AARNet: Punters need to be sold on NBN

Academic and Research Network chief gives leading international networking consortium the word on the NBN

The Federal Government has some way to go to convince the general public of the National Broadband Network’s worth, according to the head of the Australian Academic and Research Network, (AARNet).

Speaking to a conference held by a US networking consortium, Interntet2, about the NBN, AARNet CEO, Chris Hancock, explained the basic arguments around the network and said the task at hand for the authorities is now to sell.

“When you make an announcement like this, all of us converts say, ‘wonderful vision, that’s fantastic, really delighted’,” Hancock said. “But the other half of the population ring into talkback radio and say, ‘why does my son need 100Mbps to spend another six hours a day to spend on Xbox, Facebook and all those things when 2Mbps would do. I don’t need him spending more time on the computer’. So there is a negative backlash believe it or not.”

While the government has gone some way to effectively establishing a company – NBN Co – to roll out the NBN, there is still significant progress to be made on getting the buy in from the public.

“They picked an Australian who made the very top echelons at Alcatel, in Mike Quigley. He knows a lot about networking and is a bit of a networking guru. But just building a Layer 2 wholesaling network and ring-fencing that and saying that is what we are going to do is only one part of it,” Hancock said. “The sell… is in the applications and services. What are we actually going to do with this?

“There has been a summit, which I attended, late last year with all the major players to look at these things. What are the e-learning initiatives, health and hospitals… I think, and I don’t want to comment on how well or not they have sold this, they have certainly sold the first part very well, but it is important to sell the second part.”

(In pictures: 20 years of the Internet in Australia)

Hancock restated his comments made to Computerworld Australia some months back that AARNet is a great example of what can be done over high-speed fibre networks. He added AARNet has offered to use its network as a test-bed for potential applications.

Additionally, he pointed to the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), which is a precursor to the possible hosting of the global astronomy project, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), as exemplary of the need for high-speed networks.

The ASKAP has 36 antenna that require 190 times 10Gbps per antenna to be operational, Hancock said. The SKA will require far greater bandwidth.

“This is the ultimate test with broadband. Whatever we are building with the NBN this will require capacities that are unbelievable,” he said. “Either way if Australia is not successful and South Africa is, both countries are going to be building these lead up projects.”

The ASKAP will rely on the [[artnid: 344474| Federal Government's Regional Backbone Blackspots Program announced last year and which is part of the NBN.

At least two of the telescope arrays that form part of Australia's bid for the global project are likely to utilise part of the 426km fibre run between Perth and Geraldton in Western Australia that was announced as part of the Blackspots program.

The link will ultimately connect to the Pawsey Centre high performance computing hub run by iVEC and hosted on CSIRO's Perth campus.

AARnet has for some time been at the forefront of high-speed broadband networks in Australia.

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. Traffic growth on AARNet has been in the order of 38 per cent year-on-year.

A key area of focus for AARNet is 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.

The screens are used by many scientific fields, including medicine and geo-sciences, and AARNet forecasts consumers will have similar devices in the not too distant future.

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.

AARNet also launched a supercharged file transfer service, CloudStor, capable of transferring files hundreds of gigabits in size via the organisation's high-speed academic network.

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