Telstra 4G makes NBN unviable: Turnbull

Telstra 4G makes NBN unviable: Turnbull

Summary: Telstra's announcement that it will upgrade its Next G networks to Long Term Evolution (LTE), or 4G, by the end of this year calls into question the viability of the National Broadband Network (NBN), according to Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.


Telstra's announcement that it will upgrade its Next G networks to Long Term Evolution (LTE), or 4G, by the end of this year calls into question the viability of the National Broadband Network (NBN), according to Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Malcolm Turnbull

(Credit: Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona overnight, Telstra CEO David Thodey announced that Telstra plans to upgrade its Next G network to the new mobile technology in the CBD of every Australian capital city and a select number of regional cities by the end of 2011.

Turnbull seized upon the news, saying that wireless services would make the NBN less viable.

"This is going to be a real competitive force," Turnbull told ABC radio.

The NBN business case assumes the increase in demand for wireless broadband won't continue, he said.

"The problem, of course, is that wireless broadband is improving as well."

But telecommunications consultant Paul Budde said he didn't think growth of wireless services will affect the long-term viability of the NBN because sectors such as health, education, media and energy, will favour the NBN's fibre-optic technologies.

"Yes, there will be an overlap ... but there are applications that are impossible to run over a wireless network," Budde told ABC radio.

The revelation of the upgrade overnight by the telco giant came as a Greenhill Caliburn report on the business case for the NBN also warned of the looming threat of wireless technologies.

"Trends towards 'mobile-centric' broadband networks could also have significant long-term implications for NBN Co's fibre offerings, to the extent that some consumers may be willing to sacrifice higher speed fibre transmissions for the convenience of mobile platforms," the report stated. "The prevalence of such [wireless-only] homes should be carefully monitored in connection with ongoing performance management efforts."

In a blog post yesterday, Turnbull said the report commissioned by the government admitted that wireless would undermine the NBN.

"LTE or 4G wireless can operate at speeds comparable to fast fixed-line broadband with the added functionality and convenience of mobility," he said. "The significance of the wireless revolution, and its threat to fixed-line networks, is not lost on the telecommunications sector any more than it is lost on President Obama who is making 4G wireless broadband his key broadband priority. But despite the fact that every second MP and senator is now clutching an iPad, the government seems oblivious to the wireless revolution."

Turnbull drew a comparison with the classic BBC comedy Fawlty Towers highlighting that each report the government has commissioned on the NBN has specifically pointed out that it is not a cost-benefit analysis.

"Senator Conroy, like a latter day Basil Fawlty, hires one consultant after another instructing them 'don't mention the cost-benefit analysis', and everyone, just like the dinner guests at Fawlty Towers, does just that highlighting very plainly that they were told NOT to perform such an analysis and in so doing confirming how negligent it is not to ask and answer the fundamental question about the NBN," he said.

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government AU, Telcos, Telstra, NBN


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Well this event certainly wasn't predictable, no not at all. Also shut up Turnbull, I dont want to hear another word from you on this until you've addressed the upload issue. A wireless patchwork solution that your zoo crew is proposing is not acceptable in 2011.
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • If 4G is even twice as fast as 3G it's still no where near as fast as the NBN. If 4G is twice as reliable as 3G it's still not reliable. If Turnbull thinks business can run on wireless broadband he has no idea. He thinks talks as if the internet is there to check emails on the run, not underpin the entire way society operates which is the actual case. I have two 3G plans. one with optus and one with telstra. one is slow and useless, the other is a bit faster and too expensive. So basically both useless.
  • Every time I start seeing the positives in Malcolm he turns around and shows how dim he is when it comes to these matters. The sooner he realises that the NBN is a good thing and stops being led down the garden path by the mad abbot's 1950's telecommunications policy the better.
  • Oh please 4G to make the NBN obsolete? That's like saying Aeroplanes make Ships and Trains obsolete. There's always going to be a need for fixed line communications until we managed to fix those pesky laws of physics. Until we can start communicating wirelessly at the speed of light wireless is always going to be behind fibre.
  • The NBN will go down in history as the biggest waste of taxpayers dollars ever. Most people already have adequate broadband such as ADSL2 and the 4G network will fill the gaps at a fraction of the cost of the NBN.
    I work in the internet industry and the NBN will not make any difference and almost everyone I talk to in the industry agrees. If you want to download high definition porn, you should pay for that, not taxpayers.
    Joseph B
    • JosephB you sound like a student whose "work in the internet industry" is as a stooge of a party posting their sill statements on forums.

      "Waste of taxpayers dollars." The government will borrow $27 billion over ten years to build the NBN and launch two satellites. The loan will be repaid by wholesaling to competing retail service providers. No taxpayer-funded budget items are cut to fund the NBN.

      "Most people have adequate broadband." Define adequate. 40% have no access to broadband. Another 30% have ADSL that never hits 2 Mbps at any time of day or night. Only 30% have ADSL faster than 2 Mbps - that isn't "most". And no-one can do offsite continuous trickle backup of their hard disks at the pitiful upload speeds of ADSL or wireless today. To do that you need $2000-a-month 10/10 SDSL - until we have sub-$100-dollar-a-month 50/20 Mbps NBN fibre.

      The 4G network, like HFC, shares bandwidth. Like ADSL you pay for a headline speed and get much less. Wireless doesn't do VoIP calls well, and certainly not video calls, but for lighter uses it will work as a mobility and blackspot secondary service, provided the real work is done on fixed fibre and not congesting the limited wireless spectrum.

      "you should pay for that, not taxpayers". The government will build the network, private industry will compete to supply services to customers. As private customers buy higher bandwidth services (e.g. IPTV), they will pay more to RSPs, who will pay more wholesale revenue to NBNCo, who will repay the borrowed build cost sooner. What could be simpler, more competition-oriented, and better for the consumer and the taxpayer, not to mention the country?

      "almost everyone I talk to" - you should get away from the city sometimes. Bring your smartphone, and good luck.
    • joseph B. in my area there are many streets that can't get ADSL due to pair gaining. these same people can't get reliable wireless reception due to the terrain.
      i see 2 solutions, lay new copper to all those affected or lay fibre.
      it isn't hard to see which is the smart way to go. Plus the fact that people are already complaining about ugly transmission towers and the radiation that comes from them.
  • I love these joke posts always good for a laugh.
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • What on earth is the internet industry?

    From starters you don't understand the technicalities of the NBN, it's a L2 ethernet network, that can provide many services (IPTV, VoIP etc.), not just your "internet industry". There is a reason NBN use the term RSPs (retail service providers) rather than ISPs (internet service providers).
  • @joseph B
    What a dumb comment; made me chuckle.
  • I think Mr Turnbull stated that this new wireless service from Telstra would make the NBN less viable. That must be correct as some people will opt for a wireless service if it suits them. Most young people are running around with wireless devices these days, will all of them drop those devices in favour of a fixed connection?
    I think the fibre NBN will roll out and be for many years a loss making enterprise, maybe just always a cost to the taxpayer.
    Blank Look
    • Young people grow up eventually. In the meantime they also consume iTunes and Foxtel if they have a fixed connection like ADSL or cable. The NBN will underpin universal wireless coverage so that it can be deliver faster and more reliably, with fewer towers, and with guaranteed 12 Mbps bandwidth at the premises (not at the tower!). Wireless data is expensive because spectrum is limited and data consumption is consequently rationed. Laying fixed fibre takes the bulkiest data off the overloaded airwaves onto optical fibre where it makes no impact at all.

      The NBN will be a loss-making exercise (if you don't count the taxes paid by the workers building and operating it) for under a decade. After that it will turn into a lucrative cash-cow for the public purse for as long as it stay in public ownership, hopefully forever.
  • When are you guys going to get it?? Turnbull and the Libs are NOT saying no NBN - of course they aren't; what they are saying is don't run fibre down every back street of Australia. Of course every hospital, doctor, dentist, police station, business, local government office etc etc need fibre to the door so they can exchange MRIs, land titles etc at high speed. What we do not need is every job blow having a fibre connection to his home. Wireless broadband is quite good enough for day to day email and internet searching activities as long a each regional centre has a fibre node. The difference in cost will be jaw dropping. At least 50% of the proposed cost will be saved. Oh and the propeller heads who post on this site can still have fibre to their homes as long as they are prepared to pay for the privilege.
    • Come clean guys, are you having a working bee at Malcolm Turnbull's office posting this stuff?
      • goes both ways
        • What Mal and Tony's offices?
  • Hey moonhead, did you know that radio waves travel at the speed of light (in a vacuum), mind you with some of the comments in this forum I wonder how many people have a vacuum between the ears.
    Blank Look
  • The difference between 3G and 4G is like the difference between dialup and fiber
  • Turnbull is right,,, BUT only if he can remove all the trees and buildings, remove all rain, and change the laws of physics. Only then can the NBN be redundant to Wireless.
  • The article headline is a little misleading. Turnbull said that 4G would make NBN less viable, not unviable. Given that most people are consumers of content, not producers, he is actually right. This doesn't mean that 4G is good enough for uploaders or for business, but for a large bulk of mum and dad households, it probably is. In order for the NBN to make it's margins, they need those mum and dad users to sign up.