Technology

Apr 13, 2018

NBN Co always had obsolete technology, now it has to admit it

Bill Morrow's departure from NBN is just more proof that mobile technology is cutting the NBN's lunch and gobbling it down.

Michael Sainsbury — Freelance correspondent in Asia and <em>Little Red Blog</em> Editor

Michael Sainsbury

Freelance correspondent in Asia and Little Red Blog Editor

The timing couldn’t not have been more exquisite as Bill Morrow, the chief executive of Malcolm Turnbull and Ziggy Switkowski’s shambling joke of a national broadband network, was grilled about the fast-emerging 5G mobile broadband technology at a Senate hearing on April 10.

Morrow’s appearance when he admitted the company was trialing super-fast 5G wireless to plug gaps but did not intend to compete with established mobile companies, came less than a week after he announced he would, like a rat, abandon the sinking NBN ship. Because while providing NBN Co with an essential fix, the same technology would well consign the project to its final doom.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions

40 comments

Leave a comment

40 thoughts on “NBN Co always had obsolete technology, now it has to admit it

  1. Alice Tay

    Eh “told you so” says every Australian IT expert ever. Why didn’t the MSM listen in 2013 when we decried Malcolm Turnbull’s Mess (MTM).

  2. Myk

    Agree with HFC and FTTN/ADSL being obsolete, but Fibre is not obsolete.
    New wireless technologies like 5G are great if the spectrum has been allocated, and not many are on the same mobile basestation. As soon as you are distant from the basestation, or there are a lot of people on the basestation they get very slow very fast. After all it is a shared medium.
    The bulk of the traffic will still be done with fibre [there are fibre links to basestations]. Fixed wireless might be suitable for lower speed / volume traffic, but it will need to be dimensioned properly. Mobile wireless is great for data on the go, but not for large volume data or guaranteed high speeds.

  3. RL

    Don’t often agree with you MS but on this I’m with you 100%.
    Just how much have these shit sandwich makers cost the taxpayer?
    They are a perfect follow up act after the 3 Amigo’s we were blessed with by Howard and Costello to sell off Telstra.

  4. graybul

    . . . and the very last paragraph identifies the true focus of this entire debacle. The Prime Minister is the sole responsible individual. He alone, for pure political/ personal gain committed we taxpayers to an horrendous national debt. No if’s no but’s.

    Australian capacity to compete globally is crippled. Our budding, next generation of tech heads / entrepreneurs have been knee capped; and will have little choice other than to seek opportunities overseas. Short of Menzies selling scrap iron to Japan; can I recall a more costly kick in the guts than The Prime Minister’s disregard of our nation’s critical priorities.

    1. RL

      Agree with all your points Graybul.
      On the bright side, I reckon our young bright sparks will survive and thrive in spite of the horrors we have in leadership.

      1. graybul

        True RL, but why make them jump through hoops knowing a superior system would cover this wide brown land, enhance rural/remote locations as well as the metro interactive, stimulation coffee shop learning and exploration exchange centres and . . . lock Australia into competitive state of the art technological leadership groups?

      2. Salamander

        Well mine have all gone to Berlin. Three bright IT grads. A bummer for me personally and a loss to the country IMO (interest declared). They are unlikely to return in the foreseeable, now having long-term UK/Euro partners as well.

  5. old greybearded one

    No 5G will not do this as it has a limited range and there is nothing in Australia that works with it. It may download fast but it is not a high traffic set up. 4G does not in general produce these speeds, I use it and the cost and limits are high and low respectivley. The rest of the article is correct about the bungle, but fibre will beat wireless in terms of reliability and download limit.

    1. RL

      “Do once , do it right, do it with fibre” Alun Davies of Armidale, former Telstra staffer circa 2010

  6. blindphoton

    Another bloody tragedy.

    These COALalition arsehats, along with their deceitful mantra of technological agnosticism, will guarantee our place as the poor white trash of Asia.

    Whether it be NBN, energy policy, the Murray, or anything else requiring more than basic scientific literacy to comprehend, this cluster-fuck of lawyers, accountants and rent-seekers (sorry, businessmen) just keep getting it wrong.

    Re the latest impending fuck-up: Its obvious to anyone with basic understanding of redox-chemistry and the CCS-pipedream that Turnbull’s latest tech proclamation – turning brown coal into H2 – will suffer the very same anti-Midas touch that characterises everything this sucker does.
    (In my best Rumpole accent: Brilliant legal mind you know Old Boy)

  7. Julian Robinson

    I wonder if the outrage at the failings of the NBN are not overblown? I’m no apologist for the decision to replace fibre to the home with the ‘multi-technology-mix’ but despite looking have not yet found answers to two very relevant questions.

    1. What is the likely capacity of 5G to eat into the NBN? As a tech person I appreciate that a given radio bandwidth can only carry a certain amount of data, but have yet to find knowledgeable analysis (that must have been done) that tries to quantify the limits on 5G capacity vs potential demand. My instinct is that 5G is not capable of serving up the millions of movies we want to watch in populated areas. If true this means we’ll still need the NBN just about everywhere.

    2) To what extent is expenditure on the existing FTTNode installations wasted? It seems likely that at a later time it would be perfectly feasible to extend fibre from existing nodes to kerbside without undoing too much of what was done the first time round. In this case we’d be more talking about a staged delivery instead of than the original ‘all at once’ implementation Labor proposed. This could even have cost advantages.

    It seems that the latest technology of FTTKerb should be capable of meeting necessary speeds (100Mbps) as well as FTTHome was originally anticipated to, at least in the majority of situations. FTTK will be significantly cheaper than FTTH, so if the previous sentence is true we will have saved significant money in the end by installing FTTK in most places.

    Without finding a source of factual info on any of this I may be wrong, but would appreciate practical discussion along these lines, and any relevant facts if someone can point to them.

    1. Suzie_darling

      Good post.

      All is not lost.

    2. Laurie Patton

      All the experts I engaged with at Internet Australia pointed to the fact that FTTN cannot be upgraded. The expensive nodes (big metal cabinets) all need 240v power that becomes redundant with FTTK. It’s more expensive to lay cable for a refit than to do it in the first round. There are other issues but they are well above my engineering expertise. There’s no coincidence that NBN Co keeps announcing expanded overage for FTTK. Just a shame they didn’t make the move to FTTK long before now.

    3. Stephen Mayne

      An ex Telstra engineer who I respect has advised the following:

      Michael Sainsbury has missed an important point: In wireless technology in particular you can have blistering headline speeds or the ability to support a large number of customers – but not both at the same time.
      The real fundamental issue with the NBN was that, politics aside – the original plan of fibre everywhere as an intergenerational national asset was the right one.
      The current multi tech approach has approached or possibly exceeded the cost to build it once and build it properly.
      Optical Fibre can be viewed as the “copper” of the 21st century. If you compare the capabilities of copper networks when first installed in the 1900s to what they are now capable of – a similar or greater technology change will occur with Optical Fibre, not requiring the relaying of the cable, but the progressive and ongoing modernisation of the “boxes” at either end.
      The Optical Fibre experience has already gone from MBits/s to Gbps with a move towards Tera bits per second as the next wave. Current research flags a theoretical maximum of 1 Peta Bit per second per fibre. That is a speed of 1 Million Gigabits.
      It is not unreasonable to see these sort of capacities needed in the future – we have already seen a 4 fold increase in video data thanks to the move from HD to 4K tv – with 8K already being demonstrated (another 4 fold increase again). At the same time the number of users and devices will continue to grow.
      We are now seeing the downsides of a Multi Technology mix – the complexity of multiple technologies for NBN Co to install, to manage and to activate for retail providers to sell to end customers. The end customer is currently presented with different service options (ie speeds and plans) depending on what type of technology happens to run past your home.
      This is not to downplay the ongoing, important role of wireless/mobile technologies in Australian society – as Michael’s article highlights, it will too need to develop and grow in capabilities and capacity, primarily for devices on the move. Together with the NBN – the Australian mobile networks form a fundamental communications platform for our country into the future.
      It is not too late to take a fresh, truly long term view of the NBN as an intergenerational national asset, something that will truly drive our nation for most of the forthcoming century.

      1. graybul

        Nothing cuts through verbiage like truth. As Stephen records . . .

        “The fundamental issue with the NBN was that, politics aside (though real hard to set aside context) – the original plan of fibre EVERYWHERE as an intergenerational national assets was the right one.”

      2. bref

        As soon as Abbot/Turnbull started talking about their multi technology mix, the IT industry was up in arms and made their opinions known far and wide. We’d seen what a train wreck the multi tech roll out experiment in America became, yet they pushed on with it, so here we are with our very own debacle.
        Still think the average household only needs 20Mbps Mr Abbott?

  8. AR

    I only have mobile b/b for a laptop and no smart phone – does any of this impinge upon me?

  9. Itsarort

    I agree with OG1. I would have to see the spec’s on 5G v optic fibre before I believe any hype from the big tech companies.

  10. m kg

    Whilst I agree with the position of this article, including the fact that Turnbull should be held accountable for the MTM disaster (after all MTM stands for Malcolm Turnbull’s Mess doesn’t it?), you need better fact checking. The FTTN services do not use ADSL at all, as erroneously stated multiple times, but rather it is known as vectored VDSL technology, which is a lot less obsolete than ADSL. HFC is also not “obsolete technology” per se, but rather the Telstra and Optus HFC networks were in a terrible state of disrepair from years of neglect that is the cause of the problem there. Whoever on the NBN side that was responsible for approving those acquisitions without the proper due dilligence will hopefully one day be held accountable for that dreadful waste of taxpayer funds.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details

Sending...