Monday, 29 June 2020 19:03

Who will bell the cat? Sorry, make that who will upgrade the NBN? Featured

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Who will bell the cat? Sorry, make that who will upgrade the NBN? Image by Steve Page from Pixabay

A 32-page study titled The Gigabit Gap, released by Huawei Australia, the Telecommunications Association and consultancy OMDIA (formerly Ovum) on Monday, has come to the conclusion that it is time for the Coalition Government and the NBN Co to begin planning for the next stage of the national broadband network upgrade.

iTWire made the same point some days ago and it was driven home by telecommunications consultant Paul Budde a few days later.

The paper does not offer a great deal that is new, merely trawling through the broadband while avoiding any fixing of blame. But it is educative and takes a very neutral position on all issues.

It is part of Huawei's campaign to try and persuade Canberra to have a second look at its 5G status, hoping against hope that Scott Morrison - or some future prime minister - will give the ban on the company's participation in the rollout a second look.

While that appears unlikely, one cannot but admire the dogged persistence that the Chinese firm is showing in trying to convince the public that its participation will be good for them because of the additional speeding up of the 5G rollout – which will, in turn, ensure faster broadband around the country.

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Already, one telco, Optus, has made moves to offer 5G home Internet connections at a very reasonable price of $70 per month and a minimum subscription of two years. When iTWire last measured speeds on the Telstra 5G network, back in December, a top speed of 185Mpbs was achievable.

Those speeds are likely to have improved a great deal in the last six months despite the pandemic; Optus has also spread its 5G network far and wide.

But back to the Huawei discussion. While not traversing fresh ground, it did produce some worthwhile statistics relating to Australia's standing in the world when it comes to gigabit broadband - and, to put it mildly, the country's status is that of a pariah.

Huawei public relations manager Tony Brown and TelSoc president Professor Reg Coutts, a member of the Panel of Experts formed by the Rudd Government, to examine broadband options for Australia, addressed the webinar at which the paper was released..

The Gigabit Gap report raises the scenario that has come up time and again: that there will be lots of operators looking to cash in on the dissatisfaction with the NBN and grab customers from the ISPs who are reselling the NBN Co's product. That would make it even more difficult for a company that is looking to raise its average revenue per user in order to break even.

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OMDIA consultant Stephen Myers, the author of the paper, says the NBN Co and the Federal Government are in a tight spot when it comes to upgrading the network.

"Given its present pricing structure — with higher-speed plans substantially more expensive than mid-level plans — it is extremely hard for NBN Co to actually ever generate substantial market demand for those higher-speed services," he says.

"With little market demand for higher-speeds the NBN Co — given that the Federal Government has made it clear there will be 'no more handouts' — is clearly going to be extremely reticent about investing a further $7 billion to $10 billion to upgrade FttN to FttC if it cannot generate additional revenues from the upgrade.

"However, leaving the network in its current position is hard to justify, given that there is a clearly unacceptable divide between those on 1Gbps FttP connections and others on FttN lines that in many cases cannot even deliver 25Mbps."

Myers is of the opinions that while NBN Co has often argued that its services and those of 5G network operators are complementary, "there is little doubt that mobile network operators see under-served NBN areas – especially FttN areas – as ripe for the picking for high-speed 5G Fixed Wireless services".

"A game of cat and mouse over where and when an FttN upgrade may take place may help protect NBN from further competition from 5G Fixed Wireless but it does nothing to help those Australians that are stuck on low-speed FttN services.

"The last 10 years of building the NBN has put Australia into a much better position with 99% of premises now able to get a 25Mbps connection via NBN’s range of different technologies. However, whilst universal 25Mbps was a reasonable target in 2013 when the NBN changed design from FttP to FttN/HFC it is no longer a speed that can cater for the needs of many residential and business broadband users.

"That means that it is time for the Federal Government and NBN Co — whilst getting plaudits for completing the volume rollout — to now begin their plans for the next stage of the network upgrade."

Graphics: courtesy OMDIA/Huawei/TelSoc

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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