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Aug 28, 2014

Govt modelling says NBN is just fine -- as long as you don't want to use the internet much

The government's estimations of the download speeds we'll need in the future are laughable -- and alarming.


What, exactly, is the purpose of the National Broadband Network in relation to the following words? Enable. Suffice. Support. Demand. Need. Desire. Encourage. Surpass. Lead. Follow. Enhance. Boost. Revolutionise. Now keep those words in mind as you read the report “Domestic bandwidth requirements in Australia: A forecast for the period 2013-2023” from researchers at Communications Chambers, the modelling that underpins the government’s NBN cost-benefit analysis.

The modelling reckons that a decade from now, the median Australian household will be demanding internet download speeds of a mere 15 Mbps. Only households in the top 5% of internet usage will demand “43 Mbps or more”. That’s achievable with the latest copper-based technologies — provided everything works as advertised, and the “or more” bit isn’t too more-ish. And that means they’ll all be happy with Malcolm Turnbull’s Internet of Every Technology that’s Not Fibre to the Premises because that’s Labor and Wrong (IoETtNFttPbtLaW).

“Mission Accomplished”, right?

Perhaps not.

Communications Chambers has used a sophisticated-looking model, using 16 household types with varying numbers of adults and children. Three types of TV usage (SD, HD or 4K). Four levels of individual internet usage. That’s 192 different household types all up. They’ve looked at the applications everyone in those households might use, how often, and how much internet bandwidth they need. They’ve tried to take into account the way different types of usage would interfere with each other, to give a peak internet speed requirement for each household. And finally they’ve looked at how that usage would grow over time.

The resulting projections are substantially lower than others we’ve seen:

“A 2023 median demand of 15 Mbps may seem low, but needs to be seen in the context of the continuing benefits of video compression, and the fact that 58% of households only contain one or two people. Consider two people both surfing, both watching their own HD TV stream while each having a video call. Even this rather aggressive (and rare) use case only requires just over 14 Mbps in 2023.”

As The Register noted, that’s a rise of less than 50% over 10 years, a compound annualised growth rate (CAGR) of just 4.14%. By comparison, Cisco’s Visual Network Index predicts a CAGR for 2013 to 2018 of 30%.

Now every model is only as good as its assumptions. You could argue with Communications Chambers’ assumption that each household uses half its total internet consumption in some random four-hour “busy period”, or that children use half the bandwidth of adults, or that low-/medium-/high-usage households exist in the ratio 40/40/20, or that video compression will get better at a certain rate, or whatever. At least they’ve stated their assumptions — although we don’t have the computer model to play with, to see how changing those assumptions affects the result.

But the key problem is the overall assumption that we’ll see a gentle, incremental growth in internet demand — whatever its rate for individual application — based on the kinds of things we’re doing on the internet today.

During a digital revolution, they seem to have missed the revolution part.

As just one example, the model completely misses the Internet of Things (IoT) , which will add billions of new devices to the internet in coming years, as everything that can have smarts built into it will do — from airconditioners and light bulbs to toys and medical sensors. Indeed, the report almost seems to deny its existence as a concept: “The number of internet-capable devices may carry on rising, but as a practical matter a person is only going to be able to use a certain number simultaneously.” Now many, perhaps most, IoT devices will use tiny amounts of bandwidth, but it all adds up. It seems perverse at best to leave it out. What else has been forgotten in this model? This brings me back to those words in the opening paragraph.

If the NBN is built merely to cope with an incremental growth on what Australia as a society does today, then doesn’t that mean it’ll be incapable of supporting any revolutionary change that a massive increase in household internet bandwidth might bring? Previously I’ve written that the NBN is too bold for timid Australia. In response to a recent speech by Australia’s chief scientist, I reckoned that Australian science and technology needs its own Team Australia.



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25 thoughts on “Govt modelling says NBN is just fine — as long as you don’t want to use the internet much

  1. bruce harris

    Yes. The whole issue of growth of demand studiously ignored in the fatuous whiteboard model presented by Turnbull.
    He went down considerably in my estimation after that stunt.

  2. Tom Gwynn-JOnes

    A government report coming out in support of government policy. Who’d have thunk it…

  3. Trog Sorrenson

    Turnbull may be smart, and he may be the best the Coalition have got on climate change, but he was stitched up by Abbott on this Communications portfolio, and now he is trying to stitch up the nation with his spin on the NBN.

  4. Nici

    We’re planning to get my late father-in-law’s home-made black and white TV working again. It seems timely. He worked on a wireless telephone system in the 1960s that was never implemented. Not much has changed.

  5. Patrick

    Any estimate of future internet bandwidth requirements that does not look like an exponential curve is a joke.

  6. Bob's Uncle

    Turnbull is no fool – he knows that technology is cyclical.

    By 2023, all the cool kids will be back to using their 33.3kb modems to dial into their AOL accounts.

  7. wayne robinson

    I’m currently getting an average of 50 Mbps through cable broadband. The App I use to measure my download speed claims that Telstra has an average of over 300 Mbps (I wonder who’s getting the speed?). 50 Mbps is too slow (let alone 14 Mbps) even though I rarely stream video.

  8. Ulor Boxo

    Is it not the nature of conservative political parties to look backwards?

    If God had intended us to use fibre optics He would never have given us the telephone!

  9. bjb

    Had a read of the “Domestic Bandwidth Requirements in Australia” report and can say it’s a complete waste of time. They focus very much on download bandwidth, and even then they make some heroic assumptions about future video compression. Their stated 1.5Mbps upload speed required (referencing the requirements Skype recommend) for HD video calls, although theoretically available, will likely be out of reach for most using FTTN.

  10. Duncan Gilbey

    What a let-down that blow-hard Turnbull is.

  11. klewso

    Who did Turnbull commission to do this study in self-justification – Lackey & Sons?
    [Did it cost as much as that $10million – he gave to that “Russians and Murdoch Kin Inc” – for rain – while he was Howard’s “Minister for Waffle”?]

  12. Dogs breakfast

    This government doesn’t do forward planning. (yes, I hate that term to, what other type of planning is there, if not forward, or that other tautology, ‘strategic planning’, but I digress)

    Their role in this world is to pontificate broadly without knowledge or understanding, and have all the chaps around the club smoking their cigars and quaffing their snifters of port/brandy declaim ‘Tally ho, good show old chaps, and ‘hear hear!”

    What’s all this damned internet thingy anyway. I made my way in the world without it, and look where I got to.


  13. Vernon Brabazon

    It is hard not to imagine that there is another agenda behind the seemingly wilful failure of this government to acknowledge the potential and future need for a universal high speed internet. One can only assume that it is delaying tactic to shore up the outdated business models of the governments most powerful supporters.

  14. The Pav

    15Mbps is fine for the 1950’s….Which is where this govt is located.

    Pity the rest of the world isin;t

  15. Ray Johnson

    I’m surprised more isn’t made of latency. To me that’s a threshold issue. Quality is not just download bandwidth. My naked DSL connection is capable of around 15 Mbs download but even my voip quality is not consistent. I reckon a network that is low latency and can reliably handle good quality two way video will lead to far more use in a wide range of applications, including collaborative work from the home. Can’t see that happening with what’s being proposed. It wouldn’t take long to get a return on the investment. The gold-plated network is only two years of big bank profits after all … and the total short term difference with what’s going to happen is probably less than six months worth and that’s spread out over the construction period.

  16. Luke Hellboy

    If Moore’s Law suddenly starts going in reverse then she’ll be right mate. It all depends on the assumptions that go into the model…

  17. Neutral

    The following cherry picked extract from the Senate Committee hearing into the Telecomunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. I know it’s not strictly on topic but it sums up the level of understanding from the those who wish to do ‘things’ with the internet. Mr Dalby represents iiNet.

    The full transcript can be found at (apologies for the massive URL but it ain’t mine):

    Mr Dalby : Nobody is suggesting there isn’t anything useful in it. If I was in the law enforcement agency’s shoes, I would be wanting this very rich information as well. What I am suggesting is that all of us here in this room are possibly not targets of law enforcement, so why collect our data? My 12-year-old niece, why collect her data? My 93-year-old mother, why collect her data? It is not right.

    Senator IAN MACDONALD: You do not know that until you have analysed the data of your 93-year-old mother.

    Mr Dalby : I can vouch for my mother.

    Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay, but you cannot vouch for me or someone with my name, for example.

    Mr Dalby : That is not law enforcement’s job to target the individuals that are under suspicion..

    Senator IAN MACDONALD: But how can they get that if they do not have this wide body of stuff to—

    Mr Dalby : How have they got it for the last 100 years?

    Senator MARSHALL: The internet has not been there for that long, has it.
    CHAIR: The reason I am putting this to you is that we asked these questions very directly to Mr Irvine from ASIO the other day and they do not really know.

    Mr Dalby : Yes.

    CHAIR: And it is all going to be made to your problem.

    Mr Dalby : That is right.

    CHAIR: I am just putting you on notice.

    Mr Dalby : We are clear on that—that he has made that comment and made suggestions about selling BMWs and other things. They are far-fetched comments. I do not think he understands or has had advice which makes it clear to him what he is asking of the industry. There is no way that there is an informed comment coming from ASIO.

  18. Gordon Low

    Only reason for this conversation is Rupert et al don’t want to move into the 21st century. Serfs there don’t act as predictably. First casualty would be media outlets who would have to work for their money, not something they want to do. Whatever happened to competition!

  19. David Hand

    Broadband is going wireless mate.

    Fixed fibre to the home is already old technology.

    We want access at the local café, on the bus, at our mum’s place, in our shared house where we don’t pay for a fixed line. Fibre to the premises doesn’t deliver any of that. Fibre to the node does.

  20. Chris Hartwell

    Wireless does not deliver guaranteed service and cannot compete on speed or reliability with fibre. The 802.11ac draft standard can theoretically achieve speeds up to 780Mbps, which is certainly impressive for a wireless solution, but that’s the maximum – fibre achieves 1Gbps easily, and fibre backbones are, at a minimum, 10Gbps. I’d point out that such fibre speeds are scaleable, while new 802.11 standards generally require new hardware to achieve (note that the jump from 802.11g with speeds of 54Mbps and a range of 35m indoors to 802.11n with speeds of 108Mbps required additional hardware, at least two additional antennae to accommodate the MIMO model required to achieve the speed and range increase.) Note also that 802.11ac does not have a confirmed outdoor maximum range and an indoor range of only 35 meters – the previous standard, 802.11n can achieve 70m indoors and up to 250m outdoors, but at vastly reduced speeds.

    Then we get to network segregation – do all devices connect to the node outside? There goes the home internal network – no easy sharing of files or resources because all devices are not connected to a private network. Ok, we’ll work around that, a wirelessly connected Wifi modem router. Great! Except the power consumption – a Wireless enabled modem router will consume substantially more power than a fibre-connected modem router (exponential relationship between radiated power and distance between transceivers) so we, the consumer, still lose out.

    Fibre to the premises is scaleable, is exceptionally reliable, is not affected by localised electrical interference, is not affected by HV transmission lines, is not affected by water in the ductwork, will not increase EM spectrum crowding and will ultimately have lower running costs. Wireless internet connectivity is a gap solution, not a baseline one.

  21. john armstrong

    I’m surprised Hockey or Abbott hasn’t stated that “poor people don’t have, or use the internet…”

  22. Stuart Coyle

    David, please learn some physics. Available bandwidth is proportional to the carrier frequency. Wireless is in the megahertz(10^6) to gigahertz range(10^9), light has frequencies around 10^14Hz, tens of thousands of times faster.

    I know which medium I’d rely on for future bandwidth requirements. Wireless will always be slower although having more convenient access at times.

  23. john armstrong

    Nothing this current Government does surprises me anymore. It like they sit down and work out new, unheard of strategies to piss of more voters.

  24. David Hand

    Steve and Stuart
    Yeah yeah.
    I absolutely concede your highly technical analysis about why FTTH is faster, better, more reliable, etc etc.

    It’s just Dang awkward that everyone is shifting to mobile.

  25. Chris Hartwell

    It’s not awkward in the slightest. People are shifting to usage on mobile devices, but they are not shifting to mobile data. Fixed line access – ADSL or cable, basically – remains the option of choice for primary connection. Mobile devices connect via Wifi around the home, not the mobile data option (which remains ridiculously overpriced.)

    The FTTN solution remains a slower, less reliable and more costly option over the long term (which is the appropriate time frame given it constitutes a major infrastructure upgrade, even if it doesn’t do the whole job.) A wireless addendum to said does not mitigate this.


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