NBN 101 – Mobility: Friend of Foe?

We delve into the debate around whether mobility will be a threat to the national broadband network

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, then we delved into the economic argument for a high-speed national broadband network, and more recently we took a look at how applications and potential service packages may play a role in the NBN.

Now it’s time to address what is often perceived as a potential big threat to the success and take-up of the FTTH-based NBN: Mobility.

Substantiating the critique

Of all the criticisms laid against a FTTH broadband network rollout in Australia, it is the perceived threat posed by our newly discovered love of mobility that holds most water.

While the company responsible for rolling out the FTTH network, NBN Co, and the Labor Federal Government, contend the escalating trend of getting connected to the Internet via mobile devices will be complementary to the NBN, others disagree. Those against argue the strength of mobile broadband uptake and the sales of devices such as smartphones, laptops, netbooks and tablet PCs indicate we won’t want to have a fixed-line Internet connection in future; most of us will want to be mobile.

As a result, the conclusion is drawn that the commercial viability of NBN Co and the NBN in general, which require a strong uptake from both retail service providers and in turn their customers, is questionable, even to the point that it shouldn’t be built.

(See the maps of the first sites on the mainland to get the NBN)

Telsyte analyst Emilie Ditton explains the argument well:

“Fundamentally, mobility threatens the NBN because the NBN requires very high take-up of homes passed to be economically viable and ultimately for the government to sell its investments to private investors (and recoup taxpayers funds),” she says.

“Anything that affects the choice of a household or business passed to connect to the NBN to opt for an alternative to the NBN threatens the NBN. Mobility is a particular threat because mobile broadband has gained strong momentum in Australia, and for those users who are not driven by the desire for very high speeds, and/or are attracted by the flexibility and convenience of mobile broadband anywhere will find mobile broadband to be a very cost effective alternative to services from the NBN. The financial implications come down to a numbers game, the NBN requires high take-up and a propensity to pay for higher value plans.”

It is important to note here that there is a general consensus – as we pointed out in a previous article – that from a technical perspective a fibre optic network provides the best platform to achieve the service level goals set out as part of the NBN and the technology has already been proven to support the kind of applications that run on faster broadband networks than we currently have or in many cases, that wireless technologies can provide.

Yet, not everyone chooses their connection based on the pros and cons of a technology. Indeed, just because fibre offers a better upgrade path and consistency of service, doesn’t mean we won’t prefer the flexibility of a mobile broadband connection in future. After all, with continuing trials of potential fourth-generations mobile broadband technologies and the likes of Long Term Evolution (LTE) surpassimg the 50 megabit per second (Mbps) and even the 100Mbps peak speed mark, mobile broadband presents an interesting case against the technological fortitude of fibre.

So we should really re-think the whole NBN idea, right?

Well, not exactly. A closer look at the data behind the argument reveals while there is some supportive evidence, there are also some pretty big holes where unsubstantiated assumptions and precipitous conclusions are made.

Next up: The mobile device love affair

Tags mobilityiPhoneNational Broadband Network (NBN)smartphoneslaptopsVividWirelessNBNnotebooksapple ipadmobile broadbandNBN arguments 101

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Anyone who advocates WIFI, or Wireless broadband is deluded
it is old expensive technology the only benefit is mobile browsing, the download amount is pathetically small compared to land line. The only way for our future INTERNET or broadband is fibre and I welcome it it will give Telstra a kick in the ass. Since its so called upgrade of exchanges to digital it has alienated and discriminated against people who are on the fringe of their exchange by denying them land line broad band and fobbing off the more expensive WIFI. I do know that they reprogrammed the software so that there is v. low tolerance so therefore the people outside the tolerance can not get landline broadband even when they already had ADSL and it was working fine before the reprogramming So I dearly hope the People will see the benefit of this Government initiative



What the NBN will enable is FREE wireless broadband. If we set up a co-operative structure where people install external Wifi-N antennas on their buildings we can use the ubiquity of the NBN to get ubiquitous free wireless. A great alternative to the over-the top prices of mobile carriers.

In the future people will look back and see that the NBN was a masterstroke.

D Newman


Nutjob,,,,,10 out of 10 buddy.
The days of the so called "unlimited" rorting mobile broadband plans are numbered, as witness by the clamour of companies of late trying to appear as much more generous all of a sudden.

Because they will be doing and charging what you have suggested for free...

But you will see a vast increase in the number of premises offering free WiFi, however that means I cant justify sitting in Mcdonalds for a few hours to 'work' and have 'meetings'.



NBN take up in the great state of Tassie 16%

Federal Election called!


D Newman


LOL oh Raymond, you should work for Fisher and Pykel, they make products that could do with your extra rinse and spin..

16% of what exactly, 16% of population, 16% of existing broadband users migrating, 16% of new users, 16% of what demographic.

And before you reply with your usual B/S do remember where I work and what figures I got at hand.......Stat data not put in any context and used as a headline is a classic example of B/S spin....

Thought I would point that out, just incase you didnt know.

I will also tell you that the latest figure is 21% and that is new and legacy residential take up, and doesnt inculde the business take up or local government and schools.
But even if the figure was just 16% for homes that is a healthy take up rate for what 4 months.

By the Raymond you taking up the bet or what? The one you issued to me,I responded in a timely manner, as per the normal with you, make a big statement or challenge and you never back it up, or you vanish and another personna appears.

After all why break your habits thats what you did on the Telstra bet you had with me, still waiting for the acknowledgement for my win on that one, oh wait, that would mean humility...But spin these stats, so far your 100% wrong in personel bets, B/S out of that one.

Mike Alpha


The NBN in TAS is still in its testing phase, it is not commercially available and therefore a 16% takeup would be considered excellent.

As time passes and the rollout becomes much more widespread then you will see the 16% also rise.

I for one will be signing up to NBN when it reaches my suburb in Adelaide.

If the outcome of the election is Liberal's and they do decide to squash NBN, then they will give us what?? There previous best was to say there is no problems and give rural AUS OPEL which was very limited and was no where as future proofed as fibre.

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