Broadband innovation needs cooperation, not endless fibre talk

Broadband innovation needs cooperation, not endless fibre talk

Summary: Australia doesn't need the ultimate in hyper-fast broadband to innovate; merely ubiquitous access to solid speeds at a fair price, and the willingness to just get on and do it.

TOPICS: NBN, Broadband, Australia

The phrase "ubiquitous high-speed broadband" cropped up more than once as Anne Hurley, NBN Co's general manager for stakeholder engagement, welcomed us to the launch of ng Connect Australia and New Zealand in Sydney on Wednesday evening — that's an Alcatel-Lucent-backed program to foster innovation by linking up businesses and other organisations that can help each other — and rightly so.

The fabulous fibres will be the nervous system and the arteries and veins of our glorious digital future. Whoever doesn't have them will be not just disadvantaged, but dead.

Only the ignorant would claim that anything other than optical fibre can deliver the ever-increasing broadband capacity to match our ever-increasing need for speed. Tell such people about the Dunning-Kruger effect and the Shannon-Hartley theorem, then shove them into the nearest canal.

Only the ignorant would claim that anything other than optical fibre can deliver the ever-increasing broadband capacity to match our ever-increasing need for speed.

Australia is one of the richest nations in the world, but when it comes to internet speeds, we've dropped from being in third place globally in the mid-1990s to 15th or lower in the mid-2000s, to somewhere down past 40th place today. A bit of catching up is in order, and personally, I reckon we can afford to do it it. Or, rather, we can't afford not to do it.

"Fibre all the things!", I say.

But NBN Co's fibre-to-the-premises rollout hasn't been happening as quickly as planned — to say the least. That needs to be fixed. If using a different technological mix delivers a decent speed hike to most people more quickly, provided the numbers add up, then so be it. Politics, and the delivery of government services, are about compromise. If the fibre-fundies can't see that, and can't see when a plan starts failing to meet targets and must be adjusted, well, it's the canal for them, too.

And it's the canal for any tedious political tribalists who can't see the words "if" and "provided" in the preceding paragraph.

Broadband innovation is about the bandwidth being ubiquitous, not the technology used, said Sean O'Halloran, managing director of Alcatel-Lucent Australia.

And as Kate Cornick, director of industry engagement and innovation at the University of Melbourne, said, "The debate about broadband innovation keeps getting dragged back to the technical discussion about speed and fibre rather than what we're doing about it."

If the fibre-fundies can't see that, and can't see when a plan starts failing to meet targets and must be adjusted, well, it's the canal for them, too.

Ng Connect is a doing-something-about-it kind of program.

The brochure is sprinkled with all the words: Next generation, infrastructure, synergy, end to end, ecosystem, cloud centric, accelerated, enrich. A buzzword drinking game would be liver destroying. There's even a photo of an attractive and intelligent-looking woman conjuring up meaningless diagrams with a touch of her finger, so you just know it's about the future.

But beyond these tired clichés, ng Connect has the potential to encourage the development of a business community supportive of innovation — one of the four precursors Cornick listed as necessary for a culture of innovation. The others are a research community, an angel investor community, and the infrastructure to collaborate and communicate with customers and suppliers.

Speakers at the launch pointed to the examples of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the rollout of gigabit fibre to the entire city has led to an inrush of investment, and the Gigatown competition in New Zealand, in which towns are currently battling to get the same gigabit treatment.

But even though her university is part of The Parkville Precinct, a collaboration focused on healthcare, research, and education, Cornick said there doesn't need to be a geographical focus — and that'll help ng Connect avoid becoming the disaster that was South Australia's Multifunction Polis.

"We should forget about making a city [with] the title to become the next 'best thing'," Cornick told ZDNet.

"We should just get on and create the ecosystem, and make sure that we get all the settings right internally, which [are] about the entrepreneurs, the researchers, the businesses, and the collaboration. And if we get that right, we don't need to worry about what we're going to be in 10 years' time; we get on and do it now."

Yes, a bit of good old Australian getting on and doing it. I'm all for that.

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Australia


Stilgherrian is a freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster interested in big-picture internet issues, especially security, cybercrime and hoovering up bulldust.

He studied computing science and linguistics before a wide-ranging media career and a stint at running an IT business. He can write iptables firewall rules, set a rabbit trap, clear a jam in an IBM model 026 card punch and mix a mean whiskey sour.

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  • IMO

    Labor failed terribly to clearly convey the vision.
    The tech Community and media have failed to grasp the issues and differences, possibly a parochial POV.
    Yes the LNP largely FTTN BROADBAND with FTTP to commercial etc precincts (covered by yourself - startups and innovators etc tend to be financially constrained and those precincts are not in their budget) will serve those customers, but the rest of us will be severely constrained re ubiquitous service - upload is the issue.
    The GPON FTTP NBN however has a plethora of possibilities - it is misnamed, National Broadband Network is a severely inadequate descriptor which has defined the narrative.
    It is the National Digital communications Infrastructure. Providing initially access to 2.5Gb to be upgraded as required per node to 10 then 40Gb to 93% of premises via 4 port NTU enabling multiple services, allowing for those with limited literacy and no computer skills to access Government services via a simple thin client without having to sign up for a retail broadband service they could not use, or a research graduate boarding or at home.
    Genuinely building for the future and enabling innovation which is not class dependent and appears to be something alien to the Australian mindset. Look honestly at our record

    There is as a whole no comparison between the two options as National Infrastructure which makes the LNP version an extremely expensive to build and maintain limited product that realistically will never be upgraded to provide that ubiquitous infrastructure
    Abel Adamski
  • The idea is the good bit of the NBN

    Labor did a bad job of rolling it out, and arguing it.
    Places like apartments probably could have had FTTN especially if the runs were only 100m or so. At least in the short term is next 5-10 yrs before an upgrade to fibre. ie do a lot of really easy apartments in an efficient way that gets a lot more customers onto the network offsetting costs.

    Unfortunately politics ruined any bi-partisan agreement on the NBN. While Turnbull understands the issue, his party see it as waste instead of building a road in a marginal electorate.

    When lines like white elephant/stop the waste get used its clear people just don't get how important this is for the future of the country. FTTN can work in high density areas IMO. At least intially, but the idea that 25 MBPs will not hamper innovation is just wrong.

    Its not hard to see under the NBN that a household might have used a spare port for security monitoring or for TV. What many people didn't realise was no internet service was necessarily needed for a pensioner to have a service connected. Sure it can run over an existing ISP, but the whole idea was that it also could be sold as a service, just plug it into port 2 and while most likely running on the internet it was not an internet service. Many of my relatives have a simple buzzer medic alert system. A better system would involve a few cameras and the button to press. The system could alert and show an image of the person and what kind of danger they were in, call the ambulance straight away rather than wait 5-10 minutes to find the person in their home.

    Yes this can be done to some extent on an ISP, but its a pain for many pensioners, they have to worry about paying an ISP bill as well, worrying about how fast the link needs to be etc. Maybe its pie in the sky thinking, but I also think innovation and ideas are what will progress our economy into the future and not subsidising the manufacturing industry, which to me is waste, but not to a politician looking to win a marginal seat with a manufacturing plant in it.
    Justin Watson
  • No.....

    Are you for real? . It is ubiquitous fibre that will help with innovation. It is the very fact that providers simply won't/can't co-operate to build a proper and efficient NBN. Add to that the labour costs are already simply too high, having multiple parties attempt to build together will add even more complexity and duplication of processes/procedures. Red tape disaster. On top of everything, WE STARTED TOO LATE! The bottleneck? Telstra and that the general public are pretty much digital information retarded...........oh people only download porn, movies, play games....etc..... How about we just remove the roads and railways and let's see what happens to the economy of the Australia. Absolutely another pathetic liberal biased based article.
  • We want it

    Liberal party want to spend 8 billion dollars to build tunel for let's say 250k travelers and yet will not spend 34 billion to fix Internet roads for 22 million people wtf?
  • Lets Try Some Basic Mathematics

    Something even a 5yrold will understand:

    - LNP solution is within 25% of the cost of The Labor NBN
    - LNP solution is within 25% of the delivery timeframe of The Labor NBN
    - LNP solution is COMMITTING to delivering only25% of speed The Labor NBN

    The LNP solution is simply Not Worth It, even a half-witted over ripe banana can work it out.

    Oh yeah, and by the time the LNP solution is rolled out the growth in "normal bandwidth consumption" will have escalated to the point where "well that's OBVIOUSLY not going to be enough" - so you have spent all those years and all that money TO RUN ON THE SPOT.

    AND: there's no real "upgrade path" from FTTN to FTTH, once again it's a major, expensive, forklift-upgrade.
  • It is a little bit about the technology too

    Although I understand where Halloran is coming from I don't entirely agree with him.

    It is a a little bit about ubiquitous technology, not about whether our IP packets are carried on the back of mangy electrons or glorious photons but for another reason.

    The technology side that matters is the business to business systems and the equivalence of last mile technologies from an access seekers point of view.

    A small group looking to commercialise their innovation only faces obstacles all the way, most are beaten by one or more of them. This was one of the great strengths of the NBN in its original form. Same B2B systems and interfaces for all of Australia. One system to deal with and you have a Total Addressable Market of 100% of Australian premises.

    The changes that Turnbull had hinted at, particularly those prior to the election, cause me concern. Does he understand the benefits on a single B2B interface and will he ensure that continues to be prioritised?

    The ability for a small team of innovators to test their new killer application on their own connection in their own garage and have confidence this will replicate end user experience across the country is a big deal in my opinion.