NBN Co opens app testing sandpit

 

Mulls third-party battery backup.

NBN Co has begun 'matchmaking' developers of bandwidth-hungry software with internet service providers offering access to the wholesaler's production 'sandpit'.

The National Broadband Network builder was previously averse to direct connections with applications that did not expressly use the physical layer of its network.

But it has now decided to connect application developers with ISPs to clear up confusion around direct access and over-the-top application layers.

"The question that I often get asked at industry events is 'why isn't NBN Co testing my device or application?'" solution architect Dusty Morrison said.

"When somebody approaches us wanting to trial an application, we can give them some assistance in framing what they want to test, what they want to get out of it."

Although NBN Co operates the nationwide fibre network, it has no real control or visibility over the applications that run over it.

By handing the relationship over to a connected internet service provider, Morrisson said the developer would be able to test all the variations that could affect the way an application runs on the network.

The service is facilitated by NBN Co's industry relations team — a mix of solutions architects and salespeople for the network — and now calls upon a roster of nine internet service providers.

The ISPs have volunteered to provide access to the network sandpit, allowing developers to test applications in NBN-like circumstances without touching a live internet connection.

A spokeswoman for the company said the service was established two months ago.

Developers — particularly those embedded in research institutions — have typically used research network operator AARNet's high-bandwidth network to develop and test data-hungry applications.

Morrison pointed to AARNet as an example of using its relationship with NBN Co to help test the applications directly on the NBN.

"One of the key outcomes we think the industry needs to see from a trial is not just proof that their application will work — that's obviously a key thing — but to come away with a set of parameters required for it to work successfully," Morrison said.

He pointed to work with debit card system operator EFTPOS and some state authorities on delivering NBN-style services directly to traffic lights for management.

"We're in the process at the moment of setting up a trial with a security company in Victoria looking at trialing various alarm services and video monitoring over NBN as well," he said.

The 'matchmaking' service comes in addition to a similar "test house" services, such as the Australian Broadband Applications Laboratory that was established at the University of Melbourne last September.

Third-party backup batteries

In addition to third-party applications, Morrison said NBN Co had begun considering whether to allow other companies to manufacture and supply backup batteries attached to the network terminating devices at premises connected to the network.

The battery has become a contentious issue in the industry. The Department of Broadband has required that a battery be installed at every premises connected to the fibre network, despite the fact that it would only power access to voice services and likely go unused for many NBN users.

Some, such as Greens senator Scott Ludlam, have also pointed to the environmental impact of those unused batteries, which must be replaced at either the user's or ISP's cost every five years for maintenance purposes.

Although NBN Co has indicated a preference not to mandatorily install the batteries, its change in position hinges on the Government's approval of the wholesaler's revised corporate plan.

Morrisson said the company was in discussions with the Government about potentially allowing other companies to install batteries of their own accord.

The third party may provide battery status alarms, so the batteries may safely be used to power other devices besides the NBN voice port, while allowing for longer -- or, at least, more accurate -- battery lifespans.

"We've had a lot of feedback on the desire for extended runtime and it presents some challenges to us — we're looking at different ways to provide extended runtime but it does present some challenges," he said.

NBN Co had ruled out stockpiling and supplying different variants of the battery itself, despite calls from the security and medical industry to extend the battery's length from the current eight hours to 16 or even 36 hours.

Morrison said a third-party battery option would require NBN Co to standardise the battery power output and connections but allow third parties to develop devices that "meet the strict operational specifications that they require".

"That way, the variety and choice and having the power supply that's needed for a particular application could be managed by the industry and not by NBN Co," he said.

"We think that the benefits ... is that it's more efficient for NBN co and I think it better meets the industry's needs."

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