Will Turnbull put his money where his 3G is?

Will Turnbull put his money where his 3G is?

Summary: If Malcolm Turnbull takes out that bloody iPad one more time during an NBN interview, I'm going to break something.

SHARE:

If Malcolm Turnbull takes out that bloody iPad one more time during an NBN interview, I'm going to break something.

Over the long weekend, I finally found enough contiguous time to watch the entire 45 minutes of the ABC's commendable Four Corners report on the NBN (transcript here). And what I saw was pretty simple: lots of people supporting the case for the NBN; consensus that current services are woeful; and the argument that rural and regional Australians deserve the same-quality broadband as those who live in the city.

There were, of course, dissenters: Robert Kenny, for example, a UK telecoms analyst with Communications Chambers. Kenny raised eyebrows around the world in November after co-authoring a thought piece that was less than positive about the idea of FttP in general — yet, while he was happy to rehash his arguments for Four Corners, he had no suggestion on how to resolve Australia's disastrous Telstra privatisation.


"How many bloody Gs are there?" Ozzy isn't the only one having trouble with wireless.
(Screenshot by David Braue/ZDNet Australia)

There was also a video chat with ex-Telstra loudmouth Phil Burgess, who said largely the same things he said while working for Telstra, arguing that the company was a hard-done-by corporate citizen just trying to do the right thing by its customers, er, shareholders.

And, laughably, there was Paul Broad, head of AAPT — which sold its consumer ISP business to iiNet last September for $60 million because it can't make a profit delivering consumer internet — complaining that the NBN's anti-cherry-picking laws would prevent him from giving customers "significantly lower" prices than available on the NBN. Except, you know, to consumers or anybody else that AAPT can't service profitably.

Given that AAPT doesn't serve the consumer market anymore, Broad's comments mix his company's wholesale customer base with the broad customer base to be reached by the NBN — an egregious error of omission that taints his entire anti-NBN argument. Broad is not so much against the NBN as in favour of cherry-picking, but there doesn't appear to be a way to have the first of these without controlling the second.

Sure, Turnbull loves his iPad ...But his regular iPad-wielding appearances, intended to offer a counterpoint to the NBN and his belief that underemployed and largely untested future 4G LTE services are the way of the future do nothing but support the cause of the NBN's proponents.

Then there was Turnbull, whose unending campaign of FUD and, shall we say, flexible economics is matched only by his unfailing belief in the power of wireless. Sure, Turnbull loves his iPad, and that's great. But his regular iPad-wielding appearances, intended to offer a counterpoint to the NBN and his belief that underemployed and largely untested future 4G LTE services are the way of the future do nothing but support the cause of the NBN's proponents.

I and many other commentators have opined at length about the wireless fallacy, but recent events in the wireless market say far more about the reasons wireless is, as the more level-headed proponents argue, a complement to the NBN rather than an argument against it.

Just ask the thousands of soon-to-be-ex-Vodafone customers who were unable to text Easter greetings to loved ones, or even call them, after the latest in a series of disastrous cock-ups by our third-largest telco. Vodafone's comedy of errors, repeated mea culpas and apologies and its seeming inability to deliver anything resembling a reliable 3G service have brought the word "Vodafail" into common usage, and spawned a musical parody that's worth viewing even if you hate Lady Gaga.

Yes, these disasters have put into stark contrast the inherent weaknesses in wireless communications models, and painted an uncertain future for a major telecoms operator whose network has reached saturation and could very well have no customers left to use what the company has promised us will be a thoroughly modern network built from the ground up.

Given these very real, very ongoing, very problematic issues with Vodafone's wireless network, it's laughable for Turnbull to now sit in front of a camera and argue that "as people get faster speeds with fourth generation wireless, LTE wireless, where you can get on a device like this 100Mbps over 4G, I think a lot of people will say this is the essential device and I won't spend so much on the fixed-line alternative."

Back in the real world, mobile customers are struggling to make phone calls from many of the places where they spend their days (and it's not just Vodafone to blame here: for the record, I'm getting a bit tired of missing phone calls and radio interviews because Optus' network refuses to let me make or receive phone calls even from five-bar coverage areas). They've got a 50/50 chance of actually being able to do the thing they need to do using 3G wireless, and they're so fed up with it that even long-time believers in telecoms competition are swallowing their pride and going back to Telstra.

Back in the real world, local councils are scraping dollars together to fill in coverage blackspots. Our mobile networks are so patchy that carriers are now selling us femtocells that will actually let us use our mobiles within a certain radius around our homes (and, ironically, require a good broadband connection to function). That's all well and good, but you can't use anybody else's femtocell — so how are the devices going to help anybody that actually likes to use their mobile when they are, oh, I don't know, mobile?

The answer is clear: they're not. If ever there was proof that the private sector will never deliver the kind of wireless broadband coverage that Australia needs, femtocells are it. And as wireless usage increases and spectrum constraints remain, it will become clearer and clearer that consumers hoping to live an all-wireless future will be waiting a very, very long time. As was said in the Four Corners report — and in so many other places — wireless is no replacement for the NBN. As I demonstrated last year, Telstra's copper network is no replacement for the NBN, even if it's patched up as per the Coalition's telecoms policy.

I challenge him to spend the month of May using his 3G-attached iPad and notebook for all of his regular working tasks — his speech writing, researching, web browsing, streaming of online video, videoconferencing and so on — and document his experiences, honestly and accurately on his blog... he must live off wireless broadband (and not Wi-Fi) everywhere he goes — at home, at the office, at the airport, on the train, during top-secret Coalition factional strategy meetings; wherever.

So where does this leave us? Seeing a report like the one on Four Corners, it's hard to reach any other conclusion than that the only way forward — that doesn't involve treading water for years to come, I mean — is the model the government is currently trying to build. Biased, partisan arguments do nothing to advance the cause of our country's overall broadband infrastructure; find me an NBN-hater without their own agenda, and I'll find you an iPad-user who can get decent 3G speeds back of Bourke (or, even, Redfern).

Which brings me to the crux of this column. Turnbull and his iPad have become such a common fixture that I'd like to see him put his proverbial money where his mouth is. I challenge him to spend the month of May using his 3G-attached iPad and notebook for all of his regular working tasks — his speech writing, researching, web browsing, streaming of online video, videoconferencing and so on — and document his experiences, honestly and accurately on his blog. This means he must live off wireless broadband (and not Wi-Fi) everywhere he goes — at home, at the office, at the airport, on the train, during top-secret Coalition factional strategy meetings; wherever.

I'd offer to do the same but, like you, I have work that actually needs to get done. But if Turnbull honestly believes the future of broadband is wireless — as he so confidently stated on Four Corners — he should have no hesitation in taking up this challenge. And if things turn out for him as I suspect they will — and he's honest enough to admit it which I'd like to believe he will be — perhaps we can finally dispense with this politicised debate and let NBN Co get the traction its detractors refuse to allow.

What do you think? Will Turnbull accept the challenge? Or does he need to? And if you're one of the many having 3G problems, what are you doing about them? How does this all affect your thoughts on the NBN?

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Mobility, Networking, Telcos

About

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.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

84 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I like the challenge and malcolm should accept it.

    I have to also admit that I LURVE my Telstra mobile broadband - at 21Mbit at most locations I visit it is much-much faster than my ADSL2 serivce at 9.1Mbit.
    jeroenps
    • 21Mbit peak. I too have used the 21Mbps Telstra NextG service, and in practice it is more like 3Mbps with pretty average latency. That said, it is vast improvement over the Optus & Vodafail 3G services.

      But none of those have anything on ADSL2+. Latency is about 1/10th that of wireless, and speeds are consistent, not variable.
      tenoqx
  • No, because you seemed to have smoked one too many prohibited substances, since if you are arguing for wireless you should be arguing for 4G, and not 3G, which is a decade old designed system (and btw, every deployed 4G, not 3G, system around the world, in real world situations, has ~12mbit speeds using the same amount of spectrum as 3G systems).

    Using your logic we should be complaining that fixed line internet is **** when using dialup as an example

    Oh and of course, throw baseless ad hominems and unsubstantiated arguments into the mix which is this article, and you would have an article thats about as useful as toilet paper, if only I wasn't reading it on a screen.....

    Couldn't expect anything more though, *clap clap*
    deteego
    • Misinformation as usual. "every deployed 4G, not 3G, system around the world, in real world situations, has ~12mbit speeds using the same amount of spectrum as 3G systems"

      You'd better tell that to Verizon customers, because despite the tiny customer base, they are getting an average of just 6.4Mbps over 4G, with a best speed of 9.5 and a worst of 0.5.

      As users increase, it's quite clear that 4G will be lucky to deliver anything (in the real world) better than 3G.
      HazTechDad
      • I know Verizon customers, and there have been various tests done on the internet, and the AVERAGE speeds are ~12mbits. I never said that everyone gets 12mbits, but it goes from 6 to around 30mbits (yes there are people on the Verizon 4G getting ~30/10 mbits down)

        Also the same results from Swedens TeliaSoner. You even have similar results here in Australia with vividwireless, and that was a new startup company that barely has many mobile towers

        Also the whole point of 4G is it has multiplexing for much better support for concurrent users using the same cell (OFDMA instead of CDMA), which means contention is a lot less on 4G then equivalent 3G. If you actually read what 4G is here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4G) you will see that the difference between the two is like the difference between dialup and xDSL (or xDSL and fiber). There is also MIMO

        3G was NEVER designed for internet use, it was designed for voice services, sms and mms. The internet ontop of 3G that we have now was done in a hackish way to address the massive surge that came from smartphone use (mainly from iphone). 4G was a new standard (which is why it also requires new hardware) specifically to address the issues that came about from multiple people using wireless creating high contention
        deteego
        • This would be the same Verizon being investigated for failing to deliver 10,000 911 emergency calls in Washington DC during the January snow storms.

          Give me reliable (four-decades-old) fixed optical fibre anyday over sole reliance on wireless.
          umbria
          • But of course copper could do that as well eh umbria? and we have it already.
            advocate-d95d7
          • We've all been here before (and the same FUDulent idiocy keep resurfacing from the same FUDulenet idiots) - dirt roads and horse and carts could do their jobs too.

            Bet you swear by dial-up too, well do you?
            Rizz-cd230
          • I have copper to my house. 4Mbit/s, and it drops out all the time - as bad as wireless.
            evilsync
          • So, technically, it's not a fallacy to say that 3G provides many users with an equivalent experience to fixed-line connections. :-P
            braue
        • "3G was never designed for Internet use"?

          Really? You should mention that to the carriers that have spent billions on it.

          To wit, see Optus' release from the launch of its 3G services in Canberra (http://bit.ly/l1ROXw) in April 2005:

          ....

          "Optus today unveiled its 3G network at an official ceremony in Canberra. Optus is the first carrier to provide 3G (W-CDMA) services in the Nation’s Capital. The initial roll out will enable Canberra-based businesses and government agencies to access and download data via the Optus3G mobile network.

          “Today we are entering into a new era of mobility. We are now one step closer to a world of anywhere, anytime access,” Allen Lew, Managing Director, Optus Mobile said.

          “3G gives customers a faster, richer and more personalised service on their mobile. Moving from 2G to 3G will revolutionise the way people work – the changes in speed are as significant as moving from dial up to broadband internet.

          “We have identified the business applications of 3G as critical factors in the take up of the newservice. This product is so valuable to corporates and businesses that we are offering it to them first,” Mr Lew said.

          “Accessing and downloading files and applications more quickly while on the move provides very real, immediate benefits to business users. Data applications are more engaging and easier to use."
          ....
          braue
          • They are talking about speed and data applications, not heavy internet use, try again.

            There is a reason that 4G is not backwards compatible with 3G in terms of end user hardware. 3G is like adding stuff ontop of a bike to turn it into a car, where as 4G is a properly designed car in the first place

            Although I don't like quoting wikipedia, you should probably educate yourself on their page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4G about 4G and see why 4G is specifically designed to address the issue of high usage IP based services on wireless networks
            deteego
          • 4g is just that, and I'm in the telco software business. It is the 4th generation. Yes, there are optimizations etc that make better use of spectrum, but 3g was and is just as much of a data network as 4g.

            The bare fact is that between any two WIRED points, you get to use, essentially, the full spectrum in the wire. You can then have as many wires as you like, each containing the full spectrum. Between the same two points in WIRELESS, you have a single instance of the spectrum. So let's say you use a specific 1 GHz of spectrum for your signal... in WIRELESS you have just that 1Ghz, once. In WIRED you can have as many 1 GHz wires as you care to build.

            So compared to wireless, there isn't really any limit to the bandwidth available to wired connections. Each connection may have a limit, but you can have as many wired connections as you like, between two points.
            frednurk-54c17
          • "Internet use" != "data applications"? Seriously?

            Re 4G speeds, have a read through http://bit.ly/kAmvHy and note the wide variability in 4G speeds being experienced now by VividWireless users. My glance through them saw far more speeds at way less than 12Mbps than near or over it.

            And re LTE, I am well aware of its capability to better cater for heavy usage (FWIW I actually wrote a tutorial on it at http://apcmag.com/4g-is-coming.htm) but it's not the technical capabilities of 4G that are up for questioning here. I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on the kind of market stimulus or government intervention that will be necessary to fund the construction of a 4G network (or, in the spirit of infrastructure competition, two 4G networks) with the kind of capacity and, more importantly, geographical coverage to make the fibre NBN unnecessary. Would you say there is enough private-sector capital available in Australia to make this happen? And, if so, how would you convince investors to build in rural and regional areas they have so far largely ignored?
            braue
          • No there is a difference (especially regarding latency) in IP, and specifically HTTP applications (which use TCP) and other applications which 3G was released in response to (MMS, initial video calling, etc etc)

            TCP which is the protocal that the http web uses, is incredibly sensitive to delay (basic network communications 101). This is something that 4G address's, 3G does not (or not very well). There is also the use of multiple spectrums to actually deliver speeds higher then 44 mbits, something that 3G cannot do (i.e. heavy bandwidth intensive internet)

            " I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on the kind of market stimulus or government intervention that will be necessary to fund the construction of a 4G network (or, in the spirit of infrastructure competition, two 4G networks) with the kind of capacity and, more importantly, geographical coverage to make the fibre NBN unnecessary. "

            Can you please show me where you are getting this National Wireless instead of fixed line rollout idea? There isn't a single point in the coalitions, or Malcolm Turnbulls policy that outlines this (in fact, ironically, was made in the McKinsey report released by labor government where they were arguing to provide the same speeds as fiber there would need to be a tower on every street, which is both a strawman and not technically accurate)

            The coalition wants the private industry to promote telecommunications infrastructure where they can, something which hasn't been possible due to a vertically integrated telstra. That does not mean, nor has it ever, that they wan't to roll out a national wireless

            No one is advocating this, I am not, the coalition is not, and the labor government is not. As with every other country, we provide subsidised funding to provide broadband in regional areas, but otherwise wireless is completely privately funded, and all the telcos are already upgrading to 4G.
            deteego
          • Coalition policy is to upgrade bodgy Telstra exchanges so people who are supposed to be getting ADSL2+ can actually get it. Then they will use wireless to fill in the rest of the broadband blackspots, and deliver a minimum 12Mbps to all Australians. This was clearly delineated in the Coalition's 2010 Election Policy document. Page 3 at http://bit.ly/mPgL10. And I quote:

            "The Coalition will commit up to $1 billion in grant funding for new fixed wireless networks in rural and remote Australia. We will commit up to an additional $1 billion in investment funding for new fixed wireless networks in metropolitan Australia, with an emphasis on outer metropolitan areas."

            Doesn't sound "completely privately funded" to me. And yes, I recognise the difference between 4G and fixed broadband. But they both face spectrum constraints that have been widely discussed in discussions about Coalition policy here and elsewhere.
            braue
      • Telstra has already mentioned that they are releasing 4G so they can fit more people on, not to gain higher speeds.
        evilsync
        • "Telstra has already mentioned that they are releasing 4G so they can fit more people on, not to gain higher speeds."

          They mean the same thing, bandwidth is shared. You either have a small amount of users that can download fast, or vice versa

          This is what I mean when I say that the difference between 3G and 4G is the difference between dialup and xDSL, or xDSL or fiber. For the SAME amount of spectrum, 4G supports much better speeds or many more users (for the same contention) or somewhere in between.

          Furthermore 4G has MIMO, which allows to use multiple spectrum to deliver the same data, which is what allows 4G to get speeds of above 44mbits. 3G is not even capable of this
          deteego
    • Oh, and here's another one. This time showing speeds of 7.4Mbps for Verizon 4G/LTE and just 1.76Mbps for Sprint WiMax/4G.
      http://www.gottabemobile.com/2011/02/09/sprint-4g-vs-verizon-lte-speedtest-in-san-francisco/

      You really want to claim that "every real world 4G network is delivering 12Mbps"?
      HazTechDad
      • You do realize that verizon has only upgraded a few towers to 4G, not their entire network?

        Also here is a speedtest that shows the AVERAGE and not some ONE OFF CASES. Oh, its around 10 mbits
        http://www.geekosystem.com/verizon-4g-speed-fastest/

        And lets compare it with the speeds of the other carriers which are still on 3G

        Shoo fly, don't bother me. Maybe you can right the next article with David to intentionally misrepresent people
        deteego