Many unanswered questions in Coalition's NBN plan: Macquarie Telecom

While the Coalition's NBN plan gives businesses a degree of certainty, there are still many details that have been left out, according to Macquarie Telecom group executive for telecommunications Chris Greig.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor

While it is heartening to see the Coalition's National Broadband Network (NBN) strategy providing a level of certainty for businesses looking forward to an ultra-fast broadband future, there are still glaring potholes in the details of the plan, according to Macquarie Telecom group executive for telecommunications Chris Greig.

The Coalition's NBN, announced last week, would see Australians get a minimum achievable download speed of 25Mbps by 2016, which will get bumped up to 50Mbps by 2019 — significantly less, compared to the current NBN that is being rolled out across the country under the Labor government. The Coalition's NBN would, however, be cheaper than Labor's NBN.

"There are a number of areas that still need to be worked out [such as] would you manage the transition? The upload speeds, service levels, speed of activation," he said at the launch of the NBN Business Readiness Survey 2013. "How are you going to handle the voice service? Because although the NBN is for national broadband, for many of our customers, the broadband is important, but their fixed phone environment is critical.

"They transact a lot of business on their fixed-line phone, so guarantees on that are very important."

Labor's NBN features voice over internet protocol (VoIP), while in the Coalition's version, since it still uses copper for the last mile, the voice service would remain unchanged. The copper network is deteriorating with age, and may affect services in the future.

"We tend to take the fixed-line voice business a little bit for granted, but it's a complex application, a real-time application, and it needs to be secure for this transition," Greg said. He expects more clarity from the Coalition prior to the federal election in September.

Greig sees both Labor and the Coalition's NBN plans offering significantly faster broadband, but said there needs to be consideration for the multiple applications that will be running on the network. This is particularly pertinent to the Coalition's NBN, which would provide significantly lower speeds.

He noted that video conferencing these days is fine between different capital cities, but, when you move beyond that to regional areas that have inferior internet connections, video can become a bit jittery.

"Both [NBN plans'] minimum speeds put forward are certainly more adequate, at least four to eight times the speed we have today," Greig said. "But you're not just running video conferencing; you're running other applications at the same time."

These are all things that will impact how businesses operate, though many of them have failed to prepare adequately for the arrival of the NBN, according to the NBN Business Readiness Survey, which was sponsored by Macquarie Telecom and conducted by Deloitte Access Economics.

Out of 167 medium-sized companies, half of them believe the NBN will bring significant changes to how they operate, but many don't believe they are ready for the ultra-fast broadband network.

For example, half of the survey's respondents expect the NBN to boost teleworking, which will allow flexible working, but only 29 percent said they are ready to do that within their organisation. Results are similar in terms of whether the respondents' companies have made any business policy changes to accommodate for the NBN.

Greig said companies need to start having the conversations about what they should do before the NBN becomes a fully fledged network.

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