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Thursday, 25 August 2011 15:38

We will need 100Mbps, we just have to convince the Coalition


The Coalition has once again repeated its now jaded argument against the NBN: there is no hard evidence to support the idea that we need the 100Mbps that the FTTH network will deliver. Maybe not, but there are portents aplenty. Coalition pundits just need to be a bit more visionary.

This time the Coalition's criticism was channelled through Coalition members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, in their dissenting report on the committee's just released report of its inquiry into the role and potential of the National Broadband Network.

The dissenting report said: "The single most striking conclusion from this inquiry is that there were very few persuasive examples given of applications which actually require the speeds that the NBN will deliver. This was so across a wide range of sectors including telemedicine, education, business and government."

It's true that the main report was able to give few persuasive examples of applications that require these speeds TODAY, but if the dissenting members genuinely failed to be persuaded that such applications would emerge then they are singularly lacking in vision and imagination. Because what the report did muster was a convincing catalogue of commentary that demonstrated: the folly of trying to set limits to the potential of, and the demand for information technology; and the possibilities that, if you look closely, are reasonably evident.

This is best summed up in this quote in the main report, from Dr Dean Economou, technology strategist at NICTA.

"At the moment what looks like [high definition TV] looks really good compared to TV, but in 20 years it will look like a postage stamp and you will say, 'Why did we ever put up with that?' You will say, 'You really need it.' The thing is that technology is making it possible. Samsung screens get 20 percent cheaper and 20 percent bigger every year. The Japanese 15 years ago were working on what is called ultra high definition TV, which is 16 times HD'¦So 16 times is coming and that, even compressed for broadcast, is 200 to 300 megabits [per second]. That is what we can perceive. All I can say in my time in this game and Dr Percival's [Terry Percival director of NICTA's Neville Roach Laboratory] as well, is that we have never seen demand for bandwidth go down and whenever you try to double guess that it is going to level out it just does not."

And AARNet head, Chris Hancock told the Committee about the OptiPortal, a high-definition videoconferencing system comprising 24 screens and requiring about 40Gbps.


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"We see that the homes of the future are going to have these as walls. That is what we are going to be doing. You will not have the video set from Harvey Norman; you will actually almost have an actual OptiPortal in your living room that is bezel-less and is a flat screen '¦ The question was asked earlier today: will it ever replace being there? Our belief is that it absolutely will, because the technology will allow us to do that."

The NBN is going to take about 10 years to complete, which is a long time in technology terms. For example 20 years ago the technology that makes the global high speed Internet possible was still in the laboratory.

Every week in my newsletter I delve into the archive and pull out something interesting from two decades ago (yes I have been  writing it for over 20 years!). Here is what I found this week.

"An experimental system under development at the University of Columbia's Centre for Telecommunications Research uses light of different frequencies multiplexed together on a single fibre. Each frequency can carry data at up to 1Gbps. The experimental system uses just four separate frequencies, or 'colours', but the Centre's Director, Professor Anthony Acampora, said there were 10,000 identifiable colours in the infrared region, each one capable of carrying data at 1Gbps simultaneously. Acampora described possibilities of the research as "astonishing and far reaching."

He was absolutely right. At that time, 1991,  the fastest local area network was not gigabit ethernet but a technology called the fibre distributed data interface (FDDI). It operated at 100Mbps. 1991 was also the year that Australia got its first fibre-optic submarine cable, Tasman-2 to New Zealand. It had three fibre pairs each carrying just 560Mbps, about one twentieth of the 10Gps (and soon to be  100Gbps) capacity of one of about 80 wavelengths on today's fibre.

There has been much publicity this week around Samsung's citing of 'tablet' devices portrayed in the 1968 movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" as prior art against Apple's iPad patents. Watch the clip on YouTube, Those devices look and perform just like today's tablets. Can any of you old enough to have seen the movie in 1968 honestly say you had the slightest expectation of seeing such devices in your lifetime?

In short, if you really want to get an idea of what is coming and why we will need the 100Mbps and more, don't listen to politicians grinding political axes; ask the boffins who are at the cutting edge of research, and no matter how far fetched their ideas may seem they will probably become reality sooner than you expect.

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