NBN 101: Is Australia's NBN world class?

A look at how the NBN compares to the rest of the world

This article is part of Computerworld Australia's NBN 101 series, in which we take a look at the arguments surrounding the fibre-to-the-home network, and dissect them one by one. The articles are meant to be an overview of the debates central to the NBN to give you a grounding as more and more media outlets and commentators speak out on the project. And we encourage people to take the discussion further in the comments section.

Some have called the proposed fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) national broadband network (NBN) "world class," but how far ahead of the rest of the world is Australia? For those who haven't heard, the network will provide committed speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) to 90 per cent (possibly 93 per cent) of the population, as well as at least 12Mbps to most rural areas of Australia through fixed wireless and satellite services. Given Australia's geography and the speeds its more remote constituents have had to deal with currently, it certainly seems like an ambitious project.

But is it world class?

As part of the recently released NBN Implementation Study, co-authors KPMG and McKinsey & Company pitted the NBN against fibre networks around the world, including South Korea, Japan, Sweden, the United States, Singapore, Portugal, Malaysia and New Zealand. Add to that global figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and suddenly Australia's proposed network doesn't seem so revolutionary after all.

A top-down look

Let's start from a global perspective. Below, you'll see a graph visualising FTTH availability in several countries around the world in the middle of 2008.

OECD statistics on FTTH availability

See Australia? No? That's because, in 2008, the OECD couldn't quantify the amount of fibre access Australian homes and businesses had. Sure, there's always talk of dark fibre rolled out by the likes of Telstra and companies along residential streets and in greenfield estates – and there are some providers who have fibre backhaul networks and some organisations have rolled out their own fibre - but while ever the fibre remains dark (ie. with no retail service), it remains inaccessible to most of the population.

(See all of the OECD stats and graphs on broadband in our slideshow)

Since 2008, things have shaped up slightly - fibre pilot services conducted by iiNet, Internode and Telstra have given hope of 100Mbps to a lucky few in Point Cook, Victoria, and the stage 1 NBN trial sites in Tasmania are likely to see the first services opened in July this year. However, the fact of the matter is, in its current standing Australia continues to drag down the OECD average which is currently, and continues to be, buoyed largely by Japan's hideously comprehensive fibre coverage.

Things will obviously change once the NBN is completed in eight years' time, but that won't stop the rest of the world from catching up and, in some cases, excelling far ahead of us. Here we compare countries using data provided in the Implementation Study as well as the OECD, namely:

  • A country's total broadband subscribers (over 256Kbps), as at June 2009
  • The average advertised retail price per megabit in each country, as at June 2009
  • The average advertised speed of broadband offered, as at June 2009
  • Fastest advertised broadband speed, as at October 2009
  • Historical broadband penetration, Q4 2001 to Q2 2009 (where available)
  • Availability of FTTH services to homes, as at December 2008
  • The proportion of FTTH subscribers to total broadband subscribers, as at June 2009

Tags NBN arguments 101fibre-to-the-homeNational Broadband Network (NBN)broadband

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When will you people learn that the NBN IS NOT building a FTTH, it is building a FTTP. Check their website FTTH is not in their vocabulary. I really wonder where some of the journalists that report on the NBN actually get their information from!



So no good news on the horizon then ?
Please super man save us !

technology wonk


Legislation should be passed requiring the big telcos in Australia to peer freely with each other and all comers.



Frank, FTTH and FTTP mean exactly the same thing in practice. I really wonder where some of the commentators that comment on the NBN actually get their information from!

Hutchinson James



Thanks for the comment, but fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) are, as RR said, so they are exactly the same in practice. Simply different terminology as used by different people/in different markets.



You need to also understand the face that we will get NBN in just say 5-8 years, by then the USA will have FTTH rolled out im most cities and will be boosting speeds well over 100mbps that AU will have, as for japan I am guessing they will get 500mbps or 1Gbps when we are on 100Mbps.



Seriously consider how densely the population of Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea is per square meter and you should realise that it is vastly more affordable and significantly easier to deploy high speed fibre (or other technologies) to 90% of the population.

Even somewhere like England and France generally is so much more densely populated than Australia or the US where we are spread across an area the size of all of western europe.

We should never try to be on par with our hi tech asian neighbours. The NBN as I see it, at least gets us off the path of old technology - copper - onto something that allows us to at least try to maintain the gap between ourselves and our neighbours rather than slip further behind.



"We should never try to be on par with our hi tech asian neighbours."

Yes, we should. Why shouldnt we?



Get the fibre laid - the speed it runs at is a secondary consideration. As with the copper network, different speeds can be offered in different locations and the areas of highest demand will obviously get 1 gbps and maybe even 10 gbps by the time it's done - the underlying fibre will allow that. Who cares how that compares with Asia when you're sitting here on a 24 kbps dial-up because of pair gain as many people less than 10km from the GPO in Adelaide are... or you can't even get an ADSL2 node to a branch office in many parts of Adelaide or the mid north of SA. It has to be done.



I'm a little surprised that this piece didn't include analyses of either Canada or the UK - especially Canada, as they too are a large country with a very low population density. The UK also makes an interesting case study into the effects of structural separation, another key issue in the telco sector in Australia.



If you compare countries like Australia to postage stamp sized countries - of course you have anomalies.

You need to find a comparable country:
1. Similar population
2. Similar size
3. Similar distance from primary traffic source

Oh wait ... there is none.



I like how other countries have unlimited 1Gb links widely available at present for cheap prices, while we struggle to implement expensive 100Mb connections to a selected few.



Our major telco can't even offer the slowest ADSL to 100% of any capital city. Anything the Goverment can do to stop consumers being held hostage to selfish private corporations is better than what we have now. Pity that we will probably still get ripped off.



If you don't like it, GET OUT!

D Newman


Tue 18/05/2010 - 14:50
If you compare countries like Australia to postage stamp sized countries - of course you have anomalies.

You need to find a comparable country:
1. Similar population
2. Similar size
3. Similar distance from primary traffic source

Oh wait ... there is none.

There is one thats close, and has a NBN in place, and thats Canada, populaion is higher, but cities and towns just as remote......Government built it, private companies operate from it, we have Canadian tech here who used to work for Rogers cable, a large ISP.
Who never shuts up bemoaning how crap Sat tv is here compared to Canadian cable tv, and how interactive cable TV is......And that is a good revenue stream point he has made, dispite boring us to death, fibre isnt just about the internet.

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