The revamped alternative to the National Broadband Network (NBN) announced by shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, this week remains a “bandaid solution” that doesn’t address the problems of current telecommunications, according director of the Institute for a Broadband Enabled Society (IBES), Rod Tucker.
Although Turnbull has previously stood behind the $6.3 billion broadband policy presented by the coalition by his predecessor, Tony Smith, at the Federal election, he revealed to the <i>The Age</i> this week a revamped solution which would see Australians provided with bandwidth speeds of at least 12 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream over the existing copper access network. The coalition would agree to the separation of Telstra’s wholesale and retail arms under the policy, but a private members’ bill delivered by Turnbull to Parliament last week would remove any “gun to the head” motions to force the split.
While Turnbull has confirmed he will support the NBN’s rollout should a cost-benefit analysis from the Productivity Commission return with favourable results, he continued to argue this week that 12Mbps should be enough to run all applications for the foreseeable future.
Tucker, director of IBES at the University of Melbourne, attacked the plan, labelling it a “bandaid solution”.
“It’s a bit of copper, a bit of wireless, using the existing HFC network, et cetera,” he told Computerworld Australia. “I have real concerns as to whether [12Mbps] is actually technically feasible given the fact that DSL just can’t do that.”
While some vendors have claimed DSL technology is capable of speeds in excess of 100Mbps, these technologies often require alterations to the copper network itself.
Tucker agreed with Turnbull that 100Mbps aren’t currently necessary in most homes, but said thinking had to move beyond single applications.
“We are moving to a world where each home might be running 10 applications over the broadband network simultaneously,” he said.
However, Tucker also questioned the usefulness of 12Mbps downstream capabilities without symmetry with upload speeds.
“What is missing so often in this debate is a recognition of the fact today’s network provides much lower upload speeds than download speeds,” he said, pointing to both ADSL and hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) cable networks, whose upload speeds are often a fraction of their download equivalents.
The first plans to be released under the NBN are also asymmetric in nature, with the involved retail service providers offering between 2, 4 or 8Mbps upstream speeds for 25, 50 and 100Mbps downstream plans respectively. The Alcatel-Lucent passive networking equipment currently being installed in mainland trial sites by NBN Co would, in effect, provide upstream speeds at half the capability of the download speeds when the network is fully saturated.
“Many future broadband applications such as video conferencing are symmetric in their bandwidth requirements and will require upload speeds that cannot be achieved with ADSL or HFC,” Tucker added. “Even though ADSL can provide 12 Mbps downstream to a few homes located close to telephone exchanges, it cannot provide adequate upstream speeds.
“Even if it was possible to find a technology to deliver a symmetrical 12Mbps to each home, within a few years the technology would be obsolete, the network would be on its knees, and the investment would be wasted.”