Faster broadband speeds could be coming on copper networks, says Netgear CEO Patrick Lo
Copper cable is likely to deliver faster speeds in the future, says Netgear's CEO Photo: Sean Davey
Copper telecommunications networks used for delivering DSL broadband to most homes today in Australia and around the world are capable of faster internet speeds than they are now, but only if the networking community gets working on speeding them up.
That is the view of Patrick Lo, the global chairman and chief executive of home networking giant Netgear. Speaking to Fairfax Media while on a visit to Australia last week, San Jose-based Mr Lo said he believed the networking and research community was likely to find even better ways to deliver broadband via copper at much faster speeds than are achievable today.
Netgear CEO Patrick Lo says copper could go faster. Photo: Netgear
Mr Loh's comments come after opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull recently leapt upon a new technology standard that networking vendors say will deliver 1 Gbps speeds over copper. The technology, called G.fast, uses a combination of DSL technologies to produce maximum 1 Gbps speeds over short distances of copper that are between 100 metres and 200 metres long. The International Telecommunications Union is moving towards making the technology a DSL standard by March 2014.
"Even though today you could argue that copper has a limitation in speed – maybe up to 100 Mbps into the house – there's the possibility going forward that we [the networking community] will make the copper even more efficient," Mr Lo said.
"... We don't know [how fast] because as long as the copper is not broken people will still find ways to squeeze more transmission into the copper."
Malcolm Turnbull has leapt on advancements in DSL technology. Photo: Steven Siewert
Mr Lo, whose company makes routers, made the comments in the context of comparing the two national broadband network (NBN) plans presented by Australia's major political parties. The Coalition's proposes to use fibre only to the node for most of the population, and copper for the node-to-premises connection, whilst Labor is rolling out fibre all the way to each premise.
On the topic of copper, Mr Lo said that it would "always be a step behind fibre" in speed but recent history showed improvement was possible.
"If you look at it back in 2000 we were lucky to get copper juiced up to 384 Kbps. And two years later [the networking community said] 'You know what? We can crank it up to 2.4 Mbps'. And guess what? Five years later we could crack it up to 25 Mbps.
"And now we've demonstrated we can crank it up to 100 Mbps,” he said.
Mr Lo said that as the chief executive of a networking firm he preferred 1 Gbps speeds into people's homes, such as under Labor's plan, but would settle for 100 Mbps today, which will eventually be achievable under the Coalition's plan.
In the future, however, as more Australians connected more devices to the internet, much faster speeds – more than 100 Mbps – would be required for homes and businesses, he said.
"Most customers ... [according to] the latest statistics ... [are] connecting up 10 devices in Australian homes today," Mr Lo said. "And mostly it's doing video streaming basically.
"[They're] also doing internet surfing and communications like audio and video conferences. And so for these applications I would say 100 Mbps is ideal for today. But I also see there is a tendency [to] get more and more devices connected.
"I've seen predictions that there will be more than 25 to 35 devices ... connected. In that case certainly we'd like to have more than 100 Mbps into the house.
"If there's no limit on how much you can spend clearly you should go all the way with fibre to every single home. But it really depends on how much money you're willing to spend.
"I think if you have a faster network then you would create opportunities for more entrepreneurs to come out with more applications to enhance people's lives ... But of course it's always an economic situation."
Mr Lo's views on copper are likely to be welcomed by Malcolm Turnbull, who will use copper in his proposed rollout plan should the Coalition win the federal election this Saturday
Conversely, Mr Lo's comments on the future need of speeds higher than 100 Mbps are likely to be supported by Labor's Deputy Leader and Communications Minister Anthony Albanese.
Under Labor's fibre-to-the-premise network, broadband will be delivered via fibre to 93 per cent of the population by 2021 with download speeds by the end of this year of up to 1 Gbps and upload speeds of up to 400 Mbps.
Under the Coalition's alternative plan, 71 per cent of the population by 2019 would receive broadband via a fibre-to-the-node, or street corner, network which would then piggyback off the existing copper. It would offer download speeds of between 25 Mbps and 100 Mbps by the end of 2016 and 50Mbps to 100Mbps by the end of 2019. Upload speeds aren't guaranteed but the Coalition says a ratio of 4:1 can be expected.
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