CommsDay Sydney 2013 Summit: The Problem With FTTN

Today I delivered a talk at the CommsDay Sydney 2013 Summit about National Broadband Network policy.

Given that the major federal political parties have clearly explained policies about the NBN heading into the September 2013 election, there’s no real mystery there.

In a likely future Coalition government cycle, what will the landscape look like three years after that? What challenges may an FTTN-based approach have presented by then?

Here is the PDF slide pack for my talk (5MB):


Here is a quicktime movie file that ‘plays’ the presentation slides synchronised with the audio recording of the presentation ‘as delivered’ (around 28MB, 20 mins including Q&A):

18 thoughts on “CommsDay Sydney 2013 Summit: The Problem With FTTN

  1. Pingback: Enjoying your NBN? - Page 12 - Patrol 4x4 - Nissan Patrol Forum

  2. Very eloquently put. I really agree about enabling gigabit – NBN Co should really make it a priority to get at least some customers on that as soon as possible, so they can definitively show that 25Mbps is 2.5% of what the fibre network going in now can do.

    Also, reading a lot of comments on news sites about the Coalition’s plan, the most striking thing I’ve noticed in this debate is that people who are pro-fibre tend to talk about the NBN with facts about the technology, like this talk, but those who are pro-FttN will almost always try and justify their argument with something Malcolm Turnbull or another politician said…

    One other thing is that there still seem to be a lot of people who think that “something better is going to make the NBN obsolete”. Why they think putting a *currently* obsolete network in that will cost almost as much is beyond me…

    Hopefully this talk helps get some of the facts out there…

  3. Best explanation of the situation I have ever seen. Well done Simon.
    I dont think anyone fully understands the potential FTTH will offer us in the future either – there is enormous potential, which isnt being sold by Labor nearly well enough. Its also about changing the way you do your business, opening new business opportunities, and changing the way you work – and where you work.

  4. The real benefits of superfast broadband are unlocked when you have both fast download and UPLOAD speeds. The coalition is only talking about download speeds, because it knows copper technology can’t deliver adequate guaranteed minimum upload speeds. In fact, fibre to the node may deliver less than 5Mbps upload speeds, compared to the up to 40Mbps possible on the currently designed NBN.

    Turnbull derides the fact that the vast majority of internet use now is video entertainment, but neglects to address the fact that one of the greatest potential advantages of superfast broadband — working from home — requires fast two way communication to both send and receive information quickly, not just fast ‘downloading’. Turnbull is a coward avoiding talking about this; he knows it is the biggest black hole in his plan and is banking on the public not being tech-savvy enough to pick up on it. (Fibre to the premises, on the other hand, provides superfast communication in both directions, not just for downloads.)

    Put another way, Turnbull is proposing to spend 70% of the money the current government is spending on fibre to the home, to deliver 12.5% of the upload speed that FTTP can deliver.

    And if he does eventually address this issue, don’t be fooled by him claiming speeds “up to” a certain amount. What matters is the guaranteed minimum, not the theoretical maximum.

  5. Hi Michael,

    I nearly added a bullet point on the slide “FTTN is sufficient if…” about that very point. Lack of (guaranteed and very fast) upload speed is a critical success factor for next generation broadband. Absolutely. Without a meaningful upload speed, all you get is faster movie downloads. You don’t get the transformational benefits of every endpoint becoming a potential high data rate content source, not just a content sink.

    High end telemedicine is just one simple example of where that will have transformational outcomes for people. A doctor able to see a patient in HD or 4k resolution, resolution so good that you can see their physical state as well as you could when sitting right in front of them. This requires very high speeds in both directions.

    The truly transformational impacts of ‘cloud computing’ are also predicated on very high upload speeds.

    You can’t throw away your hard drive and do 100% of your required work using only your Internet link… unless that Internet link can send data both ways at speeds approaching those of a modern locally-attached hard drive.

    The NBN can enable that, when deployed with fibre.

    That future awaits those who live in the eastern half of Ballarat. Those in the western half of Ballarat… not so much:

  6. Really well presented, Simon. I wish you had put the point about upstream bandwidth in. It’s the most overlooked factor in widespread analysis of the FTTN proposal in my opinion.

  7. It will be interesting what type of advertising campaign the current govt will deploy to explain the differences between the Coalitions proposals and what is being built, hopefully they can get the point across to the public to vote the right way.

  8. Thank-you Simon, appreciated a pragmatic discussion on the topic, devoid of the flapping from Senator Conroy. If the coalition did not have Malcolm selling the FTTN plan, they would be dead in the water. Perhaps we might end up with Malcolm in 2016 saying “that it was too hard so here is a FTTP network”.

  9. Pingback: Short Video: NBN vs Copper to the Home | Henry's Blog

  10. There are a couple of things that the NBN fanbois generally fail to note about Liberal Party Broadband Policy. (and I don’t vote, so this is just a technical & economic discussion)

    Liberal Policy is not about FTTN at all. FTTN is just a cheap and fast “filler” for areas of Australia that are not being serviced some other way.
    Satellite remains.
    Fixed wireless remains.
    Greenfield FTTH remains.
    FTTH On-demand (i.e. for anyone who wants to have it) remains.
    HFC (and we know that EuroDOCSIS can do 1Gb/s services, as needed) will be recovered and provide service for 2.2million homes, immediately.

    All that is changing is that the difficult brownfields services are being given a fast and cheap alternative to get some kind of service upgrade to everyone in the short term (say 5 to 8 years).

    Fanbois bitch about the FTTN cabinets in the street. Yes they’re ugly. Essentially, they’re providing centralised networked power to drive the copper tail for all FTTN subscribers. Cabinets are ugly, but they’re very maintainable, and upgradable at low cost and have low impact on consumers. The current FTTH solution is putting an unmaintainable ugly lead acid battery IN MY LOUNGEROOM! (And, forcing me to pay for the power for their service too. I’m used to getting my POTS power for free.)

    And, if (when) the FTTH battery is dead your lifeline services are affected. It is part of every NBNCo service agreement that it is not their liability, if your battery is dead, you can’t make a call, and therefore you die!

    I’d rather have someone professional maintaining my (mother’s / great aunt’s / disabled friend’s) lifeline services battery and have it somewhere where it can be properly maintained to deliver a known grade of service.

    Oh, and the famous diagram with 1Gb/s FTTH services on it, with everything else miles below. Nice picture. You could have added HFC services up there at 1Gb/s too, but you chose not to.

    But paying for these 1Gb/s services is another story.

    The NBNCo has gazetted their 100Mb/s prices in a SAU with the ACCC, and their prices will be INCREASED annually by CPI (-1.5%) for 27 YEARS. That means in 27 years we’ll be paying much more than today (compound it up, I dare you) for the same service. They need to lock in this price to pay for their network. Don’t imagine that Moore’s law is going to apply here. 27 years ago was 1986, and then 9600 baud was looking pretty good. How will 100Mb/s look in 2040? Now, how much is then 1Gb/s going to cost, if 100Mb/s has a fixed price for the next 27 years? Good question. You got any unwanted children you can sell?

    The Labour NBN plan is unbuildable. There are not the fibre splicers in the country we need to achieve the required daily rate build rate. NBN Co contractors (to get their contracts in the first place) are paying lowest rates in the market. Anyone with any skills is working on the mines in WA, fly in fly out. Not camping in the truck, schlepping around the country digging trenches. This was apparent back in 2010. Blind Freddy could have predicted the situation the NBNCo is in now, with missed delivery targets.

    In 15 years, Conroy might be remembered for the man who thought of NBN. But Turnbull will be remembered as the one who saved it, and actually delivered it.

  11. @1Tintin2, sorry, your misspelling “experienced” as “biased”. Watch the presentation again, i think he presents everything in a completely non-biased argument with both sides clearly explained. Take it from somebody who works in this field (I work as a senior networks tech at a large regional university), you dont do vDSL if you want to do it properly first time around.

    It saddens me to see the liberals pushing their policy with such blatent gaps in their policy, while also arguing greater transparency.

    If they were serious, they would be talking about the fact their upload speeds are much lower, their costs are not even close given the additional’s brought on by the Telstra renegotiation, powered noded, maintenance etc and the figure they are using now for the Labour NBN costs is made up by Malcolm T on the spot but is being touted as fact (Our local MP here even used it to do a cost comparison to us in an email response)

    @Simonhackett, cheers for sharing this presentation, i dont suppose you have the Q&A questions written down? Some are not very clear (your answers are fine, just their questions)

    Also, your wordpress register link seems to be broken and I cant log in to reply to people with a facebook account 😦

  12. What I didn’t realize when Malcolm Turnbull was explaining FTTN technology was that “copper” meant the crappy old exisiting Tesltra (or Telecom Australia or Post Master General’s) cables. I was think more of underground rated Cat 5 or Cat 6 cable, which actually is Gigabit capable. Does the FTTN system actually rely on reusing the existing copper or could you pull through modern cables. Would this actually save any money? Would laying new modern copper be much cheaper than laying new fibre. What if they use the old copper as a draw wire?

    • If you’re going to pull through a new cable, the new cable you pull through is fibre. Its the only sane answer, as the dominant cost is the labour cost.

      Indeed that is an intended part of the plan -there are provisions in the design and development of the NBN process to have installers use the copper as a draw-string to pull in a fibre lead-in where that is possible.

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