Australia’s internet future is in the balance, writes Jennifer Dudley-nicholson
AUSTRALIA will receive a national high-speed broadband network regardless of this year’s federal election result, but the form it takes and the speed it delivers is up for grabs.
On one side, the Coalition will offer a fibre-optic network for faster internet access, and promises a quicker installation but slower download speeds.
On the other, Labor will deliver a fibre-optic network with direct home connections and faster speeds, but at a slower pace and greater cost.
Telecommunications experts are divided over the proposals, with some arguing faster speeds will be needed by the time a Coalition network is complete, while others say its ability to be upgraded on demand or later is futureproofing enough.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says the Coalition’s National Broadband Network will deliver a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second to Australian homes by 2016, rising to 50mbps by 2019.
By comparison, Labor’s NBN is connecting users at a minimum speed of twice that final target, at 100mbps.
‘‘ We are absolutely confident that 25mbps is going to be enough — more than enough — for the average household,’’ Mr Abbott says.
The Coalition’s network would be delivered to Australian households faster, and more cheaply, by failing to connect directly to homes.
Its fibre-to-the-node technology would instead connect Wired: Both political parties are offering some form of high-speed broadband. fibre-optic cable to cabinets in the street, with houses connected to the cabinets using existing copper wiring now used to deliver telephone calls.
The speed of a home’s connection could be determined by its distance from the cabinet, though the Coalition notes that speeds ‘‘ exceeding 100mbps over short lengths of copper’’ could be possible.
In contrast, Labor’s fibre-tothe-premises NBN could deliver downloads at up to one gigabit per second.
CSIRO Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation business development manager Geof Heydon predicts highend users may require 1Gbps speed by 2021 to access services including 8K television downloads, telehealth consultations,
If it’s cheap, there’ll be a lot of interest
telecommuting, and even 3D holograms and maps.
‘‘ Back in 2002, I forecast that by 2020 the average highend user would be buying and affording 1Gbps download speeds,’’ he says. ‘‘ That is directly extrapolating what happened in the past. In 10 years from now, for example, every photo you’ve got will be stored in the cloud.’’
Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde says the Coalition’s network is flawed because it cannot support these demands, at its minimum speed of 50mbps, and will be outdated at its completion.
‘‘ Looking back over the last five to 10 years, it is not too difficult to envisage and to predict that eventually those faster speeds are needed,’’ Mr Budde says. ‘‘ If you don’t want to spend the money for a full upgrade now, what is their plan for the future?’’
But Ovum research director David Kennedy says the Coalition’s network can be upgraded to reach homes at a later date, delaying the investment until it is needed.
The Coalition says it will also allow consumers to pay NBN Co to connect fibre directly to their homes, but Mr Kennedy says the cost could stop many from using the technology.
‘‘ If it’s cheap, there’ll be a lot of interest,’’ he says. ‘‘ To get fibre run from a node to your home is going to be at least hundreds of dollars if you’re close to a node, and if you’re not close to the node as much as $2000 to $4000. At those sorts of prices, I don’t expect a lot of take-up.’’ Minimum speed: 25mbps by 2016, 50mbps by 2019 Maximum speed: 100 megabits per second ‘‘over short lengths of copper’’ Due: 2019 Cost: $29.5 billion Coverage: 93 per cent of premises Technology: Fibre-tothe-node (71 per cent of premises) Cost of premise connection: Up to $4000