NBN 101: The need for speed

A look at the trends in speeds and downloads over the Internet

Some examples:

The following are two examples of organisations – one a government department, the other a research network provider – experiencing or planning for increasing data flows and speeds.

First the government agency: Earlier this year, the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) said its networks were almost at capacity.

The DET signed a $70 million deal with Telstra that would double bandwidth - two one gigabit connections - to four links between the DET and the Internet. It revealed monthly download levels were over 100TB per month and expected them to exceed 200TB by year’s end.

Chief information officer, Stephen Wilson, said traffic levels surged from 30TB to 60TB per month over four months last year, following the rollout of 66,000 laptops to teachers and year nine students under the Federal Government’s $2.2 billion Digital Education Revolution initiative.

The second example is AARNet, Australia’s fastest fibre-based networks, currently providing speeds of up to 10Gbps to universities and research institutions.

As part of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) - Australia’s attempts to host global astronomy project, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) - AARNet will provide a fibre link between the antennae in Murchison, remote Western Australia, and the coastal town of Geraldton.

The ASKAP’s 36 antennae put out 190 times the 10Gbps bandwidth AARNet currently provides in uncompressed scientific data and, in order for the CSIRO and relevant institutions to process that data, the SKA will require far greater bandwidth than what is currently available.

“This is the ultimate test with broadband. Whatever we are building with the NBN, this will require capacities that are unbelievable,” AARNet chief executive officer, Chris Hancock has previously said. “Either way, if Australia is not successful and [SKA competitor] South Africa is, both countries are going to be building these lead up projects.”

The ASKAP will also rely on additional fibre between Geraldton and Perth, to be built by NextGen Networks as part of the Federal Government's Regional Backbone Blackspots Program announced last year.

In all, CSIRO and other institutions plan to access 8Tbps connections (that’s 8,000Gbps) to ASKAP and other SKA telescopes when it is fully operational over AARNet’s and NextGen Network’s fibre runs, with hopes to reach 80Tbps in the near future.

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

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 is anticipated to be 200-250Gbps by 2017. Traffic growth on AARNet has been in the order of 38 per cent year-on-year, without selling services to businesses or homes.

Aside from these examples, there are plenty of other instances in very recent times of organisations spending considerable amounts of time, effort and money in generating faster speeds across many kinds of technology platforms. Google, for example, has said it would offer a small number of locations in the US fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connections with speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second in a trial.

Earlier this year, Ericsson upgraded Telstra’s Next G to become the world’s first HSPA+ Dual Carrier network, with peak network download speeds of 42Mbps, and the telco’s chief executive officer, David Thodey, has said it will reach 168Mbps in coming years.

In November 2009, SingTel announced plans to conduct a regional trial of LTE technology in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore in collaboration with Optus, Globe Telecom and Telkomsel. Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei, NEC, Nokia Siemens Networks and ZTE were invited to trial the technology by the end of the first half of this year. The company said it expected LTE to offer mobile broadband speeds of up to 340Mbps.

The new mobile WiMax standard, 802.16m will replace 802.16e and offer far faster download and upload speeds. The new technology will provide users 170Mbps download speed and 90Mbps upload speeds, according to Intel, and will be fully backward compatible with 802.16e.

In the satellite space, a Japanese program called Kizuna is working towards providing a maximum speed of 155Mbps downstream, 6Mbps upstream for “households with 45-centimetre aperture antennas (the same size as existing Communications Satellite antennas), and ultra-high speed 1.2 Gbps communication for offices with five-meter antennas”.

And just recently at a SubOptic tradeshow in Japan, UK-based Apollo and Alcatel-Lucent demonstrated the “transmission of approximately three terabits per second of data, based on 40Gbps channels, per fibre pair in a submarine network”.

All in all, the trend is pretty clear – organisations and individuals are using higher speeds and consuming more data at an increasing rate, while networking companies are striving to constantly boost those speeds.

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