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 (FTTH) network, and dissect them one by one. The articles are meant to be an overview of the debates central to the National Broadband Network (NBN) to give you a grounding as more and more media outlets and commentators speak out on the project. We encourage people to take the discussion further in the comments section.
In our first article we took a look at how Australia’s NBN plan compares to the rest of the world and the statistics and graphs from the OECD, and then we strapped in for a tour of speeds. We also had a look at wireless technologies versus fibre optic and, most recently, we delved into the economic argument for a high-speed national broadband network.
This week, we take a look at how applications and potential service packages may play a role in the NBN.
The Internet is often seen as a single entity; one point of contact in which all online communication and activity takes place. This is understandable: While the Internet itself is made up of thousands of inter-connected networks, systems and applications, it usually appears as a single item on your monthly bill.
That mentality has readily become a blanket over all IP-based activities. In fact, most would find it hard to distinguish between the Internet - all online, inter-connected communication - and the World Wide Web (WWW) - the websites, hyperlinks and user interface with which many of us are accustomed.
However, this is changing. Those who subscribe to Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony or Internet protocol television (IPTV) services will already see the service as an additional item on their bill, as well as any associated calls that fall outside the limits of the agreed package. And that is where the idea that the National Broadband Network (NBN) is not just about the Internet comes into play.
One of the key advantages of faster, ubiquitous broadband like that the NBN promises is simply the new kinds of applications possible that can tap into faster speeds and greater availability to provide new experiences. Some of this is already possible – like the recently released IPTV offerings like Telstra's T-Box, or the FetchTV from iiNet - but others argue that the applications future generations will use are yet to be conceived.
With the NBN likely to compete with - and eventually replace - existing telephony and Internet access methods, the availability and growth of applications – and how they are packaged and delivered to customers – is something that must be explored.
Here, we take a look at the different types of applications and services afforded by faster broadband and investigate why they are being used as an argument for rolling out the network.
Applications, applications, applications
For all the speed advantages offered by the NBN, the proposed fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network isn't simply about loading a web page faster. Sure, when you have a fibre cable running into your home capable of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) speeds, the Computerworld home page is likely to load slightly faster than a current ADSL2+ connection. Movie / video streaming, P2P and music downloads will all get a lot faster too.
But the NBN is more about providing a platform - that will replace Telstra’s ageing copper network among others - for new services, new businesses, and new experiences the way the Internet has already done for companies such as Google and Apple. IPTV is one such example that relies on broadband technology.
While Australia has been behind the curve on IPTV technology, the release of several new offerings on the local market has made the application a low-hanging fruit for those championing faster broadband. Telstra and iiNet are just two examples of service providers looking to get into the content delivery market, and television manufacturers have begun implementing similar technologies. Not all service providers believe they need to enter the game, but availability of IPTV services are likely to increase in coming months and years.
However, current IPTV service standards are held back by the state of Australia's broadband environment and, as a result, it is arguable take-up by consumers is being affected too. The first services have built-in quality of service (QoS) designed to deliver a differing quality of experience depending on the available bandwidth at the time. In an ADSL2+ environment where line noise and distance from an exchange can have a severe impact on Internet quality, the QoS limits are a necessity. With faster broadband, however, such quality assurance mechanisms would be simply a formality.
While IPTV won't be a new entrant once a faster broadband network is fully realised, service providers will be able to take advantage of the newly acquired bandwidth for new capabilities and directions to drive new revenue. Telecommunications giant Alcatel-Lucent, for instance, already has a prototype solution for glasses-free 3D viewing, but the minimum 50Mbps bandwidth it requires to broadcast nine different 3D signals are sure to put a strain even on a 100Mbps connection in a single family household.
(See how Australia stacks up with the rest of the world on broadband speeds)
Additionally, a 2009 report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) noted Internet Television services like YouTube and DailyMotion – as separate from IPTV – could become more prevalent and available on televisions as faster broadband becomes more available. Once the bandwidth is there, the blurred lines between Internet Television and IPTV shouldn't even exist and the opportunities to create new content and businesses become even greater.
Next up: AARNet and government get their day in the NBN