It’s been about 2 and a half years since we first heard about the National Broadband Network although back then it was a much different beast than what it has become. Initially the NBN was mostly going to be a project that was only given initial seed funding from the government with the rest to come from private industry backers. That proposal fell flat on its face when none of the bidders were able to provide a serious proposal and it then transformed into a fully government funded project, to the tune of $47 billion. Keeping the project alive was one of the key points in swinging the election towards Labor’s win, albeit at the cost of deploying to regional towns first instead of major cities as it was planned.
The initial stages in Tasmania have been rolling out for some time and the stage 2 deployments in select regional towns on the mainland have also started. Just last week however brings news that the first 14,000 residents who have been connected to the NBN can now sign up for plans with their respective ISPs, signalling the beginning of the commercial NBN:
From tomorrow, the 14,000 residents whose homes have been passed by the National Broadband Network’s first release site roll-out and aren’t already locked into alternate contracts with their internet service provider will be able to order an NBN service.
“The launch of commercial services over the fibre network in the mainland First Release Sites marks a significant milestone for the delivery of the NBN. It is the start of a new era of service and competition as providers begin to offer a range of different plans over our open-access wholesale network,” NBN Co head of product development and sales, Jim Hassell, said in a statement.
From just an idea to first light in under 3 years is pretty good by government standards, especially when the project is scheduled to run for at least another 5. The competition for consumers has also begun to heat up as well with iiNet undercutting Internode, forcing them to rework their plan (it now currently stands at the same price, but with 30GB of data). This is great news for us consumers because it means by the time the NBN is available to a much wider audience prices will probably be forced even lower once the economies of scale start to kick in.
Even at these early stages however the current plans available are quite comparable to their ADSL counterparts. For example I’m on an ADSL2+ connection with 250GB of data (one of their older plans I believe) with a $10 “power pack” that makes my uploads not count and gives me a static IP address. The NBN equivalent is their silver plan, which is 25 down/5Mbps up, comes in at $74.95 for 300GB a saving of approximately $20/month over what I’m currently paying. For the same price I can get the top tier of bandwidth along with an extra 50GB of data, which is quite amazing for a service that’s only available to 14,000 people.
How long it will be before such services are available to a good chunk of the Australian populace remains a mystery however. The current rollout map only goes up to Stage 2 which is only a few dozen locations and I haven’t been able to source any rollout plans past that. From the rumours I’ve heard major cities should be the next stage after the current one, but even then rollouts in those areas will take a long time to complete, especially if the TransACT rollout in Canberra is anything to go by.
All of this is pointing towards a very bright future for Australia and the NBN. No future government would risk cancelling a project that is this far under way, especially with the potential benefits for both consumers and business. The pricing being competitive with current ADSL plans means that there will be a real incentive for people to switch to the NBN once it becomes available and it will only get better in the future. I’m really looking forward to being able to be part of the NBN once it becomes available, even though I know it will be a long time coming.
All too often it seems we’re presented with technologies that are always at least a decade away from seeing some sort of practical application. It’s a symptom of a bigger problem, one of research not being able to continue on ideas that don’t have the potential to produce something useful (read: profitable) and so often we’re introduced to an idea long before it becomes reality so that it can in fact become a reality. However every so often one of these technologies makes it past that crucial line of finding its way into the real world and the latest of which is the idea of quantum computing.
I can’t remember when I first introduced to the idea behind quantum computers but I have been fascinated with them for quite a while. Quantum computers differ from regular computers in that their system is made up of qubits which are able to hold either a 0, 1 or a quantum superposition of any of these. What this means is that when compared to traditional computers which can only be in one state at any one time a quantum computer can be in any number of the possible states simultaneously. Thus as the number of qubits increases the amount of computing power available increases exponentially, theoretically out-pacing any conventional processor. Such computers would have big impacts on tasks that require large amounts of raw computing power like chemical reaction simulations and breaking encryption schemes.
I can remember reading about the first public demonstration of a quantum computer back in 2007 from a company called D-Wave. At the time I wasn’t 100% sure if they’d actually created what they claimed they had as there was a bit of controversy on the matter but re-reading the articles today showed that the criticism was more leveled at the claims D-Wave was making about their systems capabilities rather than it actually being a quantum computer. I really hadn’t followed the subject much until D-Wave popped up in my feed reader last week with the bold claim that you could now buy yourself at 128 qubit quantum computer:
Whether or not D-Wave has actually built a quantum computer is still a matter of debate (though, a study authored by the company and published in Nature claims to prove its success) but, whatever it is these crafty Canadians have created, you can order one now and start crunching qubits with abandon. The D-Wave One is the first commercially available quantum computer and, while its 128-qubit processor can only handle very specific tasks and is easily outperformed by traditional CPUs, it could represent a revolution in the field of supercomputing.
Now it’s one thing to put something up for sale and another to actually deliver that product. Not many people (or companies for that matter) would have the $10 million required to purchase one of these systems handy so initially it looked like it would be a while before we actually saw one of these systems purchased. Not a week later did D-Wave announce that they had sold their very first quantum computing system to Lockheed Martin with details around the purpose of the system remaining secret for now. To say that I’m surprised that they managed to sell one that quickly would be putting it lightly, but it’s also telling of what they’ve accomplished.
Lockheed Martin, whilst being no slouch when it comes to taking bets on new technology, wouldn’t be sinking $10 million into a product that wouldn’t deliver as advertised. Nor would they want D-Wave to publicly announce it either should they end up looking the fool should their quantum computer turn out to be not so quantum. On the surface then it would seem that D-Wave is the real deal and their 128 qubit system is the first commercially available quantum computer and we could be on the cusp of yet another computing power explosion.
So does this mean that in the next few years we’ll see quantum computers appear at the consumer level? Probably not, in their current state they require liquid helium cooling and we’re still many advances away from making quantum computers in form factors that we’re all familiar with. It does mean however that we’re close to being able to solve harder problems more rapidly though and the subsequent improves to D-Wave’s systems will make doing such tasks again exponentially easier. With Lockheed Martin basically verifying D-Wave’s credibility I’m very interested to see who lines up next for a quantum computer, especially if they’re going to be a bit more open as to what they plan to do with it.