Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Anything You Can Broadband I Can Broadband Better

After a lengthy wait, the Coalition's broadband policy for Australia was finally released with great fanfare.

Besides the novelty of former leadership rival Malcolm Turnbull appearing side-by-side to Tony Abbott (whom is destined to be Prime Minister come September), there was some substantial detail.

It even drew the blustery ire from Minister for Communications,  Stephen Conroy, who had the odd line at yesterday's press conference to the effect of: 'Malcolm Turnbull is the king of telling lies using facts'.

Make of that what you will.

Labor's recent work on a National Broadband Network, or NBN, has operated on the premise that fibre would be connected to every single home in Australia. Because of this premise, it has largely ran over-budget, suffered poor management, various bungles, and is projected to take much longer to implement.

However, having said that, it does have the lofty goal of promising at least 100Mbps at reasonable prices.

Yours truly is currently sucking down the Internet at 3Mbps, as are many rural and regional Australians, and the prospect of waiting until after 2020 to access a service such as the NBN is daunting.

Labor are to be commended though for setting such a lofty goal; in terms of comparison to countries like the UK, Italy, South Korea, and even a few former Soviet republics, Australia's current standard of Internet service delivery has already fallen far well behind other modern (and not so modern) parts of the world.

So, Labor's NB is fibre to the home, or FTTH for short, that much we know, so what is the Coalition's plan?

Well, a lot has changed since the last Federal Election. Back then, Tony Abbott and the Coalition were singing the praises of wireless technology, and throwing their support behind such things as 'WiMAX' as I believe it were called.

The problem with wireless technology is that it's usually prone to congestion when the network becomes saturated with users slowing it down, and lag and delays, which doesn't help with applications such as video conferencing.

Because of those obvious flaws, no one really took the Coalition's broadband policy seriously.

Now they have reached a middle ground - fibre to the node, or FTTN for short.

Aren't you just loving these acronyms?

FTTN is a model where fibre networking is still employed, but instead of wiring it to every individual home, it is instead wired to what is a called a 'node' - this would work by connecting, say, a few streets together, by using the already existing copper wire running to the user's home to the node.

Minimum promised speed is 25Mbps up to 50Mbps, and there is the option (for a large fee) of connecting fibre to the premise if a user does indeed want the full 100Mbps.

It's fabled to come in for a cheaper cost to the tax payer and be faster to implement, by 2016.

On news forums and places like Twitter today, everyone is making a joke out of the proposal - all of a sudden, everyone that uses a computer and a web browser is suddenly a rolled gold expert on building a colossal broadband network.

And once again, it's a tit-for-tat argument where every Comic Book Guy-type nerd is espousing Labor's NBN as the only way to go, slamming their fists down on the desk, spilling their chips, and demanding fibre to their home.

Well guys, just chill for now.

Let's look at this logically - firstly, Labor will most likely not be in power federally after the September 14 election - period.

Secondly, where was all this blather and bluster over the past three or so years when the Coalition had no comparable broadband policy, and for all intents an purposes had their heads buried in the cable trenches?

The project was going to be stopped altogether, and flakey wireless broadband was instead going to be the policy.

All in all, I think it is a good compromise. The Liberals have realised that they cannot simply stop the NBN rollout, and they will in a way inherit much of the work that Labor has already gotten underway.

For a country the size of Australia, ripping up the existing copper network and replacing it entirely to every house with fibre is somewhat technically daunting.

The copper network also has its detractors, labelling it as out-of-date, tired, crumbling, and just taking up space underground. Copper has a lot of years yet left in it - and it makes no sense to destroy perfectly serviceable infrastructure that still functions as intended.

All current internet and voice traffics travels over it - it obviously works, so having a mix of fibre and copper for the time being is perfectly acceptable, and in time, it will be replaced by fibre entirely anyway.

I'm no expert - you're no expert - we're going to get a Coalition government come September whether we like it or not, and everyone for now needs to get used to the idea in the real world their needs to be compromise.

When all is said and done, there are actually far more pressing issues with this nation other than broadband.

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