will still be a required service for the foreseeable future.
  • HFC (like PON) can be segmented into smaller customer serving areas to reduce loading and increase the average bandwidth per home. PON is typically segmented into 32 home serving areas (due to the fibre splitters). HFC in the past was segmented into 2000 home serving areas (which is what the YouTube video attacks), but aggressive HFC service providers have reduced this to 250-500 home serving areas per HFC segment. Some suppliers in the past offered FttH solutions by shrinking the HFC network to one customer per HFC segment (ie, the Coax part was limited to the internal home network only).
  • GPON versus HFC: The total bandwidth of a 250-home shared HFC segment is 4Gb/s. The total bandwidth of a 32-home shared GPON segment is 2.5Gb/s - which is much better than the best HFC on an average bandwidth-per-customer basis. Also GPON supports peak bandwidths of 2.5Gb/s per customer whereas HFC supports peak bandwidths of only 40Mb/s per customer for a 256QAM encoded packet channel over 7MHz analogue bandwidth. Overall, both HFC and GPON are shared mediums, but GPON is far superior in terms of average and peak bandwidth to the home. Both HFC and GPON are far superior to DSL (and hence the previous FttN proposals) when all services Video/Audio (TV/Radio), Voice (Telephone) and Data (Internet) are taken into account.

For information relating to:

  • Technical information relating to the telecommunications industry, see: HYPERLINK ""Telecommunications Technologies Library;
  • Technology - Terminology - Glossary of Abbreviations (free report);
  • Worldwide activities in the telecommunications industry see: HYPERLINK ""Global Overviews.

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