Will 13 be lucky for 4G, NBN, and Labor?

Will 13 be lucky for 4G, NBN, and Labor?

Summary: With a 4G auction looming, 3G congestion nipping at its heels, the NBN in put-up-or-shut-up mode, and an election on its way, 2013 is certain to be a thrill a minute. But as analog TV gear stares at its future in the pit of obsolescence, can Labor avoid the same?


Amidst all the summer fun in the sun, every new year at Chez Full Duplex the stage is set for the most challenging game of sorts, which I will call Forced Obsolescence.

Out with the old, in with the new — but will analog TV be the only thing shown the door this year?
(Credit: David Braue/ZDNet)

The rules go like this: in sorting through the accumulations of the past year or ten, my better half will grab anything with a glossy surface, USB port, or wire hanging off of it — and then dangle it in the air. I then have approximately 10 seconds to come up with a reason for why it needs to be kept.

Well into this year's round — in which I was struggling to come up with feasible reasons to keep RS-232 cables and 8MB USB sticks — an old Pioneer DVR-630H DVD recorder, still in its box, saw the light of day for the first time since it was successfully spared (read: hidden) in last year's game.

This isn't your mod-cons DVD recorder, mind you. It was purchased in 2005, back when digital TV was still very much a novelty and it was perfectly acceptable to charge $1099 for a product that could only record analog TV broadcasts onto its hard drive or blank DVDs.

This unit's analog-only design means that less than 12 months from now, when the government shuts off Australia's last analog TV signal, it will literally become functionally obsolete. It will no longer do anything more than play DVDs, which itself has become a rapidly-fading activity thanks to the explosion of on-demand video. It is, in other words, an ex-DVD recorder.

I realised that not even the most far-fetched excuse was going to save this one, and I may or may not have shed the slightest tear as I farewelled the analog era early by putting the unit out with the last uneaten Christmas cakes.

Analog TV isn't the only thing that will look ever more frayed around the edges this year. After a flurry of late-year activity saw Stephen Conroy intervening to shore up the revenues from April's 4G spectrum auction — something that I've argued will end badly for a number of reasons — the future of 3G is certain to be a talking point this year.

Yes, 3G. If the 4G auction falls flat, as sabre-rattling by Vodafone Hutchison Australia and Optus suggests it might, those hoping for a smooth transition to 700MHz-based 4G services will be horribly frustrated. Existing 3G networks are already strained to breaking point in many areas, and despite all the hype, Telstra's 4G services are proving far from up to the task in many others. Customers, who have been notably complaining less about their carriers of late, just want a service that works; further delays to the process of making that happen will cause major issues this year.

Because of the NBN's size, expect the Coalition to single it out to voters as a classic example of Labor waste ...

Also dominating the telecoms space in 2013 will be, of course, the National Broadband Network (NBN). The network finished 2012 having built its momentum (although, some might argue just how much momentum), but still has quite a mountain to climb if it's ever going to stop being the butt of the Coalition's jokes.

NBN Co has to also manage an ever-broadening rollout that is complicated by whatever they find in Telstra's ducts; the intransigence of local councils over wireless antenna placement and other building issues; two-faced Liberal state governments that are unlikely to do Labor's NBN any favours; and the very real questions around whether the company can get enough skilled staff, quickly enough, to make it all happen.

Either way, one hopes that we can move the debate beyond the silly shell game we've seen to date: by distracting the mainstream media with a steady stream of curiously fact-flexible arguments. The Coalition has certainly managed to keep its incredibly vague FttN proposition in the limelight, even as Labor's NBN proceeds in fits and starts.

Those fits and starts will certainly play hard in the upcoming election, which, if run in the third quarter as many expect, is certain to see the NBN under the microscope as Tony Abbott strains to find a more literate way of objecting to Labor's plan to modernise the country's telecommunications infrastructure.

While his history of technological buffoonery suggests that he may struggle on this count, Malcolm Turnbull is certain to be hitting the electorate (and the media) in full force, continuing his duck-and-weave campaign against those who would happily consider the merits of his counter-proposal if he would just substantiate them.

Because of the NBN's size, expect the Coalition to single it out to voters as a classic example of Labor waste, even as it tries to find a palatable way to tell those voters that it will give them a less technically capable solution. Perhaps they can hire some of the marketing types who tried to push New Coke into the world by telling them it was better than the old stuff.

However it shapes up, this year's revolution will most certainly be televised.

Yet, if it just continues its time-honoured task of turning the NBN into a whipping-boy, the pressure on the Coalition to justify its FttN policy will increase tremendously. If Turnbull cannot provide realistic costing of a policy, which is likely to be far more expensive than he believes after all, how can the country then vote for it — and him — in good conscience? Will the Australian public really buy Abbott's "white elephant" claims, only to have it replaced with an older, greyer, slower pachyderm that's nearly as expensive to feed, but can't even be taught to spray water on the audience?

Thankfully, the debate this year will unfold free from the shackles of lemons like Conroy's filter policy, which he mercifully euthanised late in the year during his own policy-focused game of Forced Obsolescence. Labor simply cannot afford unpalatable distractions like that in such a crucial election year.

These cleared decks give Conroy full energy to focus on shaping a clear direction for 4G, magicking the NBN into existence, and hoping that 13 proves to be as lucky a number for Labor as 10. If so, the NBN's future will be secure; if not, and Abbott gets his way, we will be up for a change in direction the likes of which has not been seen since New Coke. And, I might suggest, only slightly more popular.

The Mayans never would have expected us to reach 2013 — talk about forced obsolescence — but we are here, and it's certain to be a pivotal year in telecommunications. However it shapes up, this year's revolution will most certainly be televised. But if you hope to catch it on your old analog gear, the clock is ticking. The gears are in motion, and the future awaits.

What are you expecting in 2013? Can Conroy convince 4G carriers to pony up for spectrum? Will the NBN start hitting its targets like it needs to? Will Turnbull ever cost his FttN plan? And, as the last analog TV shuts off, will an election defeat have made Labor, too, functionally obsolete?

Topics: Telcos, Government AU, NBN


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.

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  • its a concern that

    the 4G spectrum auction (if it happens) is becoming an exercise to raise funds for Conroy and co to spend rather than a sound business driven outcome, that is the spectrum is sold at a cost which allows business to make some money and users not be required to pay inflated costs for access. Otherwise we could end up with another hidden tax on users.
    I am sure the NBN will roll out under either party, I just hope someone comes to their senses and resolves the connection issue to stratra units and flats. If anything, that matter will blow out implementation costs.
    Blank Look
    • Sorry

      I admire your naivety and innocence
      I am very dubious that anything close to the NBN will be rolled out under the Libs, they are obsessed with the private sector and the private sector is only interested in rapid ROI and high profit margin. Large upfront and ongoing taxpayer subsidies will be required to achieve a limited shadow of what the NBN will offer.
      New developments including high rise apartments will of course have improved broadband, but apartments will only get a single broadband stream via cable pairs (FTTN) rather than 4 available data services plus a voice services.
      The rest of us - the good old lottery, regional - once again second rate and subject to government vagaries with their required taxpayer subsidies.
      Good news for those on HFC or with good ADSL - enjoy, as that is all you will ever have if you live in those areas regardless if the HFC is useable or not with greatly increased customer load, at least you will still be able to watch your Foxtel and Sky even if the broadband is rubbish during peak demand.
      We had our chance to build an economically viable communications platform for the many decades to come at no cost to the taxpayer, instead the taxpayer will be screwed over for a second rate solution.
      Remember it took 70 years for 90% copper Telephone coverage
      Abel Adamski
      • Abbott obsessed with the private sector?

        Please, the public contribution from the Liberals will be large. True not as obscene as Labor's, but for how long can they continue to pump into NBNCo the cash they have with such pathetically little to show for it?

        Oh and new developments will be fibre, as will greenfield, at least MDUs will actually get something (NBNCo still figuring it out), FTTN can rapidly provide improved data connections far more rapidly than FTTP, and many other market deliver successfully high speed data using FTTN and HFC networks today.

        Perhaps I'm just naive and innocent as well. Interesting tone of the article, now the suggestion that the NBNCo has some serious questions to answer - ignoring Conroys abusive spin. This year looks fun:-)
        Richard Flude
        • Werlcome back

          I hope you had a good break relearning the truth of the only real value in life, personal relationships and love of your family and friends.

          Glad you recognise the Libs solution will be a very large and ongoing taxpayer subsidy of the private sector with no return to the taxpayer whatsoever that will over the 20 odd years absolutely dwarf the cost of the NBN for a second rate solution that institutes and sets in stone a massive divide in both society and the economy for the forseeable future.
          Yes the FTTN plan would have been OK implemented years ago, but too late now
          Abel Adamski
          • "Yes the FTTN plan would have been OK implemented years ago, but too late now"

            Nailed it... but the dopes probably would have said the same thing about FttN if it was "implemented years ago" too. That's the coalition clown communication infrastructure legacy for you. Only do enough to make it seem like you are doing something without actually achieving anything, waste time and money in the process while criticising those that want do the hard work to build a network that is better value for money and far more functional.
            Hubert Cumberdale
          • Plenty to value in life

            I write this from Beunos Aires, Argentina. A beautiful and wealthy country being destroyed by another bad government.

            We don't know what the Libs solution is, but it is ridiculous to suggest it will be a Abbott small govt initiative (original post is deluded to suggest he is).

            A competitive data market for the vast majority of Australia's population would require zero subsidy. The only thing holding back private investment is the NBN. Transparent subsidies will be required in regional areas.

            The NBN has shown neither dividends or economic benefits three years into it. All spin very action. The funds wasted so far unprecedented.

            Why is he FTTN plan too late? Because a few thousand NBNCo customers might be affected?

            HFC is a more important infrastructure to be utilities anyway. Minimal private investment can get this going for millions of Austrlaians household in a very short timeframe. Bewildering this technology is to be excluded from competing with the NBN with massive public money.

            Plenty of technology and project options. An obsession with fibre and creation of yet another govt monoply will lead to the same disaster it has in any other area of service delivery.
            Richard Flude
          • Obsession with fibre?

            Gotta love the far right...They sob monetary wastage.

            But in the same breath promote privately owned HFC being allowed to scrape the creamy profits in populated areas while taxpayer money is gifted (WASTED) to these same companies (yes those who have ignored Australia's comms in the name of the all mighty $) to also build and own our network in the bush...

            Opposed to Aussie taxpayer reaping all of the benefits and it being shared around :/

            But thank you Richard for spilling your guts - "creation of yet another govt monopoly". It's now clear that you aren't opposed to the NBN per se` or FttP per se`, but opposed to the political undertones of this NBN!

            Ain't blind ideology grand..! We don't like wastage, but even more wastage is ok, if it's done our way :/

            BTW - asking why a FttN (what with the fibre obsession ;) plan is too late is like asking why car counting via cassette tape is too late?
          • FYI...

            Mr. Educated it's Buenos, not Beunos...
          • LOL

            Seems poor ol' RF cant get anything right. Maybe RF you should start to form your own opinions rather than regurgitate what you hear in the MSM...You sir are a wanker of epic proportions.
          • "HFC is a more important infrastructure to be utilities anyway"

            Hubert Cumberdale
          • Of course HFC

            It is the medium to deliver Ruperts Media and Propaganda products
            Abel Adamski
          • My Commiserations Richard

            I will reiterate
            "relearning the truth of the only real value in life, personal relationships and love of your family and friends."

            It is sad that the concept appears to be one you cannot comprehend,

            I will just leave it there
            Abel Adamski
        • "Perhaps I'm just naive and innocent as well?"

          ... No I'd say quite the opposite Richard, you are as cunning as the proverbial S.H rat and clearly here on a mission...!

          Anyone who is an educated person, as you claim to be, "without personal greed or political ideology being their main goal(s)", can see that FttN is a costly, obsolete technology, which by the time all the t's are crossed and i's dotted, will take almost as long as FttP, cost almost as much as FttP (initially), for only a small improvement over the pre-NBN network and vastly inferior to FttP.

          However in saying that, FttN will also need to be upgraded to FttP (perhaps before it's even completed) possibly bringing the cost to well above that of the current NBN roll out. Something always conveniently overlooked by the FttN fanbois.

          Add to that, with FttN, the Telstra factor - either a juicy buy out of their assets will be needed or allowing them to again run Australia's comms and dictate retail pricing and once again, we will be paying more for less... again another aspect always conveniently overlooked by the FttN fanbois. Also, as Abel says, ongoing subsidies will have to be paid to Telstra/private enterprise, with little or no return to the taxpayer ...

          That, vs. a 'vastly superior to FttN, universal ubiquitous, affordable NBN for all Australian's, paid for via debt (not income taxes) whereby user pays... repaying debt, equalling no cost to taxpayers and finally a valuable asset for possible resale, to benefit taxpayers.

          It is clear to me that, if one is able to put one's own predetermined partiality aside, that as the Panel of Experts said years ago, FttN is not viable (even less viable as each day goes by).

          But the most laughable part about all of this imo... back 5 or 6 years ago when FttN was being proposed (by the then opposition, now government) the then Howard government, had a similar spiel to their colleagues of today. Ironically, they back then suggested that FttN was 'wasteful and extravagant' and that they would provide a "better, cheaper network, sooner." In fact they referred to the FttN plan as Fraudband... but after the expert panel found FttN unviable and now many years later, the Coalition now embrace this fraudband/FttN :(

          But of course, Richard the car counter says FttN is the way to go, as the NBN will fail, because of course, he knows more about comms than a panel of telecommunications experts, more than NBNCo and their knowledgable, hands-on comms team and more than the likes of Mike Quigley and Harrison Young and the team of Corporate professionals at NBNCo, about running such an enterprise :/
          • Funny to have ones education and experience be critiqued by someone

            With neither experience nor education. Yet another post demonstrating a lack of even a basic understanding of my position.

            OT how do you decide the "experts" you blindly follow

            "Clearly here on a mission..." now a conspiracy as well;-) More unsupported allegations and nut job acquisations to follow.
            Richard Flude
          • Oh Richard please...

            You have previously hypocritically sobbed ad hom - personal attack, but apparently it's ok for you to refer to others as trolls or in this case nut jobs... you really do disgracefully believe you are superior don't you? Thinking that being the CIO of a car counting device company is the be all and end all and envy of everyone...

            Well I can guarantee you it is not... but I congratulate you for all the hard work and reaching your goal Richard... kudos.

            However, unlike you, I am not here to self promote or try to belittle anyone by suggesting narcissistic personal superiority. I just believe the NBN will be most advantageous for Aussies.

            But in saying that Mr car counter, what would you say if I said I can 'almost' guarantee you that you or your family have one of my products in your very home. I do NOT have one of your's and never will?

            Anyway, enjoy Argentina Richard and if I may be so bold, suggest if you haven't done so, head south and check out Ushuaia, it's most picturesque... reminded me a lot of Meersburg (Germany)... sans the castles of course :)
          • One of your products?

            Seriously? Surely you don't think this is the only job I've ever had.

            I suggest you read your past claims about me before crying innocence. "Nut job" accusations (apologies for fat fingers, ipod touch, and other distractions) a fair description (eg being MT? ).

            You're right, he south of he south truly a wonderful place. This time north.
            Richard Flude
          • Enjoy your holiday Richard...

            I know if I were again abroad I wouldn't bother with this though. Then I'm not the one on a mission, am I ;)
          • Speaking of education critique...


            Seriously :/
  • Sorry David

    you have failed the test, no true techo allows anything with cables, contacts, resistors, capacitors, IC's, PCB's to be thrown out.
    Blank Look