Those looking for a glimpse into the future of the National Broadband Network (NBN) should look to the Australian Academic and Research Network, according to AARNet’s CEO, Chris Hancock.
“Our role is really future proofing the NBN; we’re the network that is five or 10 years ahead of where networks generally are,” he said. “We have pushed the boundaries and are allowed to as we have the backing of all the researchers and scientists in networking.”
Whereas the average home connection speed is between one and 20Mbps and anticipated to be 100 Mbps by 2017 with the NBN, current AARNet capacity is between one and 20Gbps and anticipated to be 200-250Gbps by 2017, Hancock said.
While not consulting directly with the NBNCo on the NBN deployment, AARNet was however working with the NSW government and the Institute for Broadband Enabled Society (IBIS) as a test-bed network for research around smart-grids and smart-networking, he said.
According to Hancock, research networks, such as AARNet, were instrumental in facilitating the commercialisation and mass adoption of new technologies.
“We were doing VoIP in 1997 before anyone had heard of it, and we ceased doing it once the commercial market caught up and started providing it [much] cheaper than we could. We were more the stimulus for it happening,” he said.
“You find that most of the countries … who have really good speeds to the home and the node (Singapore, Korea and Denmark), also have really well-developed research networks.”
A key area of focus for AARNet at present, Hancock said, was the roll out of ‘opti-portals’ — arrays of up to 25 screens running standard definition video at 30Mbps and high definition at up to 100Mbps, per screen
“Opti-portals [offer] not only high definition, but a high visualisation experience of things scientists haven’t been able to use before — microscopy, geo-sciences, climate change, the human brain,” he said. “The devices used in homes in five, 10 or 15 years will be these large screens and opti-portals are the start of that journey, in some respects.”
In regards to the progress of member universities in upgrading their networks, Hancock said the ANU, UNSW and University of Queensland had upgraded to 10Gbps access connections, with the CSIRO Melbourne and Monash University expected to follow.
Traffic growth had been in the order of 38 per cent year-on-year, Hancock said, and AARNet had grown its international peering connections to 200, allowing member university unmetered access to major content providers, which is really important for our customers,” he said.
Other applications of the AARNet network included a recent 66 terabyte data transfer — the equivalent of 14,000 DVD movie downloads — between the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland and the University of Melbourne, Hancock said.
AARNet was also project-managing the network build for the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia, which included a 350km link between Geraldton and Boolardy.
“We’re talking about short haul speeds of 80Gbps and long haul links of 2Tbps, which is something like the total European Internet traffic per second," he said.