Turnbull's Small Town Thinking

Turnbull's Small Town Thinking

Summary: Malcolm Turnbull has criticised the NBN approach for ignoring the VDSL potential in areas currently slated for wireless coverage. When you look at the current ADSL penetration in these areas you can see, he has a point.

TOPICS: NBN, Broadband, Australia

Small town Australian could be missing out under the current NBN rollout plans. As it stands, half a million premises will be hooked-up to the new network via fixed wireless connections, offering speeds up to 25 Mbps. That's better than ADSL2+, but not as good as Malcolm Tunrbull's proposed vectored DSL, which could deliver speeds up to 100 Mbps.

The criterion for wireless (and satellite) connectivity is, to an extent, determined by the size of the locality. Towns with more than 1,000 premises will get fibre to the premises. Less than that, residents will be connected by wireless or satellite, unless they are close to the NBN transit network. That includes some locations with less than 500 premises.

Yet the vast majority of localities with between 300 and 1,000 properties have their own phone exchange and, generally, ADSL2+ coverage. And you don't have to study too many coverage maps to realise the geographic spread of these towns is often constrained, so VDSL coverage could be attained with just a few of the infamous Turnbull cabinets in the streets.

Take Texas in Queensland, as an example. It has DSL2+ coverage for just 300 premises and a population of 640. As the map shows, many of the houses are built around a small number of centrally located streets. You'll find the same situation with most small towns the length and breadth of the country.

View Larger Map

The folks at Walla, 40kms north of Albury-Wodonga, have been protesting about the building of a 55 metre NBN wireless tower in the middle of their town. Walla is home to just 540 people (198 premises) and it too has its own phone exchange with DSL coverage. Surely upgrading to VDSL would prove more cost effective than building a tower (reported to cost $240,000) and having residents install outdoor antennas on their roofs.

Turnbull's argument becomes more pronounced when you consider that the copper has to remain active in these towns anyway. Telstra is getting paid $230 million per year to ensure the maintenance of a standard telephone service across the country, thanks to a 20 years agreement with the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA). A standard telephone service requires a fixed line, so in those areas slated for wireless and satellite coverage, copper connectivity will be around for a long time to come.

And it's not a small number of people we are talking about. Upgrading to VDSL could potentially see up to 800,000 Australians receive speeds faster than the proposed wireless solution. Possibly more. The graph below shows that more than 1 million people live in towns with between 100 and 1,000 premises. As the size of the locations reduces (below 100 premises) they become scattered, with many too far from a local exchange to support DSL technology. Even so, there are many towns with less than 100 premises (like Broke in NSW, Tullah in Tasmania, and Guildford in Victoria) that have their own exchanges, with at least ADSL1 deployed.

(Image: Phil Dobbie/ZDNet)

There would be some losers if wireless coverage was foregone for a VDSL deployment. Outlying properties, like farms, might be reduced from wireless to satellite coverage, with an increase in latency. But folks in town will see a definite improvement. It highlights one of the issues with the NBN. As iiNet CTO John Lindsay puts it, "There's a tendency to take away good service from some people to provide adequate service for all people, and that feels fundamentally wrong."

There's a further complication. Telstra, can continue to offer ADSL services over its copper in these small towns, even when the NBN wireless solution is active. So long as the copper isn't upgraded to deliver speeds faster than 25 Mbps. Introducing a new, faster service requires ministerial permission. That leaves the way open for Telstra to undercut the NBN. Consumers can choose price or speed. I wonder which way they'll go?

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Australia


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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  • Have to agree

    I have to agree with Mal on this, if they already have an exchange in place why wouldn't NBNco utilise VDSL in these townships, rather than fixed wireless, it absolutely makes sense.

    Finally a decent thought has come out of his head.

    • "it absolutely makes sense."

      The assumption is if the speed claims of Turnbull are achievable. I doubt Turnbull will actually risk it. He'll stick to the wireless service he knows will achieve the speeds claimed and then come up with excuses: "we'll you know the umm, the budget allocated, we already have wireless and can't umm, afford any more nodes, we ummm installed 70,000 and wasted $30+ billion of taxpayers money on this hopeless FttN network already..."
      Hubert Cumberdale
      • Speed

        Even if he doesn't gaurantee a speed i think its still a good idea i know i would prefer a "landline" over a "wireless" line any day of the week.

        Not saying they will implement it for who knows how many reasons i just think if the infrastructure is there why not use it.
      • On the other hand...

        I think the relevance here HC is that if you plonk a node right at the exchange, pretty much everyone in the township will be within the 800m loop distance.

        Not being sure where in Texas the Telstra exchange is (assuming High St), if there was a node on the corner of Cadell or Avon and St John (as per map above, then thats pretty much the case here at worst.

        And once you're looking at zero fibre rollout needed (or 1 node approx 200m from exchange at worst to centralise it), a lot of towns can get a FttN or VDSL speed with relatively small outlay.

        Personally, thats where the ISP's come into it. Theres nothing to say they cant roll out FttN in these townships, its pretty much a captive market for whoever gets there first.

        Mix of technologies is one of the few things The Turnbull has consistently gotten right. Unfortunately, his percentage mix (71% Fttn 22% FttH) is the wrong way around. But if Labor had looked at this sort of situation and been willing to look at FttN for these cluster townships, then there would be even less argument over which plan was better.
        • Yes, I'm not arguing that at all Gav. My only point was that whatever Tumball is saying now is "just words";-)

          Agree with you on the percentage mix. Whatever is rolled out it makes sense that the majority needs to be fibre else it's just a colossal waste of time and money. If you think about it the coaltion clowns could have gone as low as 51% for FttP and had a somewhat respectable policy. 22% is laughable.
          Hubert Cumberdale
    • Reality bites

      I wonder why the current VDSL supplier didn't just jump into this all too obvious market?
      (where are the sarcasm icons when you need them)

      And what is the cost/return for "Telstra to undercut the NBN" in relation to the 198 customers (if they get 100% take-up) of Walla ... will it be a zero cost proposition to;
      - roll out fibre to each street corner
      (and possible within a street if over the proposed VDSL transmission length)
      - install and maintain cabinets,
      - upgrade exchanges

      How do all the facts get lost?
  • Well...

    It is certainly an option to consider.

    "Finally a decent thought has come out of his head." Agree GENIII.

    If only MT did this more often, rather than just opposing for thre sake of opposition.
    • Plenty of alternatives, when prepared to listen

      What about the continued use of copper here? Oh the irony.

      Restrictions on competition also interesting to note.

      Ministerial permission required to offer alternatives is revolting; current minister the one who tried to restrict media freedoms. There's much we'll learn about Conroy in the future audits and after the lifting of his abuse & threats.
      Richard Flude
      • Yes there are plenty of options Richard...

        And FttP via the current NBN is easily the best option... no one has yet been able to disprove it. All we hear is, homes passed and asbestos :/

        However, as shown people such as my self are willing to listen.

        Perhaps you ought to try it too, even only once :)
      • Your preference?

        Why not if the infrastructure is there why not use it surely xDSL is better than wireless for these people in these small towns?

        Whilst there is not one single comparision you can seriously make between xDSL and FTTP that xDSL comes out in front. It surely beats these small towns (where xDSL infrastructure is in place) being stuck on wireless. So for that i agree with Mal.

        If there is no infrastructure well then give them wireless.
        • I suggest you read RS previous comments re copper to see the irony

          Read his "willing to listen" as "my previous comments were ignorant".
          Richard Flude
          • Really Richard...

            Your previous NBN hating comments were irrational ideological twaddle, all revolving around a financial stake in fibre roll out. Had you anything sensible to add, I would have agreed, but alas :(

            You will find this foreign, but ideology and selfishness/greed don't dictate my POV.
          • RS copper comments laughable

            When exposed you continued, producing one of the best comments ever; your hypocrisy and ignorance again in full display.

            Really fun days.
            Richard Flude
          • Careful Richard...

            You aren't being rude again are you?

            Seems to always occur after I simply mention the ideology and finances, you already told us about...

            So fun days indeed, because as for the ideology...

            You told us oppose the NBN because you are a libertarian who disagrees with government ownership. ... which part of this ISN'T ideological opposition?

            Then you also told us your company rolls out fibre and since companies are rolling out NBN fibre and you hate the NBN, well?

            Anyway I'm sure we all know whey you are here by now...

            So which part of these two statements I made do you seem to be having trouble comprehending now...?

            "It is certainly an option to consider (a general non-commital comment in relation to the article)."

            "And FttP via the current NBN is easily the best option... no one has yet been able to disprove it. All we hear is, homes passed and asbestos :/" (a general comment in relation to the topic, but looking at the big picture)?

            You somehow (after going through the confirmation bias filter) consider this a glowing endorsement of copper... really?
          • Again, be as rude as you like

            You were asked for at least a year to be civil; you choose not to. Months ago I said abuse away. Your posts removed for offense, incorrectly accusing me of complaining about them (a long list of accusations you've been wrong about; I see your making even more).

            I choose to be a libertarian (duh), believing in small govt as it is wasteful and unproductive. NBNCo the latest example. Clearly you had no idea what it meant; nor do I think you do today ("disagrees with govt ownership"?). What part is irrational? From the guy dismissive of both experience and qualifications it is amusing to read of the difficulties previously predicted now coming to pass. Talkbacks a wonderful historical record. A coalition NBNCo audit will make for enjoyable reading.

            You claimed the copper network was "obsolete" and was to be retired years ago (inane references to senate evidence, which history had already disproven). Yet now in regional areas the network is suitable for FTTN.

            RS: (n) ignorance, hypocrisy, clown
            Richard Flude
          • "RS: (n) ignorance, hypocrisy, clown"

            RS is not a member of the Liberal or National parties.
            Hubert Cumberdale
          • And certainly...

            Not a far right lunatic/libertarian :)
          • Obviously...

            Written and spoken on behalf of the libertarian movement by their most educated and professional, executive.
          • Obsolete copper...

            Ooh about the "obsolete copper"...

            Here's an interesting article from Steve Forbes (isn't he a conservative leaning libertarian)...

            "In the last century, we have seen many technologies come and go. Before the car, came the horse and buggy; before computers, there were typewriters; and before wireless and fiber broadband networks, there was copper wire.

            There aren’t many horse and buggies on the road and most of us don’t have typewriters sitting on our desks. So why are copper networks still so widely used although **they have been rendered obsolete*** by next-generation technologies?

            The simple answer is that federal, state and local regulations are stuck in the past."... cont...

          • Libertarians dont dislike goverent?

            I also can't wait for the audit. Mostly i can't wait to read the severe bias the parameters of the audit are going to create. That or i will laugh so hard when it reccomends a primarily fttp network.

            However in terms of an outsiders point of view to this blog. I am going to have to say that you Richard are appearing to be the aggressive offensive one. This is not always the case in the blogs.

            Again you are also showing to be the the least open minded. With most of the fttp supporters turning around and sayin that yes, in this case a small fttn network would be faster than the alternative. This is by no means an acceptence that FttN is universally better.

            If a libertarian is one that believes government is "wasteful amd unproductive" then the logical conclusion from this statement is that they do not like government. Personal opinion and emotive reasoning always affects judgement and beliefs no matter how hard one tries to be unbiased. So while it may be wrong to say you "hate" government ownership. Your libertarian views dictate that ideaology will be the primary factor for your opposition. This bias will then influence what you research and will lead you to find facts to support your theory. Rather than the other way around.

            I am also prone to this bias. I acknowledge this. However i willing to admit that in this situation for those people a fttn setup would most likely be cheaper and faster than the alternative (that being a wireless tower).