10,000 Mbps vs 25 Mbps: Australia’s NBN Fail

Anthony Eales
Mar 3 · 5 min read
Australia (the turtle) [25 Mbps] vs. the world (the hare) [10,000 Mbps]

As parts of the rest of the world offer and prepare to offer 10 Gigabit per second fixed Internet services, Australia and it’s National Broadband Network only manages a guaranteed 25 Mbps download speed and of that many can’t achieve even that dismally low mark.

Japan is now offering 10 Gbps Internet speeds for end users and gigabit Internet is becoming the norm in most developed countries. Closer to home New Zealand offers gigabit services to residents and Kiwis are taking gigabit up over 100 Mbps.

NBN revealed in 2017 that 54,000 Fibre to the Node users could not even reach the 25 Mbps download speed minimum promised by the Coalition Government infamously in 2013 when Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott set out to destroy the NBN. NBN have been a little sheepish in revealing how many FTTN users can reach 25 Mbps as of late.

Of course this hasn’t stopped Telstra, the number 1 provider of NBN services in the country from removing the 100 Mbps down / 40 Mbps up speed tier for FTTN, Fibre to the Curb and Fibre to the Basement users. Their reasoning for this is that they simply cannot guarantee these speeds to users on copper based connections. The problem was customers would sign up to the maximum speed possible only to be hit with the hard thud of reality that copper based connections provide, which is much less than expected from the customer. This of course is not a very good experience but one that a lot on FTTN experience whenever signing up to the NBN from any Retail Service Provider (the NBN-era term for Internet Service Provider).

A breakdown of connection types from IT News shows the following:

At the same time, the company also broke down its active services as of October 31 by technology. Of the 6.2 million active services, 877,000 were on brownfields FttP, 473,000 had greenfields FttP, 2.85 million received FttN/B, 1.25 million had HFC connections, and 353,000 used FttC. Beyond fixed line connections, 296,000 premises had fixed wireless and 97,000 were connected via satellite.

The NBN is hoping to have it’s network completed by the middle of the year. It’s all well and good to say “mission accomplished” but its a little hard to be celebrating too much when Australia and it’s fixed line Internet is so monumentally behind the rest of the developed world, and suffice it to say the developing world in an increasing amount of cases.

What is needed are upgrades. The sooner the better. Yesterday would have been what was required in terms of upgrades but this is where we find ourselves today. The FTTN network at the bare minimum needs to be upgraded to FTTC. Preferably FTTP as FTTC has been having some problems in its upgrade path to get to higher than 100 Mbps speeds.

If NBN wants to make any of the money back on the network build in the face of 5G and even Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s StarLink Gigabit satellite space Internet (set to start providing services to the US mid-year and rollout to the rest of the world in 2021) it needs to bring the network up to standard to be able to compete. This will involve more fibre. Fibre that should have been originally built into the network.

Paul Fletcher, the communications minister, appearing on Sky News Australia did his best to weasel out of the need for more fibre. Much like Stephen Rue, NBN’s current CEO these Coalition mouthpieces have to toe the copper cavemen line, never allowed to admit that fibre would have been the superior choice first time round. They castigate the “do it once, do it right, do it fibre” crowd as “fibre zealots”” and insist they built the network faster and for less money. Who can forget the 2013 promise that the Coalition would have the NBN completed by 2016? 4 years later and we are still going. Another promise Malcolm Turnbull made was $3,000 upgrades to FTTP. Whatever happened to that? I wrote about this in a quite scathing article on the state of the Technology Choice Program this time last year.

Sky News’s not necessarily technology minded Chris Smith making Communications Minister Paul Fletcher look quite foolish

5G is supposed to be the magic bullet that makes the NBN obsolete. Those on the right of politics in Australia often say that wireless is the answer and we should never have built the NBN in the first place. But this ignores the capacity issues of wireless. When too many people use it it slows down considerably. This is what happened to previous wireless generations, 3G and 4G. And it’s bound to happen in some form to 5G. Not to mention the form of 5G that most people will use, known as mid-band will be just like faster 4G and not like the game changing millimetre wave 5G with the huge gigabit speeds and more. mmWave 5G requires mini towers every few hundred metres and all of them need to be hooked up to fibre. Not to mention that it doesn’t do very well with obstacles.

Masters of the NBN’s destruction: Malcolm Turnbull & Tony Abbott. Not pictured: Rupert Murdoch

In conclusion Australia needs to get its act together and fast. I fear the vision-less Scott Morrison isn’t up to the task. Labor leader/opposition leader Anthony Albanese is finally offering up a plan with a full fibre replacement of the “dog’s breakfast NBN”. Good on him. But the next election is a minimum of two years away and I fear we can’t afford to wait that long. Or we risk getting left even further behind than we already are. This is without the very real risk that the Coalition Government tries to privatise the NBN and sell it to Telstra’s planned infrastructure spin-off InfraCo. It’s a worry but a very real prospect. And than we’d be back where we started pre-Kevin Rudd. The Coalition Government has no doubt done untold damage to Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure for now and into the future and with them in power I’m not optimistic there will be a turnaround any time soon.

Anthony Eales is a media, news & tech junkie from Australia. You can reach him on Twitter @ants000.

P.S. For a previous article by me from 2018 that garnered 25,000 views on Medium on the “dog’s breakfast” of the NBN entitled “The Tragedy of Australia’s NBN” click here. The more time goes on the more things stay the same in the land of the Liberal National Government.

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