Good enough 5G fixed-wireless broadband could change everything

Fixed-line broadband will always be better, but it might be to 5G what Betamax was to VHS.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Congratulations to Optus for re-creating fixed-wireless internet in Australia, and overbuilding parts of the nation that are currently covered by a government-owned wholesaler with ridiculous return expectations.

As the National Broadband Network (NBN) company would happily inform Optus, its fixed-wireless network has been beset by congestion issues, is unprofitable, and is incapable of hitting 100Mbps download speeds without major overhauling.

But the NBN is using fixed-wireless as a suburban and rural outlier, the last form of connectivity before users are sent across to tackle the ins and outs of its satellite service, whereas Optus is offering its service in built-up areas where it already has a multitude of towers -- and that is set to make all the difference.

The Singaporean-owned telco is currently offering AU$70 per month for unlimited data with a 50Mbps minimum speed guarantee -- the same pricing as its lowest NBN broadband bundle. This deal is likely to be an early mover offer, but even so, it's regular 4G plans offer 500GB for AU$80.

Provided that it is able to keep up its end of the speed bargain, Optus has sent the nation's fibre-to-the-node network to death row. The only question is when the executioner is called.

This isn't a battle of technology types, since fixed-line will always be superior, but of economics, demographics, and politics.

It's not terribly hard to imagine a future where telcos offer a single plan with unlimited data that covers home and mobile for all your connectivity needs.

Fellow Australian telco Telstra has been trying to boost its home user revenue for years now with its smart home offerings, but what better way to keep potentially wayward customers locked in than having a single deal that covers the home, the phone, and whatever other things are added on.

Such a scenario is not going to satisfy users who want decent speeds or latency at home, but the rest of the market is much bigger than one may imagine.

See: What is 5G? All you need to know 

Looking at the latest breakdown in wholesale speeds of technologies capable of hitting 100Mbps, which was released in November, only 10 to 15 percent of users opted for that speed tier.

The likes of Optus would relish the idea of going after the remaining 85 percent of the market, especially given that just over half the country's NBN users are on a plan with speeds of a mere 12Mbps or 25Mbps, not to mention those still stuck on ADSL.

The idea of offering unlimited wireless broadband in Australia was positively laughable a handful of years ago -- sure, it promised to be speedy, but data costs were extortionate -- however, twice in the past couple of years, I've marched into a store of my telco of choice willing to offer them a piece of my angry mind, and walked out with a new deal with doubled data at a much lower rate.

Another round or two of negotiations like that, and who knows if the telco will be able to take my fixed-line away from me?

Also 5G: A transformation in progress

It will be far from the best place to end up on a number of levels: A large shift of the slower but profitable users off fixed-line kills any hope of NBN being profitable, regardless of the technology used; smaller retailers unable to bundle together mobile and fixed broadband will be a niche relic of the before times; and such an arrangement lends itself to a gouging from dominant telcos once enough users switch across.

But the opportunity for this reality to exist is fast approaching, and for users to embrace it because of the hip pocket savings.


The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.


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