The lowdown on the National Broadband Network

Posted by Denise Shrivell On March 23, 2016

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is ‘nation building’ telecommunications infrastructure which underpins the ongoing productivity and success of our own and all other Australian industries.

It’s time to raise your awareness and serious concerns around the NBN roll-out strategy and understand the negative and profound impact this plan will have on the future of Australian marketing, advertising and media as we transition to a digital based industry operating in a global market.

The long-held views of telecommunications experts, tech journalists, academics and some politicians are gaining increasing traction for their evidence showing there is a vast difference between the infrastructure being rolled-out through Australia’s NBN and the infrastructure we need to comprehensively face the fast digital future.

‘The national broadband network, as it stands today is a disaster. It is hands down the most poorly managed infrastructure project in Australia’s history. Everything – from the pathetic political debate that ensued at its inception, to the horse trading over its design and funding, has been an absolute and complete mess. From its initial idea, which was fairly simple and visionary, to replace the copper network with fibre and a couple of Satellites, it has blown out to a mess of expensive, obsolete band aids.’ – James Pinnell, PC Authority

“If we are going to be an innovations nation how are we going to compete against countries that already have internet speeds 100x faster than ours” – Laurie Patton, CEO, Internet Australia

For those of you who don’t know much about the NBN (I didn’t till quite recently) here are 10 quick bullet points to get your head around. Hang in there, this is important …

 1 – According to Akamai, Australia’s average internet connectivity speed is ranked 46th in the world and is declining.  Most internet connections are currently through ADSL. Some commentators say we will be ranked 100th by 2020 even with the NBN in place.

2 – The NBN is being rolled-out now across Australia with the aim of delivering fast broadband. This roll-out plan is based on the Multi-Technology-Mix model (MTM) with 5 forms of connection:

  • FTTN (fibre to the node) – optic fibre connects with existing copper cable and runs into the home
  • FTTP (fibre to the premise) – optic fibre runs directly into the premise or home. Commentators and experts recognise FTTP as the most effective for our digital future.
  • HFC (hybrid fibre coaxial) – optic fibre connects with existing cable used for PayTV
  • Fixed Wireless – internet signal sent by tower to antennae fixed to a premise
  • Satellite – for remote regions

3 – The majority of NBN connections will be FTTN (fibre to the node) where optic fibre connects at the ‘node’ housed in a green cabinet (see title image) with Telstra’s existing copper cable. This copper cable then runs directly into each premise or house connecting with a NBN modem.

4 – The average age of Telstra’s existing copper cable used under the FTTN model is in some cases upwards of 90 years old. The copper cable is degrading, requires increasing maintenance, is highly susceptible to weather conditions and rapidly loses speed over distance.

5 – In 2013, the current NBN MTM model replaced the original plan which involved FTTP where 93% were to receive fibre optic cable directly to the premise bypassing Telstra’s copper cable. Australian’s in remote areas were to receive satellite.

6 – Governments of developed nations around the world (except Italy) are rolling out full FTTP (fibre to the premise) cable.

7 – A recent cost update increased the NBN MTM rollout from $ 41billion to $56 billion, making it Australia’s single-most expensive infrastructure project ever. PriceWaterhouseCoopers recently valued the NBN at $27 billion.

8 – While the NBN cable provides broadband connectivity, the digital signal is pushed through bandwidth sold by Telstra to ISP’s. This is another complex layer impacting the issue.

9 – Pointing to dissatisfaction within corporate ranks, regular leaks are now emerging from within NBNCo (the government-run business charged with NBN rollout) showing delays, cost blowouts and customer complaints.

10 – There is an increasing awareness that Australia will hit a digital ‘roadblock’ through the NBN within 5-10 years as our digital telecommunications needs will be – and is already showing to be – far too big for the broadband infrastructure in place.

With the above points in mind, imagine a commercial future in which a sub-standard NBN is our gateway to consumers, clients, and a digitally connected global economy. How will this affect your business as marketers, advertisers and publishers?

This week I attended ad:tech in Sydney and the annual SXSW conference was held in The US. Emerging technology such as fast multi-stream video download, 3D printing, the internet of things, and virtual and augmented reality were all mentioned widely.  The effects of slower data transfer, handicapped streaming services and a country of consumers whose digital connectivity speeds lag behind the rest of the world’s developed nations could mean the potential of such innovation is simply beyond Australia’s capabilities.

There are some articles and resources listed below as the story behind the NBN is a much deeper, more complex and wholly depressing story than outlined here. You could also take a look at the NBN hashtag on Twitter where there’s a very active discussion.

Resources and Articles on The NBN:

Tech Journalists (and longtime commentators on the NBN):
– Nick Ross – Until mid-January this year Nick Was technology editor with the ABC. The day he left he tweeted ‘Now I can speak honestly about the NBN’.
– James Pinnell – Journalist with PC Authority
– Paddy Manning – Journalist with ABC & Crikey
– Renai LeMay – Founder of Delimiter
– Kenneth Tsang aka Jxeeno – Tech blogger and NBN ‘geek’
– John Menahue A.O. – Diplomat and leading industry executive including CEO of Qantas
– Paul Wallbank – ‘Writer, broadcaster and troublemaker covering business and tech. Described as ‘brain damaged’ by the Australian Prime Minister.’
– Twitter – #NBN – see the active ongoing debate

Websites (with regular articles on the NBN):
– New Matilda
– Independent Australia
– Crikey
– The Guardian
– The Conversation
– Delimiter
– PC Authority
– My Broadband V Reality
– Whirlpool Forums – (for the real nerds)
– Twitter – #NBN

Some articles (NBN specific):
– The NBN: Laid Bare
– Understanding the NBN MTM: What is the Multi-Technology-Mix
– How Fast is the NBN?
– What Has Gone Wrong with the NBN?
– Expert Panel: State of the NBN
– Analysis: The Destruction of the NBN
– The NBN is on the Wrong Path
– The NBN is Coming Down the Line
– A Week of Leaks: Internal Truths About the NBN Destroy the PR Spin Cycle
– NBN: Govt Urged to Embrace Fibre to the Home. Denies Behind Schedule
– Large Cracks Appear in NBN Business Case 

Denise Shrivell