4G will kill NBN, boost Aerogard sales

4G will kill NBN, boost Aerogard sales

Summary: It was fascinating how quickly observers moved from being impressed by Telstra's 4G announcement, to predicting it would compromise the NBN's underlying assumptions, to refuting those predictions. Yet on deeper reflection, we have to consider the possibility that Telstra has perhaps saved the country from a huge mistake. Here are a few of the benefits we can expect if we discontinue the NBN right away and learn to love 4G.


With the possible exception of Malcolm Turnbull, commentators were so quick to point out that Telstra's big 4G announcement — a grandiose hail-Mary pass that the company hopes will reverse its flagging fortunes and bad shareholder news — will not affect the NBN in any way. How naive they are.

You could have written the script yourself beforehand: the various parties to the debate — emboldened by the Caliburn report that like every recent report offers both good and bad news for the NBN, depending on which page you read — reacted just as you would expect. The Australian called it a "wireless challenge" to the NBN; Malcolm Turnbull, who on Monday had issued a release saying next-generation wireless would undermine the NBN, pointed to Telstra's announcement as a case-in-point; and pro-NBN advocates sighed again before taking to the message boards. Stephen Conroy dismissed the threat and is being dragged through the usual radio shows to defend the NBN and slam the reinvigorated opposition as "ideological dogma". It can't be long before Tony Abbott fronts the media muttering something about white elephants.

In fact, the response was so predictable that many commentators not only fell in along the usual ideological lines, but were just as quick to point out that the usual commentators had fallen in along the ideological lines. Richard Chirgwin, a local telco analyst and scribe, summed it up best, suggesting the debate "beats Groundhog Day hands down" for "predictable, spiritless repetition". "Today, Telstra made a network announcement," he wrote, "the government released a document, the Opposition made a statement attacking the National Broadband Network (NBN), and Australia's political and technical journalists wrote it up in line with whatever slant they've already adopted."

If this sounds like pretty much every day since the 2007 election, it's probably better to click here and enjoy a bit of mental static. But if you'd like to know why we really should scrap the NBN and wholeheartedly embrace Telstra's 4G services, well, I've collapsed the argument into just a few salient bullet points for easy consumption.

  1. Australians are eager technology adopters: what country best to replace plans to roll out time-tested, reliable fibre-optic cabling with a new wireless standard that's only been tested in a few small Scandinavian markets, at much lower scale than that which is planned here? Heck, selling Swedish ingenuity to the world has worked a treat for Stieg Larsson — apart from that whole being-dead thing, of course. We'll do it better, though; I know this mainly because independent telecoms equipment vendors say so. And if that's not a guarantee on which to hang the future of your country's telecommunications infrastructure, well, I don't know what is.
  2. Wireless will kill piracy and encourage frugality: monthly bandwidth quotas for wireless services have grown dramatically in recent years. Why, it's now possible to get as much as 12 GIGABYTES of data per month from Telstra for just $69.95. With that kind of value, why in the world would we need those ridiculous 1 terabyte plans the fixed ISPs are offering? It's gluttony, I tell you. And since Telstra will rightfully charge an even bigger premium for its Long Term Evolution (LTE) services, we'll all have to learn to economise, and to appreciate the value of a megabyte again — just like in the good old days of v.32.
  3. Bush hangers-on will get with the program: yes, we know the air is cleaner, the trees greener, the water clearer and the lifestyle more relaxed. But once our friends and neighbours in rural and regional Australia realise there's no hope of getting better communications services — Telstra is currently in a financial mess, after all, and must focus 4G investments on capital cities before bringing it to the likes of Port Campbell or Stanthorpe — they'll all rush to the nearest city to follow the jobs their local businesses will take out of the regions. As an added bonus, this will increase pressure on properties even more, driving a new real estate boom and boosting rental returns as demand for homes with actual working telecommunications services grows.
  4. Competition is overrated, anyway: some people out there have been making the silly argument that the NBN isn't only about better speed, but is about fixing an untenable market position where competition proceeds only at the whim of Telstra — which has all the best toys and would rather break them than share with others. The NBN was going to deliver an equal-access network that would improve services equally and spur all sorts of new competition, but when it comes down to it, who really needs that stuff? Scrapping an independent government project and handing our telecommunications future to a private company is, of course, far better policy than delivering real competitive outcomes.
  5. It will keep us outdoors: it's no secret that Australians need more exercise, and committing to a totally wireless future is a great way to make that happen. After all, nearly 20 years of mobile telephony have shown us time and time again that wireless reception inside buildings tends to attenuate dramatically depending on where you are, the position of your left pinky, the contents of your wallet and the colour of the clothing you're wearing at the time. We all learned long ago that you have to be outside to get the best signal — unless you're deep in the CBD, in which case you should find a nearby park so the buildings don't interfere. Ditching a fixed-line future will cure us of the ridiculous habit of trying to communicate while inside — battling Vitamin D deficiency and creating whole new markets for Aerogard and sunscreen makers as we shape our daily lives around finding the best wireless reception. Those who are medically required to stay inside can buy their own femtocells to boost reception, of course — although we're still figuring out what they will plug into.
  6. It will encourage community spirit: the TV industry's move to IPTV long ago has proceeded with amazing rapidity, but delivering it via the NBN would have fostered social isolation since people would have ended up ensconced in their lounge rooms, watching interactive streaming videos of all sorts by themselves. Since wireless bandwidth is a shared resource, however, there won't be enough to bring high-quality video to everybody at once; as a solution, families will need to get to know their neighbours so they can get together and watch shows together, thereby reducing contention for bandwidth. Just imagine: each house in the street can work out a roster where they tune into one specific channel, and all the neighbours that want to watch that show will drop in — preferably with a dinner dish or dessert in hand. We'll call the idea "potluck TV"; just don't bring me anything with anchovies in it, please. I'm really not big on anchovies.
  7. Wireless is environmentally friendly: forget having Bobcats dig those unsightly trenches through the front garden; widespread use of wireless will bring all the wonders of the internets into our homes without a single cable in sight. Even better, the base stations installed at every suburban street-corner can be disguised as trees, adding to the area's visual amenity (dibs on a nice Japanese maple model!). Since they work by magic, they can automatically connect themselves back to Telstra's network through thin air or by altering the space-time continuum — albeit in a green-friendly way. They draw adequate operating power from the admiring glances of passers-by, and they don't even need to be watered.

If I may quote John "Hannibal" Smith: I love it when a plan comes together. I think we should all give Telstra a big round of applause for bringing this technology to market and saving us from making a big, expensive mistake by rolling out scalable, competitive fibre all over the place. Silly geese. Wireless most definitely is the future, and I'm glad Telstra has shown us the errors of our ways before we made a big, expensive mistake. The sooner Telstra can bring us to its 4G wonderland, the better.

Do you think the promise of 4G compromises the NBN's justification? And will LTE be the basis for Telstra's new local loop?

Topics: Telcos, Government AU, Networking, Telstra


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Very predictable post. Do you know many people outside of geek communities who need terrabyte plans or even faster than 4G speeds now or in the foreseeable future? Most regular people would be happy with wireless to cut down on all the cables in their houses and the convenience.

    It isn't direct competition to true NBN applications, but in the short-medium term - before all the magical things that will apparently be invented for NBN it will slow down the initial take up for sure.

    I would like someone to do an analysis of 4g planned roll out vs NBN planned roll out - I bet there is very little overlap for quite a while - FTTH is being installed first in areas that have lower demand for services anyway, Telstra wouldnt spend money to get votes like the ALP.
    • Nice post, Dave.

      gumbor, do you live under a rock? Most households today have a computer, a phone and a television. Many have more than one. In 2011, most share their broadband wirelessly within their home, with many using power-plug adaptors to connect their media player. This is mainstream, not geek.

      Have you ever lost a computer disk? Offsite continuous trickle backup is possible if you have a faster connection. Most ADSL is too slow and forget it over wireless. It's natural platform is fibre. This is only marginally geekdom (like MP3 audio was a decade ago), and will save a lot of non-technically minded people a lot of heartache.
    • Good post [gumbor]. I'd imagine most readers of zdnet would see benefit for 1TB plans. It is estimated though, that by 2012 there will be 30% of customers with mobile only connections. I currently pay $49 / month for a phone (HTC Desire), 2GB of internet and for making calls. I use that at home and I never go over. I save heaps by having no phone line or internet subscription.

      [Umbria] "Most households today have a computer, a phone and a television."
      Actually, many are giving up the redundant land line phone. Why pay more for a land line phone when you're already on a capped mobile phone plan that you never use up? And you may have noticed that for TV, you already get free HD quality broadcasts.

      In the rare event, you think we need faster internet for VoD you are mistaken. A lot of organisations think they know what consumers want. For years, they thought we must have 3D TVs. But even if VoD is desirable, you don't need an overpriced 25MB/s (What I assume to be the baseline plan) NBNCo subsidised (and in turn tax payer subsidised) internet plan. With a 5Mb connection you can download 1.62TB of data in 30 days - that's a lot of TV, but of course many people have an active live and don't spend that much time watching TV.

      The truth is that wireless is a real threat to the viability of the current NBN plan - http://nbnoptions.org/Threats.aspx
      • merarischroeder: The fact that you have confused fibre optic cable with a telephone line proves you obviously have absolutely no idea what is being discussed here.
        It is this sort of backward thinking that threatens Australia's future.
  • Very humorous article that is packed with facts that actually highlight the b/s dominating this issue. Time more ppl got educated and pulled their heads out of their butts and stopped spouting their partisan political rhetoric....see above for evidence of that. Good policy is good policy no matter what side of politics it comes from. I just hope that a few more of us can wake up to this fact before too long.....I don't want to struggle to find a can of Aerogard at the shops and then walk home past all those magically-powered base stations.....how un-Australian would that be! Cheers David!
  • There is no comparison between wired fiber and 4G wireless.
    Based on the entire history or wired and wireless internet technology,
    no wireless network will ever be able to replace an NBN anytime soon.
    For sensible reasons read this:
    • Thats what people said about mobiles, but if you look at the uptake of mobiles and the decline in fixed services I think you will realise that your statement is incorrect. LTE can offer an evolution or speed and reliablity that is well sufficient for consumer demands even geek demands. Remember Telstra Core network is all fiber, and LTE is only the access into it. FTTP is astronomically expensive for essentually minimal practical gain over wirless access technologies. I think if Australians were getting 100Mbs+ speed access into a fibre network which is what telstra will eventually be offering they wouldn't complain. NBN = Rediculously Fast = Australia in Debt VS LTE = Almost as Rediculously Fast = No Debt...... the choice is yours Australia???
      • NBN = ridiculously fast = future-proof = Australia most technologically advanced country in the world = terrabyte or unlimited downloads = ultra-low latency (10ms) = cloud computing.
        LTE = fast = mobility = Next G version 2 = less than 100GB a month downloads = shared capacity = 20-30Mbps average speeds, maybe less = reasonable latency (less than 50ms) = inefficiency for cloud computing or high quality multimedia.
        I got nothing against wireless, I have a Bigpond Ultimate dongle. Unfortunately just yesterday I was able to only get 0.6Mbps download speed (At best I can only get 2.66Mbps). This is only a mere example of what kind of speeds we can get on LTE. If wireless is so goddamn cheap, when why won't Telstra upgrade ALL of it's towers so we can all get up to 20Mbps average speeds (or at least up to 8Mbps)?
        Wireless can NEVER compete with Fibre because wireless is shared, while fibre is dedicated. On wireless you can only get 12GB downloads per month, on Fibre you can potentially get terrabytes of downloads! Wireless allows people to use their internet while on the go, checking your emails, reading daily news on zdnet, but don't even think about downloading a 1080p HD movie on wireless, or online gaming or cloud computing.

        Bring on the NBN!
  • @02simple, you are right (even if you can't spell fibre!).

    While wireless tech will certainly improve with further development, fibre tech will improve even more, so the only real change we will see is that fibre will go further ahead.
  • LOL love your style!
  • I think Telstra are doing what everyone wants, that is... providing competition.

    If Telstra can give me wireless at a reasonable speed, then I have no need for fibre. Fibre will always be faster - until a radio wave can travel faster than the speed of light ;-) The technology industry is full of stories where superior technology gets beaten by cheaper alternatives that 'do the job'.. Most likely both will co-exist.

    The NBN will no doubt go the way of Telstra in the future anyway... someone will decide the investment was not worth the money spent, and that selling it to private industry will bring the dollars the then government requires. And around we go again...

    Possible pricing??? LTE $20-50/month ; NBN $50-100/month

    And ofcourse Telstra won't be the only one providing LTE competition to NBN; Optus and Vodafail anyone...? Maybe the NBN will offer LTE too?

    All in all, great for consumer.. bad for tax payer.
    • "Possible pricing??? LTE $20-50/month ; NBN $50-100/month"

      I'm surrounded by idiots! I'd be more than happy to pay $100 per month for 5 or 10 terrabytes of data on a 1Gbps connection rather than $100 per month for 12GB on LTE.
  • was fairly worried that this was a serious article for a second till reason number 2, i believe people thinks its cool to dish crap out at the goverment regardless if they have a leg to stand on
    • The moment I saw the "boost Aerogard sales" headline, I knew this entire article was a joke!
  • Lets see my last 3 months worth of usage, 80 gig, 100 gig, 130 gig. I'm not a geek nor have I really started to utilise my PS3 online much and I'm looking at getting a fetchTV soon so my usage will go up once I can get an internet connection with better speeds than the 3500kbps I'm limited to via my ADSL2+ connection due to it being relient on Telstra's outdated copper network.

    As for a wireless alternative, well I have to walk around my house for a bit before I get a good mobile phone signal to dial out so I'm not holding my breath for that being much better with LTE

    Oh and it's not like I live out the back of beyond, I'm 20km from the centre of Perth! So hurry up and build the NBN
  • Just goes to show that with improvments in technology and faster broadband speeds now achievable that the NBN being built by the current Australian Government is a 40 billion Dollar waste of taxpayers money.
  • Just goes to proove that the $0 billion dollars being spent on the NBN is a totally unnessary waste of taxpayer's money.
  • Meh the 4G wireless service to our home pulls in around 6 Mb/sec but I'll be happy to turf it and shelve the wireless modem if fibre offers better - which is a good bet.
  • NBN is limited to the speed of the laser down the length of fibre, and we are yet to see it's full potential. Wireless is vulnerable to reliabilty, we don't need a wireless backbone in our country. The future of technology is coming, like it or lump it, and it's shining a light down a tube at us.
  • Nice article..... Covers most of the bases.

    But you forgot one thing.

    Telstra's totally **** customer service.
    Jahm Mittt