ADSL2+ at last — but at what cost?

ADSL2+ at last — but at what cost?

Summary: Much has been made of Telstra's decision to finally stop holding Australia to ransom, and to actually turn on the ADSL2+ equipment it has installed in what is apparently over 900 of its exchanges around the country.

SHARE:

Much has been made of Telstra's decision to finally stop holding Australia to ransom, and to actually turn on the ADSL2+ equipment it has installed in what is apparently over 900 of its exchanges around the country.

I don't think anyone will argue that this is anything but a positive move, at least as far as improving the availability of decent-speed broadband.

Telstra claims the new government has given it the regulatory certainty it was requesting from previous comms Minister Helen Coonan. The letter (click here for PDF) that current Senator Stephen Conroy wrote to Telstra head Mr Sol (as per a curious notation at the top of the letter), however, tells a different story: the senator has made no new commitments to Telstra — in writing, at least — apart from pointing out the things that ACCC head Graeme Samuel has been saying for more than a year.

So, if nothing has changed, why has Telstra picked now to deliver ADSL2+ to large swathes of Australia's suburbs?

Many have suggested the telecoms giant is trying to curry favour with the government, helping convey the impression that Labor has helped improve Australian broadband in exchange for kind treatment in the tender that Conroy expects to offer sometime around June.

Funnily enough, many of Telstra's exchanges will become ADSL2+ enabled just around that time — certainly longer than the 48-hour turnaround Phil Burgess has been promising in his speeches. Apparently things move rather slowly in Telstra's world, especially if "things" coincide with the issuing of major contracts.

Can this timing be accidental?

I noted with interest that Telstra's ADSL2+ announcement was attended by no less than Stephen Conroy and Kevin Rudd, who are falling over themselves to show Labor as fulfilling its broadband-related election promises. Could this launch be the clearest sign yet that Telstra is the heir apparent for the FttN contract?

Enabling Telstra's broadband ambitions also serves Labor well because it deemphasises the population's perceived need for the wireless local loop, which is to be provided by OPEL through its planned WiMAX network. That will strengthen the government's case to slash AU$958 million in OPEL funding — something IDC Australia telecoms guru David Cannon this week predicted will happen sooner rather than later, as Rudd's razor gang looks for ways to slash AU$10 billion of public expenditure.

"The activation of the ADSL2+ exchanges gives regional and rural communities metro-like broadband services and will counterbalance any negative public sentiment should the OPEL funding be withdrawn," said Cannon.

But does it? ADSL2+ doesn't work in isolation: even more so than with ADSL, the newer technology is largely at the whim of Telstra's own copper network, which by all accounts is struggling to connect even dial-up callers in many rural areas. Even city residents are struggling, with Telstra retrenchments causing staff shortages so severe that many ailing lines are being fixed with plastic bags.

In-home wiring can throw another spanner in the works. Throw ADSL2+ over those kinds of lines, and all you're going to get is thousands of cranky customers complaining they're not getting anywhere near the speed they were promised. Perhaps Telstra should consider giving its new ADSL2+ customers their own home waterproofing kits? Or will plastic bags from Coles suffice?

Ironically, wholesale service failures would suit Telstra's ambitions: of course ADSL2+ alone isn't enough, we'll be told; to fully realise the promise of broadband, Australia either needs a completely different solution — a la WiMAX — or a fibre-to-the-node network to reduce the last-mile lengths, just as Telstra has been saying for years. The money is ready and waiting; all the carrier needs, we are told, is regulatory certainty that its FttN will remain just that: its FttN.

These kinds of actions are the technological and economic tools of the effective monopolist. Consider it the telecoms analogue of Gillette's oft-cited razors and blades model: razors are no good without blades, so you can build a dominant market by selling razors cheaply and blades at a high price. And, by using proprietary connectors between the two and changing designs every few years, Gillette ensures Schick and other competitors can't break into its market.

For now, let's hope Senator Conroy is going to stick to his guns and work to keep Telstra on the straight and narrow, as he has intimated in the past. He may have been shaking hands with Sol Trujillo last week, but at least he's still apparently proceeding with the introduction of the Trade Practices Amendment (Access Declarations) Bill.

This bill will lend regulatory weight to the decisions of the ACCC, something for which Conroy should be commended — if only because it will restrict Telstra's capacity for stonewalling and spurious litigation.

This episode isn't over yet, however: competitors wasted no time preparing their own legal challenges to Telstra's argument that it can't be forced to wholesale its ADSL2+, which has not yet been declared by the ACCC. That claim would on the surface seem to be logically, if not legally, sound — but we'll let the lawyers determine that.

And will the ADSL2+ also be sound? Well, the customers will determine that.

Topics: Broadband, Government, Government AU, Networking, Telcos, Telstra, NBN, Wi-Fi

About

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.

Talkback

12 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • What Accounts?

    "the newer technology is largely at the whim of Telstra's own copper network, which by all accounts is struggling to connect even dial-up callers in many rural areas"

    What accounts are these?

    Usually these kind of statements are at the very least accompanied with a lnk to a previous ZDNet article. Albeit, an article that was almost certainly littered with unsubstanstiated Telstra bashing, but in this case there is nothing at all.

    Yes, David has stated many times, that this is not a news article, it is an opinion piece. But the content is often represented in a fashion that makes it appear factual.

    The premise on which these articles are written are getting thinner and thinner, and it is starting to look as though so many liberties are being taken with the content of the article, it's hard to believe anything at all.

    I used to visit these forums for insightful on commentary domestic telecommunications, but they have deteriated to nothing more than an outlet for Telstra bashers. Of course the articles will be popular, because Telstra bashing is almost a national past time.

    I just wish some of the crap was taken out so if there is actually something worth discussing, we can all have a fruitful, intelligent discussion about it. The next 9 posts will probably be some mindless drivel that's been reading all this rubbish and wants to get in on the fun.

    Come on David, give us something real mate.
    anonymous
  • What accounts? My account!

    According to the Telstra tech standing on my doorstep yesterday after my second complaint about my copper line, "the cable from your pole to the end of the street is full. Every line is either in use or marked as faulty." According to him there are now two complaints about the cable and as the number of complaints build up over time they will eventually replace it. Until then I have to live with between 400-4000 dropped packets a day.

    Now you might think this is mindless drivel and Telstra bashing, but as a telecommuter and part-time Masters student, I call it a royal rain in the rear end.

    I'm sure Telstra will get to it eventually, but in the mean time I have a very dodgy internet connection and the joy of waiting for some neighbour's teenage daughter to stop chatting about fashion before I can make a call on our often crossed line.

    You want evidence of accounts, I hoped I helped out by sharing my issue, but feel free to visit www.whirlpool.net.au if you want a few more examples of unhappy people.

    Keep up the good work David.
    anonymous
  • Another hIgh quality David Braue balanced Telstra focused blog

    NOT!
    anonymous
  • Telstra's last mile maintenance

    In Cannington WA last month I counted 12 (twelve) open and uncovered major Telstra pits. During a few days of heavy rain these pits actually had flowing water in them.
    The vast majority of these pits are still open and uncovered today.

    How this is supposed to help maintain the integrity of the copper network is beyond me.

    If its in telstra's interest that their copper network gets degraded.. this appears to be evidence of that occuring.
    anonymous
  • National Pastime

    I don't subscribe to the idea of "<large number> people can't be wrong", nonetheless it might be worth pondering the reason for Telstra bashing becoming so popular.

    "Yes, David has stated many times, that this is not a news article, it is an opinion piece. But the content is often represented in a fashion that makes it appear factual."

    Interesting comment, is this the first time you've come across opinions being represented as fact (even though you say yourself he repeats that it's an opinion piece)? Do you watch the news or read the paper? At least this is obviously an opinion piece, therefore we're expecting only one side of the story. Read some articles on nowwearetalking.com.au and that'll balance things out nicely for you.

    One thing is entirely factual, and that's that ADSL2+ will NOT solve the broadband issue for regional and rural Australia. A friend of mine can't even get ADSL1 and he lives in Mawson Lakes (15 minutes out of Adelaide CBD) which is self-referred to as Technology Park.
    anonymous
  • 400-4000 dropped packets?

    WOW!, A packet is typically between 150 and 400 bytes on average. I just checked my usage for the past few days and am veraging 171 bytes per packet.

    Lets do the maths.
    400 * 150 bytes = 60,000 bytes = 60KB
    4000 * 400 bytes = 1,600,000 bytes = 1.6MB

    You are complaining about a best case scenario losing less the the traffic to download this page and worst case the amount of traffic a low quality 30 second video clip would need.
    anonymous
  • Regional Broadband Issues

    Did the Telstra media release say that turning on ADSL2+ would 'SOLVE' regional Australia's broadband problems? The release I read didn't say that.
    I'm sure Telstra isn't commiting to solving broadband problems by turning these exchanges on, we all know the shortfalls of this type of service, distance in particular.
    So can't we be grateful it has happened? I'm sure for those in regional Australia that now have access to these services (and we know it's not all of them) that it's a plus.
    As far as I see it, it's simple.
    Telstra had the power to turn them on, they took their time, but they did it. Regardless of the moaning, if this decision gave me access to ADSL2+ I would be grateful. I really don't understand why the Telstra bashing is going on from this.
    They should have done it sooner? Sure
    Here's one, they should have never been sold and it might have happened 5 years ago.
    anonymous
  • T1, T2, T3

    "Here's one, they should have never been sold and it might have happened 5 years ago."

    I couldn't agree more! Well said.
    anonymous
  • SOLVE?

    "Did the Telstra media release say that turning on ADSL2+ would 'SOLVE' regional Australia's broadband problems? The release I read didn't say that. "

    No, but this quote is mentioned in the very blog we're replying to:

    "The activation of the ADSL2+ exchanges gives regional and rural communities metro-like broadband services and will counterbalance any negative public sentiment should the OPEL funding be withdrawn," said Cannon.

    and the three paragraphs following the quote are an analysis of it.
    anonymous
  • what about cable?

    Theres no question that Telstra dose not have the best interest of the average Australians access to fast internet as its top agenda. As an inveterate reader of computer mags who all agree thus I must believe its true. However I do often wonder why there is still no broadband down all that cable owned by Foxtell and laid under our sidewalks all those years ago?
    anonymous
  • IDC, not Telstra

    Cannon was the one who said it. Cannon is from IDC, not Telstra.
    I maintain, that Telstra, of all parties involved in this, would know better than anyone else that turning ADSL2+ on will not solve rural Australia's broadband issues.
    It still astounds me that they are getting bashed about this.
    The IDC bloke is speculating. No other company has been willing to do it. Telstra turned on the exchanges, and there are still hoards of T-Bashers having a sook.

    It's ridiculous. This is a good news story. Get past the politics, Telstra has done a good job in this case. Consider those that are getting ADSL2+ for the first time.

    Seriously, what is all the complaining about?
    anonymous
  • What Next??

    I can not wait until we get fibre to the home being rolled out - so all the winging whining bludgers can bubble to the surface again and raise the same old stories they used in the ADSL/Broadband "debate" - and I use the word debate loosely.
    Being somewhat older than most - I recall the "debates" about ISDN (an australian invention)... the more things change - the more they stay the same
    anonymous