Australia has not built a broadband network for the future
Australia was a broadband laggard in 2007 and remains so in 2020, according to the telco expert who advised the Rudd Government on the development of the National Broadband Network.
Launching The Gigabit Gap report jointly with Huawei Australia, Telecommunications Association (TelSoc) President Professor Reg Coutts said Australia had not built a broadband network for the future.
At its completion this week the $51 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) – costing $4,500 for each connectable premises – still leaves over 70% of Australian homes and businesses unable to access world-class Gigabit (1Gbps/1000Mbps) speeds and with Gigabit broadband pricing the third most expensive in the world.
“We continue to look to the future in our rear vision mirror,” Prof Coutts said.
“We’ve built a broadband network that meets current demand…but when you decide to build a network you don’t build it on current demand, you build it on future demand.”
A member of the ‘Panel of Experts’ formed by the Rudd Government to examine broadband options for Australia more than ten years ago, Mr Coutts was disappointed far too many Australians were not receiving adequate broadband.
“I would really like a transparent and trustworthy [process] to know how many premises in Australia, who have actually been connected are happy with their broadband.
“There are people with Fibre-to-the-Curb who certainly don’t get what their service provider offers them and I ask ‘have you complained?’ and they say ‘what’s the point’,” Prof Coutts said.
“We were a laggard in 2007 and we retain the position of laggard in 2020.
“From the Minister’s point of view shouting that ‘it is all wonderful’, is just not good enough.”
Prof Coutts said the NBN and Government strategy to upgrade the network when consumer demand warranted it was nonsense.
“People don’t know what they can do [with Gigabit speeds] until they’ve got it,” he said.
Prof Coutts believed consumers didn’t care whether their broadband was wireless or fixed and any plans to upgrade NBN needed to be examined in careful consideration to the evolving 5G technology
“I always see fixed and mobile as complimentary. Consumers want it seamless and flexible which usually means some form of untethered access – Wi-Fi, 5G, 4G whatever,” he said.
Prof Coutts said Australia needed high speeds combined with reliability.
“High speed is wonderful but I don’t want it to be negligible at 3.30pm when the kids come out of school…it needs to be robust.”
Prof Coutts did not support the notion of retail service providers and State and local governments aggregating demand to provide fibre upgrades on an area wide basis to reduce the cost to households.
“Local communities should be empowered wherever possible to upgrade, to have choices. I have problem with the NBN monopoly because people with a certain addresses don’t have a choice of technology they are provided with HFC, Fibre-to-theNode (FTTN) or Fibre-to-the-Premises. It’s decided somewhere in an office in Sydney you are getting FTTN,” he said.
“In the modelling I was looking at in Europe the node was 200m away but in Australia sometimes the distance was 1.5 kilometres.”
He believed publicly available geo-spacial mapping would increase the transparency of the available NBN network technology and performance and allow consumers to make clear and informed decisions on the broadband services in the areas in which they wished to live.
Prof Coutts still believed the monopoly network, even an underperforming one, remained valuable and would attract interest should it be sold as originally intended.
“In the original proposal Telstra was not playing therefore FTTN, at that point in time was not an option, therefore it was seen as an opportunity to replace the copper network with a FTTP network plus the Fixed Wireless plus Satellite but then of course a whole change to arrangements the game was changed and Telstra has very much an interest in a broadband network,” he said.
Prof Coutts said the current environment, with the propensity to invest, was an opportunity to invest in upgrading the network, which would not only upgrade the network to a true 21st network but would also provide employment which is greatly needed in this country.