Australia’s National Broadband Network: The Neo-Luddites Versus the Vision Thing.


We’ve seen and heard it in all in the various media about how the National Broadband Network (NBN) will be a financial and technological disaster.  That wireless is better, that the NBN is more expensive and slower than Korea’s, that the uptake will be abysmal, etc etc.  And now Christopher Pearson (The Australian, Feb 19) has waded into the argument with his usual negativity related to the Labor Party, a bit of a claim about a mix of fibre and wireless, followed by a concluding swipe at Labor once more.  A fairly weak excuse for Christopher to have a go at Labor, but a good opportunity for deknarf to ‘soap-box’ what he sees as the value of the NBN (and have a go at Pearson).

His argument about the need for radical surgery on the NBN is underpinned by Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech in which he is purported to have said that the USA was committing to ‘98% coverage with high-speed wireless digital communication’.  Ipso facto, Australia’s NBN is therefore a disaster, needs a radical rethink and the Labor Party was a bunch of idiots for ever thinking that the NBN was a good idea and a nation-builder.  Likewise, if the President of the USA says ‘it is good’, then it must be so.  Hmmm?  I wonder how South America, The Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq and Afghanistan fit with this view?  They were, in their time, supposed to be good too, weren’t they?  I think history would now view these as; ‘it is not good’.

To get back on track I’d recommend the article entitled ‘Jammed’ by Jim Giles in New Scientist (October 30, 2010, pp 45-47) as a great overview of what is in store for mobile networks.  In essence he puts the case that cellphone congestion can only worsen as more and more people access it with smartphones and computers connected to wireless modems.  Assuming the best-case scenario in the USA, wireless network capacity will increase linearly from a traffic download capability of around 2 now, up to 4 gigabytes per user per month (GB/user/month) in 2016.  Over the same period there is an exponential growth in demand from around 0.2 GB/user/month in 2010 up to 13.5 GB/user/month by 2016.  Crunch time in the USA will be around 2013/2014.  Demand will exceed supply.  While the data is USA related I’d suggest that Australia would be comparable and, as we are inveterate technology adapters, may very well be worse.

Freeing up more radio spectrum is a management option, but because of demand this will likely to be swallowed up fairly quickly.  Higher fees for high demand users, access prioritisation for selected users and caps on data downloads are other options for management (Yippee! say the service providers).

Another option also considered in the article which would leave the door open for cheap/extensive mobile internet (Yippee! say the users) is to install a cellphone transmitter in each home.  These things are apparently called femtocells, look like wireless routers and they plug in to your broadband connection (here read NBN).  According to the article this would increase capacity by tens to hundreds of times, make mobile communication more energy efficient and provide better indoor coverage.  Apparently existing cell towers lose 90% of their energy when the signal passes through an external wall.  Given the strength of the Telstra connection at my home I can readily believe this.  One of the reasons why my broadband modem is both cable and wireless.

So, if you believe the article, the connection of a NBN to every home/office with the associated connection of femtocells when the need arises would provide greater capacity, reduce energy usage and provide better mobile indoor coverage.  Now that can’t be a bad thing can it?

Given that Jim Giles’ article was in New Scientist, provided understandable explanations and facts to support his arguments, I’d put a great deal more credibility in it than I would give Christopher Pearson’s.  So how about we actually embrace the NBN as a great idea, comparable to those great infrastructure developments back in the 50’s and 60’s, rather than perpetually trying to denigrate an idea that helps us compete in the digital age.

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About deknarf

Australian born and bred who has spent most of his working life in R&D and IP management with earlier forays in the newspaper industry and martial arts. Fortunate enough to be living in one of the best countries in the World, even though I might get grumpy with it from time to time.
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