What now for the National Broadband Network?

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What now for the National Broadband Network?

So the national broadband network tender has been delayed. Still, Nathan Taylor says peer-to-peer users should be excited about the prospect of VDSL2.

Thanks to Telstra’s reluctance or inability to reveal too many details about its existing network, the other bidders for the $4.7 billion NBN network (most notably the Optus-led Terria Group and more recently Macquarie and TransACT) have asked for and received an another extension on the tender.

Instead of the July 25 tender deadline, the bidders will be given 12 weeks from the date that Telstra actually supplies them with the required information. Whenever that may be.

It would certainly seem that Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy’s goal of seeing the network begin to be rolled out this year is devolving into pure fantasy. Of course, we don’t really know much of what Conroy is thinking, given he has effectively closed up shop when it comes to talking about the NBN, refusing to answer questions during Senate Estimates hearings.

That said, I sincerely hope he gives the non-Telstra bidders every opportunity to put in a competitive bid. There is no doubt in my mind that any bid from Optus and it cohorts (or anybody else really) is going to be more ambitious, less compromising and better generally for the public at large than if Telstra gets the contract. And I certainly don’t think Telstra should be rewarded for its reluctance to improve broadband in Australia in the first place.

If Telstra does win the contract, it must at least agree to a separation of the NBN business from its main business – as others have said, the only way the NBN can really work is if it is run as an independent wholesaler.

As for what we’ll be getting when the broadband network is built, that’s still an open question. The government has specified relatively modest speed and coverage criteria, but is not prescribing the means to achieve those criteria.

The most commonly touted scenario for the NBN is a fibre to the node (FTTN) network using VDSL2 technology to cover the last mile (or few hundred metres, as the case may be). With FTTN, instead of linking all the way back to an exchange, our home connection only extends to the nearest node – no more than a few hundred metres for most of us. This reduces the range that the copper has to travel before hitting fibre, and anybody who has taken a lesson in ADSL Basics knows that the shorter the copper loop, the faster the connection.

Even if the telcos continue to use ADSL (which is still a possibility), FTTN means that a lot more of us will approach the mythical 24mbps that ADSL 2+ is theoretically capable of.

While that would be nice, VDSL2 (very high speed digital subscriber line) can be a source of real excitement. For a start, it can theoretically deliver 100mbps to homes with 300m of the node. Just as importantly, it can do that at a symmetrical rate, so your uploads will be as fast as downloads.

This, of course, corrects one of the mistaken assumptions made when telcos in the US and worldwide chose ADSL as the primary access mechanism – that people would mostly want to download stuff and that uploads were irrelevant. The fact that peer-to-peer traffic comprises roughly 74% of all Internet traffic (according to the lastest iPoque figures) pretty much puts paid to that notion.

Of course, neither FTTN nor VDSL are confirmed. I’d put pretty healthy odds, however, that FTTN will start rolling out some time next year, but the implementation of VDSL may well depend on who gets the contract.

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