Sunday 9 June 2013

Is Labor's NBN really FTTH? Or just another version of FTTN?

While I think the current NBN plan is a waste of money, with the number of people that will really need 1000 mbps/100 GB/month broadband internet connections in the next 20 years vastly over-estimated, it was nice to learn a couple of months ago that the NBN roll-out plan had finally been expanded to include our region within the next three years (at least, there's a plan to start rolling out here in 3-4 years time, so we would get access in 4-5 years time, if all went 'according to plan' - not very likely given the NBN roll-out track record so far...). Previously roll-out to most of the northern suburbs of Sydney wasn't even part of the 'plan'. (A suspicious correlation between the announced roll-out regions and Labor electorates existed, despite NBN reassurances that their plan had been formulated purely on the basis of roll-out efficiency).

But then, looking at the current coverage maps on their website I noticed a strange dark 'band' cutting across most of the roll-out areas. A closer reading of the 'fine print' accompanying the map below shows that the dark band is the area where homes can connect directly to fibre (ie. FTTH), while the bulk of the areas due to get NBN 'coverage' are only going to get a 'fixed' wireless broadband connection pointed at the nearest tower connected to the fibre.

Surely a wireless link from homes to these towers is FTTN like the coalitions, cheaper landline to the node, based plan? I might be missing something here, but from all the advertising of the NBN I had got the impression the billions spent on the NBN were going to provide a 'box' mounted on each home with a direct optical fibre connection, not just a gloried wireless broadband service?

If were are to get a 'fixed' wireless connection to the NBN, I wonder how good our broadband service will be when a large truck or cement mixer is sitting in the 'line-of-sight' between our fixed wireless antenna and the NBN tower?

If the NBN service is going to be a fixed wireless service, I can see even less benefit switching to NBN compared to a mobile 4G broadband device that can be used outside the home, coupled with antenna at home to improve the signal strength. After all, where I really need fast broadband (at uni and at work) it is already available. Most internet use at home doesn't need a fast broadband link, and if I want to watch downloaded multimedia content (eg. movies) while at home for a few hours every day, I can simply download them overnight or while I'm at work.

Perhaps this 'fixed wireless' situation is just going to be the initial case in five year's time - and that eventually optical fibre will actually spread down each street to connect to 'the home'. But in that case, the much-publicised 'roll-out' plans are at best misleading, and the NBN should be more open about how many years after the NBN 'coverage' reaches a suburb you'd actually be able to get a FTTH connection...

If the FTTH internet connection is going to take ten or twenty years to be fully rolled-out, I'm not sure how 'future proof' it will turn out to be. Technology has a way of making leaps forward in totally expected directions. For all I know, I might be using a quantum-entanglement broadband connection to use the internet in twenty years time, and not the old technology of glass fibre 'land-lines'...

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1 comment:

mOOm said...

The legends on the NBN maps are really unclear, but actually if you look carefully at the maps around the country, urban areas will generally get fibre and rural areas will get fixed wireless with the outback presumably getting satellite service. So that dark green stripe you point out doesn't mean anything. That whole area is scheduled to get fibre. Fibre areas have fuzzy or smooth edges while wireless areas have a dark border and lighter colored area.