There has been recent news coverage regarding the upcoming National Broadband Network that the Australian Government has recently launched. Initially it was meant to be a fibre-to-the-node setup for most of the populated areas built by a private company who has won the government tender to build it. The last year was dogged with so much bickering about whether Telstra, Optus or other companies and consortia are fit to build the network. Now the Australian Government wrote off the tenders and decided to make the network a publicly-funded “nation-building” exercise on the same scale as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Power Scheme.
Their idea would be to cover 90% of Australian premises with “fibre-to-the-premises” service with the remainder served by high-bandwidth wireless or satellite connections. This will be with Tasmania being a test-bed for this service and greenfield developments being prepared for fibre-to-the-premises.
But there are a few questions that need to be asked concerning the deployment of this service.
Deployments in multiple-tenant-unit developments
In most of the densely-populated areas of Australia, there are many multi-tenant-unit developments like blocks of flats, office blocks and shopping centres with many households and/or businesses in the same physical building. Similarly, there are high-density developments where multiple households or businesses in many buildings exist on one privately-owned block of land. There have been two different ways of connecting these buildings to a fibre-to-the-premises network.
The cheaper method, known as “Fibre To The Building”, is to run the fibre-optic network to the building’s wiring closet, then use copper wiring to bring the service to the customer’s door. This may be achieved through dedicated Ethernet cabling to the office, shop or apartment or use of existing wiring that is used for providing telephone or TV service to these locations but using VDSL2 or DOCSIS technology to move the data on these cables. It would be similar to the “Fibre To The Node” setup which was originally being considered for the National Broadband Network, except that the coverage of a “Node” would be the building.
The other method, known as “Fibre To The Premises” or “Full Fibre To The Premises” would be to run the fibre-optic network to the customer’s door. This would be similar to how the fibre-to-the-premises network would be provided to a sole-occupancy building like a house and would have a fibre-optic socket or optical-network terminal in the premises.
This issue could be answered by prescribing an installation standard for setups in all current and future multi-tenant developments or by allowing the building owner / landlord to determine which methodology to use for their property. Similarly, there would be the question of whether an existing building should be cabled the moment the infrastructure is rolled out past it or
Carriage of TV and telephone service over the NBN
There has been talk about the high bandwidth availability being the key attraction to the National Broadband Network. This has brought up the concept of video being transferred through the NBN and this may be considered a threat to commercial television and its stakeholders.
Most, if not all, of the high-bandwidth broadband networks in operation or currently being deployed are answering this issue by providing free-to-air and subscription television service through the networks. This has also allowed supplementary services like catch-up TV or video-on-demand to be provided over the same network. As well, the companies who provide retail Internet service based on these networks typically will resell subscription TV service with the service being delivered over the same pipe. There is also benefit for community and vertical-interest television providers because they can use the same bandwidth to broadcast their shows.
The standard for TV service that is available with this broadband technology would be a “best-case” standard which permits full high-definition picture with at least a 5.1 channel surround-sound audio mix and full two-way interactivity.
The landline telephone service hasn’t been mentioned in any of the discussion about the National Broadband Network. Yet it can benefit from the same technology through the use of VoIP technologies. This can lead to cheap or free calls around the country and can lead to households and “Mom and Pop” business users having the same kind of telephone service that is taken for granted in most of big business and government.
The same technology can bring through telephone conversations which have a clarity similar to FM radio. This would benefit ethnic groups who have a distinct accent; women; children; people with a speech impediment as well as voice-driven interactive telephone services. As well, the concept of the videophone, largely associated with science fiction, can be made more commonly available.
Could this be the arrival of the “single-pipe triple-play” service on the Australian market?
This is best exemplified by the typical “n-Box” (Livebox, FreeBox, Bbox) service that is being promoted by nearly every major Internet service provider in France. It is where a customer buys or rents an “n-Box” which is a WiFi router that connects computers to the Internet and works as a VoIP analogue telephone adaptor for two phones; as well as an IPTV set-top box that connects between the “n-Box” and the TV set. The customer pays for a single-pipe triple-play service with cut-price telephony, broadband “hot-and-cold running” Internet and many channels of TV.
Universal-access service and the cost of the service
There is the promise of 90% coverage for Australia but will this promise be of reality? As well, there will need to be a minimum standard of service for all to benefit from the Internet using this technology.
I have talked elsewhere in this blog about achieving a standard of universal access for the Internet in a similar manner to the landline telephone service and other utilities. Issues that may need to be raised include reserving funds for the big infrastructure projects that need to reach certain communities and whether to create subsidised access plans which provide a basic level of service at a very low price or for free.
This would then cover access to decent Internet service for disadvantaged communities including indigenous people, income-limited people and migrant / expatriate communities who would benefit from this technology.
Once the questions regarding about how the National Broadband Network will be implemented are answered, we will be able to gain a clearer picture of the service that it will provide for all customers.