The arrival of 4G wireless broadband–what does it mean for Next Generation Broadband

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Telstra super-fast 4G wireless sparks debate over NBN

My comments

As many countries agressively build out fibre-optic-based “Next Generation Broadband”, there is also the reality that companies involved in wireless broadband will deploy LTE or WiMAX “4G” technologies for this service.

This issue has been raised recently as Telstra, Australia’s incumbent telephone and mobile carrier announced its intention to deploy LTE-based 4G wireless broadband. This is even though the Australian Federal Government were rolling out the National Broadband Network, which is the next-generation broadband service based primarily on “fibre-to-the-premises” technology.

A key issue that have been raised include the “all-wireless” household or small business, which doesn’t have a landline telephone or ADSL/cable-based broadband Internet for their telecommunications. This may be implemented by students and similar households where each user wants control over their communications costs as well as assuring proper service privacy.

Issues of comparison

Value of service as a primary Internet service

A common disadvantage with this kind of setup is that the bandwidth available to the user from a wireless broadband service is less than that for a wireline broadband service like ADSL, cable or fibre-optic. As well, the wireline service is typically able to offer better value service than the wireless service. This disadvantage may be eroded if the 4G wireless broadband services are priced aggressively against the Next-Generation-Broadband wireline services.

Reliability and Stability

Even so, the 4G wireless broadband setups won’t yield the same bandwidth as a next-generation broadband setup; and these systems are based on radio technology which can be affected by many factors such as  the environment surrounding the radio equipment, the aerial (antenna) that is used as part of the equipment and the calibre of the equipment itself.

Examples of this include wireless-broadband modems used in double-brick / cinder-block buildings; equipment like USB modem sticks designed to be compact therefore not having adequate aerial systems; and simple weather conditions that affect wireless performance.

Here, this could lead to inconsistent performance for 4G wireless-broadband setups, with results like stuttering during VoIP telephony or multimedia playback.

Multiple device setups

No-one has yet raised the issue of a person operating multiple devices that connect to wireless broadband Internet. This is a common reality as people buy smartphones, tablets and netbooks that have integrated wireless-broadband connectivity. Here, these devices are operated on their own services and it requires users to keep track of the many accounts and bandwidth allowances that each device has.

As well, the wireless-broadband technologies discourage the idea of establishing local-area networks which could permit bandwidth sharing / pooling or sharing of resources like printers or file directories. Here, the users would end up not creating a local area network at all, and may just end up using technologies

Political issues peculiar to the Australian scenario

I also see certain political issues in the “next-generation-broadband vs 4G wireless broadhand” issue more so in Australia. Here, the Australian Labour Party see the National Broadband Network as a tool for nationalising or “claiming back” the wireline telephony infrastructure that they relinquished when Telstra was privatised. Here, Telstra, like British Telecom was originally part of the government-owned “Posts, Telegraphs, Telephones” department and became its own telephony entity as this department was separated.

There hadn’t been any mentions of intent to nationalise the Telstra-owned wireless infrastructure used for reselling their mobile telephony and wireless-broadband service. As well, Telstra were wanting to set up the aforementioned 4G LTE wireless-broadband technology on this infrastructure as a retail service and the Australian Labour Party were seeing this wireless-broadband service as a broadband service that competes with their National Broadband Network.

How I would see this argument is a way of seeking legal authority to require Telstra to do a “BT-style” sell-off of its mobile-telephony and wireless-broadband business. This is where they would be forced to divest themselves of the infrastructure and retail mobile-telephony / wireless-broadband business to another service

Conclusion

How I see the role of any wireless-broadband technology is that it is a complementary technology to a wireline technology rather than a competing technology. It exists primarily for mobile, portable and temporary computing applications.

PS. If I am appearing to write this article in a manner that supports Telstra, I have no pecuniary interests in this telecommunications company other than to be a regular customer of its telephony services.

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