'Guarantees have lost currency': NBN Co

Ziggy Switkowski says 50 Mbps more than enough for most

NBN Co is not in a position to guarantee minimum broadband speeds that Australians will experience on the National Broadband Network, NBN Co Chairman Ziggy Switkowksi has told a parliamentary hearing today.

The Coalition had a stated goal of 25 Mbps speeds for all Australians in 2016. However, in its strategic review released last week, NBN Co said there was "no viable path" to achieve that target. Instead, NBN Co said it could provide speeds of up to 50 Mbps for 90 per cent of Australians by 2020.

Read: Bill Morrow new head of NBN Co.

At a Sydney hearing of the Select Committee on the National Broadband Network, Senator Stephen Conroy asked Switkowski if NBN Co would guarantee the minimum broadband speeds promised by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“I do not buy questions that demand us to guarantee anything,” Switkowski said. “It’s clear that after four years of NBN, guarantees have lost currency.”

Conroy replied, “I understand the limitations of the technology you’ve chosen, and you’d be foolhardy to try and promise you can deliver on those speeds.”

Switkowski said he wants NBN Co to set only the most realistic targets for the broadband build.

“What we will not do is come up with numbers that are excessively optimistic, which I assert has characterised previous forecasts.”

In the strategic review, NBN Co proposed a $41 billion broadband plan using multiple broadband technologies. The plan envisions a split of 26 per cent fibre to the premise (FTTP), 44 per cent fibre to the node (FTTN) and 30 per cent an upgraded HFC cable broadband system.

This morning, Switkowski indicated that he hoped to do better than strategic review has forecast, including rolling out the NBN for less than $41 billion.

“The strategic review is just that. It attempts to scope out the numbers, the dollars, etcetera for various scenarios, lays a preferred path, but now it will be transformed into a corporate plan and a budget.”

After that work, NBN Co should “go back and stress test all of the assumptions and challenge ourselves to do better,” he said.

However, Switkowski said that the promised 50 Mbps speeds are more than enough for the vast majority of Australians.

He said that HD video requires 5 Mbps and 4K HD video needs 20 Mbps. A household would have to be watching several TVs at the same time using a combination of the above before they experienced problems, he said.

“This is a requirement of far less than 1 per cent of Australians,” Switkowski said. “For the mainstream, 40 Mbps is considerable of advance of their appetite.”

The NBN Co strategic review has received mixed reviews since its release last week.

Communications Shadow Minister Jason Clare last week, saying it “won’t even meet the low expectations [that the Coalition] set for it.”

But not everyone has been so harsh, with industry and some analysts praising the report as sobering.

The strategic review showed the new NBN Co leaders “resetting expectations to achievable levels,” independent telecom analyst, Chris Coughlan, told Computerworld Australia.

“I think one of the failings in the previous NBN Co leadership and Government was confusing a target with a forecast,” Coughlan told Computerworld Australia. “A forecast is what will be conservatively achieved, [while] a target is an ambitious objective…”

Hackett defends cable NBN

The use of HFC in the new NBN Co proposal was defended over the weekend in a personal blog post by NBN Co board member and former iiNet executive Simon Hackett.

Completing the HFC rollout and upgrading it will cost and happen faster “than discarding this infrastructure and doing a total overbuild with FTTP,” he said.

While Hackett said he continues to believe FTTP is the “best ultimate answer wherever possible,” he pointed out that NBN Co will do more than slap a badge on the existing HFC network. Rather, NBN Co will upgrade the HFC networks to provide increased speeds than what is available today, he said.

“In fact, the review proposes to take the existing Telstra and Optus HFC cable networks, and to transform them into a modern broadband network via major investment in these areas,” Hackett wrote.

“For standalone premises in the rollout areas concerned this includes repairing all existing lead-ins that need it, building all the missing lead-ins that were never done in the original HFC rollout, and expanding the HFC rollout into all the ‘black spots’ inside those overall rollouts that were left behind when the original rollouts ceased.”

“The deployment also includes a laundry list of network upgrades and capacity expansions to deliver high performance, low contention-ratio 100 megabit downstream rates.”

The upgrades to HFC will also increase upstream rates to 30-40Mbps, a big increase from the typical 1 to 2Mbps upload speeds available today, he said.

And the next generation of the cable broadband protocol DOCSIS, 3.1, could eventually deliver FTTP-like speeds of 1 Gbps, he said.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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