The tragedy of losing SKA on bandwidth

The tragedy of losing SKA on bandwidth

Summary: It would be a tragedy if Australia and New Zealand lost the proposed $2 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project due to the price of our bandwidth.

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TOPICS: Broadband, NBN
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It would be a tragedy if Australia and New Zealand lost the proposed $2 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project due to the price of our bandwidth.

Leaks surfaced this week saying that a confidential report by the SKA panel had judged South Africa's bid to be stronger than Australia and New Zealand's to host the world's most powerful telescope, which will be able to survey the sky 10,000 times faster than existing technology.

Behind the joint bid is $400 million in Australian state and federal funding, as well as a decade of scientific work. Included is $80 million being spent on supercomputing resources to crunch the numbers for the telescope and other projects.

However, the investment doesn't appear to have been enough to get us over the line, which seems absurd. How could developed nations like ours, with stable political environments and massive broadband projects lose out to South Africa?

Can it really be true that we, on either side of the Tasman, will lose out because of higher costs for power and transmitting the large amounts of data to be created, as the reports state?

Paul Brislen, chief executive of the Telecom Users Association of New Zealand, expressed outrage that the expense of NZ bandwidth meant the country was set to lose out on this "opportunity to stamp New Zealand's place in the scientific community".

He quotes NZ-born grid computing personality Ian Foster as saying that New Zealand lags so far behind the rest of the globe in connectivity that universities miss out on taking part in global research.

Data transfers on the scale that Foster talks about are common around the world, but would make the average New Zealand user duck for cover. The Hadron Collider, for example, puts out 15 petabytes of data a year. We don't get direct access to that amount of data because of the cost.

This isn't a science problem, or an innovation problem. This isn't about the SKA contract going elsewhere. This is the solution to all our economic troubles being ignored and pushed aside. This is an economic tragedy unfolding. Instead of New Zealand being seen as the place where innovation thrives, where talent wants to live, it becomes the place where we could have filmed, could have built, could have grown but chose instead to be poor.

Of course, governments at both sides of the Tasman will cite their own extensive investments in broadband to refute Brislen's claims. As ZDNet Australia reported last year, Innovation Minister Kim Carr said that Australia's National Broadband Network was one of the drawcards in the trans-Tasman bid. New Zealand, which has its own ultra-fast broadband project, no doubt stressed its own broadband credentials.

The final decision hasn't been made yet, but if we do lose the bid, will it be for other, political, reasons, or because our broadband projects are somehow lacking?

Topics: Broadband, NBN

Darren Greenwood

About Darren Greenwood

Darren Greenwood has been in journalism, not all of it IT, since the days of typewriters and long before the web spun its way around the world.

Coming from Yorkshire, he can be blunt, and though having resided in New Zealand, as well as Australia, for quite some time, he insists he is not one of the 'sheeple!'

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10 comments
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  • Ahem - it's not just New Zealand, since exactly the same situation applies in Australia.

    Do you think Malcolm Turnbull would understand the need for a scalable, real high-speed national comms network if we explained it to him slowly, citing the SKA project as a perfect example of what we could achieve?
    anonymousI
  • Reality is this. The NBN build has no impact in the SKA project at all.
    The NBN is an end user service designed to connect our homes as business to eachother, and to connect us to local agregation\peering points for when our traffic needs to go offshore.

    The connectivy to each of the SKA sites will require dedicated fibre for its own use, not shared with half the state. The traffic will not traverse the NBN or its backhaul.
    So you have that SKA dedicated fire build, then the real ongoing cost is the overseas transit, which has been a problem for years and still is a major problem - even without the SKA pumping as much traffic as it will.
    Unless all the data generated is stored and processes locally, our overseas transit is not up to pushing this much data relibably. Our overseas transit is already highly contended and its not cheap.

    IMO.
    anthonywr
    • "The NBN build has no impact in the SKA project at all."

      Not true. As more people sign up to the NBN, more and more traffic is going to be generated. The demand will mean that more overseas transit cables will need to be laid which will in turn decrease the cost of data as the different companies who own the cable will start to compete with each other for the customer base.
      colonel.mattyman
  • Where in the SKA report did it say that there was an issue with the cost of bandwidth in Australia? The report so far deals with the technical merits of the proposals, not the financial and polictical issues.
    In fact, the report said that there wasn't much to separate the two proposals, but South Africa's proposal was slightly better, in that including such items as being at a higher elevation, hence less atmospheric issues and similar design issues.
    As an aside, the SKA wouldn't use the NBN for its primary links, as it would have its own fibre connecting it within Australia, and the data to research institutions would probably run over AARNet resources. Internationally is another issue, but that would use existing links as well. No NBN involved at all.
    frank.crawford
  • Hi Frank,

    I don't believe the report itself is available yet, but has been leaked, with resulting news reports, which say a difference between the bids was the costs of power and transferring data.
    suzanne.tindal
  • Who cares, we just want our fibre.
    Knowledge Expert
    • Those with intelligence care, so...
      Beta-9f71a
      • that means beta has no idea????
        Knowledge Expert
        • Dear oh dear...!
          Beta-9f71a
  • Having come from South Africa, I can't see how broadband can be the issue. South Africa's broadband is not only much more expensive and a lot slower than Australia's, it is lower quality and getting the information to the rest of the world depends on 2 undersea cables that are pretty much at full capacity as it is.
    riichardcb