Prom­ises, prom­ises

Aus­tralia’s in­ter­net fu­ture is in the bal­ance, writes Jen­nifer Dud­ley-ni­chol­son

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Gadgets -

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

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