Optus targets NBN wireless fans and fibre critics

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Optus targets NBN wireless fans and fibre critics

Collective amnesia grips industry.

Optus took aim at months of "ill-informed debate" over wireless and fibre infrastructure, criticising policy makers and sections of the telecommunications industry alike for their "collective amnesia" when shaping Australia's broadband future.

In a significant deviation from the CommsDay Summit script - which had so far steered clear of controversy and focused mostly on future applications - Optus director of government and corporate affairs Maha Krishnapillai took aim at NBN critics who he accused of failing to learn from the past.

"The elephant in the room isn't the NBN; in fact, it's the outbreak of collective amnesia that has gripped our industry over the past couple of years," Krishnapillai said.

"I would love to talk about the applications of the future rather than this but we need to get the lessons of the past right.

"Let's at least try and establish the facts... rather than putting [forward] speculation and a lot of ill-informed debate from people who, frankly, should know a hell of a lot better in terms of what's happened in our sector in the last few years."

Several of Krishnapillai's apparent targets were due to present at the summit later today.

Krishnapillai addressed calls by the Alliance for Affordable Broadband - a collective of wireless and backhaul operators - who argue a case for "infrastructure-based competition (rather than infrastructure monopolies with retail competition).

"People talk about letting infrastructure competition work. Maybe you should learn a lesson from history," Krishnapillai said.

"We have empirical evidence of what happened in the late nineties where Optus rolled out a pay TV network down streets in suburban Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

"Telstra went down the same streets, carpet-bombed the business case and effectively Optus and Telstra wrote off over $1 billion through that period. We were losing $300 million a year through that period at Optus.

"So for those that are very brave to ask - and this is always interesting when people tell other people how to spend their money - for those who are very brave to say we should let infrastructure competition continue, [I say] throw money into it.

"We've certainly seen empirical evidence that that will not work and that's one of the main reasons we support the NBN."

Krishnapillai also mocked suggestions that wireless technologies were a suitable alternative to fibre.

"I hear lots of things from companies that don't even own wireless networks, let alone have spectrum, and [from] other companies who are clearly lobbying very hard to get government subsidies for rolling out those wireless networks, that wireless is in fact the way forward," he said.

"Optus has a very great faith in the future of wireless and in its ability to offer greater broadband capability and, in particular, mobility attached to that capability. But it will always be a complementary service for fixed broadband.

"There are a range of shared network issues, spectrum et cetera that will make it a complementary service. It'll lag fibre in technical capability over time, and it's unikely to be suited to many future applications requiring dedicated and symmetric high capacity access to multiple end users."

He also urged "those who don't actually own wireless networks... to think about the reality of 93 percent-plus access to high speed broadband and what that might look like environmentally" - a reference to the base station density that would be required to deliver very high-speed wireless broadband services that would be somewhere equivalent to those capable of being realised by fibre.

Krishnapillai reserved a special mention for critics who questioned the lifespan of fibre architectures.

"There are still some people querying that there's going to be some new technology that's going to replace fibre and as recently as yesterday people saying that fibre is no longer the technology of the future," he said.

"I'm not exactly sure what parallel universe people live on but fibre will be the way of the future."

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