Notes from 2022
This is Part 2, where we will discuss the technical shortcomings
of the FTTN rollout, and ways in which this utter travesty
could be mitigated. The new Labor government seems to have
either scraped my hard drive or enlisted the help of competent
analysts, because most of the suggestions I make herein are
currently being implemented.
Part 1 focuses on the cultural deficiencies
Part 3 deals with the HFC network and ways
in which it can be salvaged.
Part 4 explains why the LTE network was poorly
thought out from the start.
Part 5 briefly touches on the economics
of the NBN.
Part 6 hammers home the fact that all of this
is a result of shameless and disgusting short sighted political manoeuvring
by the Liberal Party to protect the interests of Rupert Murdoch and other
corporate friends such as Telstra.
An NBN restrospective - Part 2.
Having now fixed nbn's culture problem (and re-rebranded it to NBNCo),
we're ready to get into the minutiae of actually fixing this travesty of
a network. We're going to make some key assumptions that will make this
process a lot less painful.
The NBN is put on budget as a national infrastructure expense
(it is currently ostensibly paid for with government bonds)
The Statement of Expectations has been altered to remove the
profit motive (at least for now)
Basically, we're assuming that money is no object. With the NBN now on
the Government's budget, it can direct funds directly to the project. This is
currently not possible, and NBNCo has to ask its shareholders (currently
Mattias Cormann and Paul Fletcher) for cash injections. This doesn't work when
the Government's core election promise was to achieve a budget surplus, and
doubly doesn't work when they don't actually care about the NBN.
Altering the SoE allows NBNCo to just plough money into the network with
no expectation of making a return on it. Some good the expectation of a return
is doing now anyway, the company only recently posted a record $2bn loss.
Good news is that this doesn't have to be permanent, and as part of the technical
solution for fixing this steaming pile, we will also be looking at how the NBN
Considering the needless complexity of the current rollout, which precludes
a simple catch-all solution, we will be going through each current rollout
technology individually. We will briefly discuss each technology, why it sucks,
and what can be done to make it not suck.
By now, everyone in the country should be aware of what a mess Fibre to the
Node (FTTN) is. Originally touted by Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull to be
a cheaper, as-good alternative to Labor's Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) network,
the technology has been nothing short of a spectacular failure. Such was the
magnitude of its failure that very shortly into its rollout, NBNCo
(and PM Turnbull) were forced to drastically change tack, and began casing out
the possibility of eating up Telstra's and Optus's old Cable networks.
Dr Ziggy Switkowski, the current NBNCo chair, fronted a 2003 Senate inquiry
into the state of broadband access in Australia. It was at this inquiry that
he declared Telstra's phone line network to be, "Five minutes to midnight,"
basically dead in the water (sometimes literally). It is this same Dr Ziggy
Switkowski who was charged by the Liberal Party to roll out an FTTN network
utilising this same Telstra phone line network.
FTTN is really only suitable for short lengths of copper. Fibre is run to a
box somewhere in the neighbourhood, in which DSL line cards are installed and
connected to the various phone lines running to houses. The flavour of DSL used
in FTTN drops in speed precipitously with distance from the node, performing
around the same as traditional ADSL 2+ at around 1km of line length from the node,
assuming the line is in good nick.
NBNCo found out very quickly that Dr Switkowski was not lying for a change in
2003 and many, many phone lines in this country simply not suitable for upgrading
to FTTN. Regardless, the Government made the company forge ahead until complaints
of slow speeds and dropouts became so deafeningly loud that they could no longer
ignore FTTN's shortcomings. Today, the FTTN footprint covers about 30% of the
population, a far cry from the original plan of around 76% coverage.
Around 15,000 premises in the FTTN footprint are unable to achieve even 25Mbps
download, the speed that was promised to be guaranteed by 2016, and the minimum
speed in the Government's own SoE. The ACCC recently came down like a ton of
bricks on both NBNCo and the ISPs for failing to identify customers who were
paying for services they could not achieve on FTTN. Customers were being charged
for a 50Mbps service while barely receiving half, or even a quarter of that in some cases.
There's no two ways around it. The entire FTTN rollout was, and remains, a total
failure. There is only one logical solution, and that is to completely tear it out
and replace it with FTTP. Given NBNCo's SoE mandates them to provide a baseline of
25Mbps to all premises in the country, we would naturally start with those 15,000
locations unable to attain 25Mbps downstream. NBNCo have access to the line
condition of every single FTTN connection in the country, and as such once the
priority sub-25Mbps connections are fully remediated, they can assign crews to
overbuild the FTTN in order of line quality from worst to most acceptable.
FTTP, due to its use of fibre optics all the way into the home, guarantees
that the end user receives the speed they pay for, be it 25Mbps or 2500Mbps.
FTTP is also future proof; higher speeds can be unlocked simply by replacing
the electronics on each end of the fibre, and current fibre optic technology
is capable of delivering a throughput of around 27Tbps (yes, terabits per second)
over a single connection.
Most importantly however, FTTP is by far the most reliable communications
technology available. Unaffected by the weather, power outages or even
simply your neighbour's cheap solar inverter (believe it or not, solar
inverters have been responsible for many DSL interference problems), FTTP can
remain active pretty much indefinitely with no degradation of service, a
welcome change for FTTN users stuck on drop-out prone lines.
With FTTN out of the picture, NBNCo actually has a shot at delivering on
its Statement of Expectations, as well as delivering quality telecommunications
to a segment of the population which has been totally neglected for the past
seven years. With access to the Internet being viewed as a basic utility by most
now, it is a disservice to the nation to leave people in the FTTN footprint high
and dry with last-century broadband speeds and developing nation electricity grid
levels of reliability.
Continue reading in Part 3.