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.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m no fan of our dear Senator Conroy, but credit where it’s due he at least understands technology better than our current PM or opposition leader, even if he doesn’t listen to the tech community at large. Whilst I abhor the Internet Filter policy in its entirety I’m almost salivating at the possibility that one day soon I’ll have access to a 100Mbps fiber connection at my house. Not only is it awesome because of the raw speeds it also opens up opportunity for someone like me who’s looking to host his own services but doesn’t necessarily want to spend the cash on proper hosting just yet, but still deliver a decent service to his end users (this lightweight blog is about the limit of my current connection).
Last week saw the Liberal party finally release their planfor upgrading Australia’s Internet infrastructure. To say it was unimpressive would be putting it gently as whilst they did outline a plan for upgrading our infrastructure it was a far cry from what the NBN is currently shaping up to be. In essence their plan was just a continuation of what would have been done eventually with no fundamental change in the way Australia’s Internet infrastructure was done. This would not free Australian consumers from the problems that have plagued them thanks to the botched privatisation of Telstra (read: not keeping their retail and wholesale branches at arms length) and wouldn’t increase speeds for anyone who didn’t already have broadband at their homes. It was in essence the lowest cost option they could come up with, done to try and bolster their image of being fiscally responsible. We all know that is complete bollocks anyway.
Still for some reason the Labor party the need to kick the Liberals while they were down and announced that their NBN would reach speeds of up to 1Gbps, ten times that of what they originally promised:
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy confirmed today that the National Broadband Network NBN would reach speeds of up 1Gbps, ten times faster than the originally announced speeds of up to 100Mbps.
Conroy said he had only found out about the 1GB speeds yesterday when NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley called him last night. Quigley will make further announcements regarding the faster speeds at a lunch time conference in Sydney today.
The announcement was made at the official NBN launch this morning at Midway Point in Hobart, Tasmania, one of the first townships to receive the NBN, as part of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s campaign trail. The official launch was a chance to differentiate Labor from the Coalition — which has vowed to bin the NBN if elected.
On the surface it would sound like a bit of over-promising in aid of boosting numbers for the coming election but realistically there’s no fundamental issue that would stop the NBN from achieving these speeds and even exceeding them in the future. With so much mud being slung (as is the norm for election time) I would have thought the Liberals would’ve jumped all over this but the statement came and went without much fanfare at all. Conroy’s statement does highlight the fact that the NBN is a fundamental shift in the way Australian’s get their Internet and how it will remain with us for decades to come.
You see the current backbone of our Internet infrastructure in Australia is primarily copper wire, stuff that’s been around since the 1880’s. Right now the fastest connection you can push over our current copper based lines is around 24Mbps and that’s highly dependent on factors such as distance to exchange, back haul capacity and how over subscribed the exchange is. Theoretically if you used a technology like VDSL (ala Transact here in Canberra) you could squeeze 250Mbps out of the same copper, however that signal would drop dramatically if you were a mere 500 meters away from the closest repeater. Transact manages to get it done because they have a fiber to the curb network ensuring most houses aren’t that far away from the repeater, but the last mile is still copper.
Fiber to the home means that the underlying technology that we use for our communications in Australia changes to our generation’s copper: optical fiber. Whilst the current copper infrastructure has theoretical peaks double that of what the NBN originally planned to deliver optical fiber has current, working implementations that run all the way up to 10Gbps. Using a combination of single-modefor back haul and multi-mode it is entirely possible for any house that has a fiber connection to have speeds of up 1Gbps. The only limitation then is on the bandwidth at the local exchange but problems like line attenuation are completely removed. Additionally higher speeds than those currently possible could be achieved by upgrading the endpoints on their side of the fiber connection, ensuring the longevity of the multi-billion dollar infrastructure upgrade.
The NBN as it stood in its original incarnation would have put Australia right up there with the leading countries in terms of Internet infrastructure. Whilst the 1Gbps claim doesn’t fundamentally change what’s going to happen with the NBN it does mean that it is being built with a vision for the future. Compare this to the Liberal party’s plan of just carrying on as we have done for the past 2 decades you can see why I believe that the NBN needs to go ahead because as it stands right now Australia just doesn’t compare to the vast majority of other developed countries. I believe that the NBN is fundamental in making Australia attractive as a base for Internet companies worldwide, as well as existing businesses looking to extend their reach into our area.
It’s not often that you see a government project that will outlast its party’s term but the NBN is a shining example of long term planning. When it is implemented all Australians will reap the benefits of cheap, ubiquitous, high speed Internet that will spur innovation on a national scale of the likes we haven’t yet seen. With the current completion date hovering around 2018 we’re still a way off from seeing the benefits of such a network unfold but if we’re to have infrastructure that will last us as long as the copper has done up until now the NBN must be completed, lest we be left behind by the rest of the Internet world.