NBN: FTTP not essential for Netflix era, Turnbull argues

Backhaul not the 'last mile' is more likely to affect video-on-demand consumers, says minister

Despite the significant increase in traffic growth driven by Netflix and its ilk and the widespread take-up of video on demand services in Australia, that doesn't mean that fibre is essential for 'last mile' connections to homes, according to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

"Higher bandwidth over the access network is of great interest to Australians with substandard last mile connections and the engineers in the room," Turnbull said in remarks prepared for his keynote at this week's CommsDay Summit in Sydney.

"What customers as a whole care most about, however, is the quality of their experience and of the services they receive. That is why the launch of Netflix in Australia is of interest to everyone in the broadband ecosystem, be they carriers, vendors or content providers."

Turnbull noted estimates that Netflix accounts for a third of Internet traffic in the US, and that Australian ISPs have reportedly seen traffic spike since the service became available here.

"But again, the link between the volume of data downloaded in Australia and line speeds required is generally very poorly understood and many people still mistakenly think that as data volumes increase last mile line speeds will need to increase in a linear fashion; they don't and they won't," the minister said.

"The launch of Netflix once again provided a soapbox for those who claim only fibre to the premises will unlock the benefits of the digital age. What a pity the facts don't support their contention."

The choke points for services such as Netflix are more likely to be related to backhaul rather than last mile connections, Turnbull said in his polemic against <i>Register</i> columnist Mark Pesce.

"One of the consequences of the NBN is going to be to demonstrate to consumers that iron-clad guarantees about performance cannot be made on any access technology, given the way factors such as CVC pricing and backhaul contention choices play into the end user experience," Turnbull said.

That may "burst the bubble" of those who claim fibre to the premises solves such problems, "but it is reality," the minister argued.

Turnbull talked up the potential of the HFC networks NBN Co is obtaining from Telstra and Optus and copper-reliant technologies, such as fibre-to-the-basement, that are being used as part of the new-look 'multi-technology mix' NBN.

Around the world, "carriers and vendors are not waiting on economic modelling to dictate technology choices," the minister said.

"Competition and customer demands are driving decisions. And pragmatism is the order of the day. Certainly there is no evidence of the fervor for fibre to the premises our critics sometimes claim to see in overseas markets."

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Tags broadbandMalcolm Turnbullnational broadband networknetflixvideo on demandNational Broadband Network (NBN)fibre to the premises

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