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No NBN for you under Coalition - yet

Date

Lucy Battersby

Malcolm Turnbull says he agrees high-speed broadband will deliver economic benefits, it just doesn't need to be through fibre-to-the-premises.

Malcolm Turnbull says he agrees high-speed broadband will deliver economic benefits, it just doesn't need to be through fibre-to-the-premises. Photo: AFR

Australia's largest cities may receive no broadband upgrade until 2017 under the Coalition's current NBN policy, because households already have access to cable networks installed in the 1990s.

Cabled suburbs have a "pretty good service now", according to the opposition's communications spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull, and would be a lower priority than suburbs without any cable access.

The cables were installed to carry pay TV services but have since also provided broadband connections.

Hybrid fibre-coaxial [HFC] cable networks installed by Telstra to deliver Foxtel, Optus and some smaller operators cover most of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, parts of inner Darwin, Perth, Adelaide and the Gold Coast, and regional towns of Geelong, Mildura and Ballarat in Victoria.

"Our current plan is to roll out fibre-to-the-node in all the fixed-line footprint. You can assume that we are going to build over the HFC [network] – it is just not a matter of priority," Mr Turnbull told Fairfax Media.

"As to what happens to the HFC areas longer term, that is going to depend on the negotiations with Telstra and Optus, so there are a few options there."

The Coalition would delay fibre-to-the-node upgrades in cable areas until the 2017-18 financial year, according to its policy paper. This contrasts with Labor's current NBN policy, which has already started building fibre-to-the-home connections in areas served by cable, with a view to replacing all fixed connections at 93 per cent of premises by 2021.

With cable networks already capable of delivering broadband speeds in the Coalition's target of 50 megabits per second [Mbps], it is unknown if these suburbs would ever receive an upgrade under a Coalition government.

Mr Turnbull said he had not yet achieved a "meeting of the minds" with Telstra about its cable network and future upgrades would depend on "relative costs". European research has found it possible to upgrade cable beyond 1 gigabit per second, but at high costs, according to a report by Dutch consulting firm TNO.

"I am satisfied that we can acquire the d-side copper [sites between households and exchanges], but there are a number of options [for HFC]. We could simply take it over and integrate it into the NBN, that is probably the cleanest option."

On Wednesday Mr Turnbull said: “On the one hand, you have 30 per cent of Australia that has access to 100 Mbps speeds. On the other hand, there are 2 million households that can’t even access a YouTube video because their connectivity is so poor. We make no bones that alleviating this digital divide is the most urgent priority of the Coalition’s broadband policy.”

Asked earlier whether he had already started negotiating with Telstra for the Coalition's NBN rollout, Mr Turnbull replied: "I could not possibly comment".

Both Telstra and Optus' cable networks cover about 2.5 million premises with cable, but have significant overlap. Carriers do not publish detailed maps of their cable networks, making it difficult for voters to know what kind of broadband connection they would get under a Coalition government.

Many cables have received upgrades since 2010 to support peak speeds of 100 Mbps. A recent study in the Netherlands found cable could be upgraded further to deliver download speeds of 1.6 gigabits per second, with uploads of 250 Mbps, but only for a maximum of 20 premises per section of cable.

Both Optus and Telstra have signed commercial agreements with NBN Co to decommission their cable for a fee, but Telstra's deal allows it to keep the cable active for Foxtel transmission. These contracts must be renegotiated if a Coalition government wants to keep the networks alive.

"The fact that both operators are keen to close down their networks indicates that they most certainly don't see these networks as ideal infrastructure for the future," telecommunications analyst Paul Budde said.

Upgrading the cable and changing regulations so all carriers could sell services would "require long [financial] negotiations and lengthy regulatory processes", he added.

"If it was all that easy that would have been done 10 years ago."

Known HFC coverage:

Telstra: Urban areas in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth
Optus: Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane
Other: Mildura, Ballarat, Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga, Canberra, Darwin and Perth (Ellenbrook)

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103 comments

  • The ex-head of British Telecom, Peter Cochrane, told the UK parliament that just about every country that was moving to NBN was putting in a 1 Gbps network and planning for a 10 Gbps network. Malcolm seems to be all excited about being able to achieve 100Mbps over his copper wires, but that's starting to push the limits of copper and the theoretical limit for copper is 1 Gbps, which is unlikely to ever be achieved.

    Japan already has a 2 Gbps network. Many countries around the world already have 1 Gbps networks. Third-world countries already have the 24Mps fibre to the not network that the Coalition are promising.

    Is that all Australia wants to do now? Strive to achieve what the third-world countries already have?

    Commenter
    Tone
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    September 04, 2013, 7:43AM
    • Amazing. You are comparing countries with a very small land mass relative to Australia. I'm sure we could have Labor's NBN very economically - if everyone lived on the same block.

      Commenter
      Malik the magic sheep
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 10:57AM
    • Actually Malik the magic sheep, since Australia's populations are so localised in the capital cities, we can achieve pretty much the same as small land mass european countries for comparable cost. Our populations are so concentrated that it is a fair comparison. Areas in the country are also serviced, but, like in the NBN, would be done so via satellite and other methods.

      Commenter
      Rusty Shackleford
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 11:31AM
    • @Malik the magic sheep you forget that Australia is one of the most urbanised countries on the planet for the vast majority of the country fibre will be relatively easy to deliver.

      Commenter
      DamienF
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 11:41AM
    • I've made many statement on these forums to try to educate the dimwits about the benefits of the NBN, and that nothing beats fibre.

      However, Australia's nightmare is about to commence on Saturday night, and I fear that all is lost for the NBN. The LNP will sell NBN Co, along with Australia Post and the last remnants of government assets, including those that are nailed to the ground. That's how LNP governments fund their much-vaunted "surpluses". Another term for it is "smoke and mirrors".

      Turnbull was directed by Phoney Tony to tear down the NBN. His job is nearly complete, with the assitance of an electorate who are, by and large, clueless.

      The LNP never build anything - that's what Labor does. NBN, Snowy Mountains Scheme, Harbour Bridge, Opera House (until LNP clowns intervene and force the architect home), submarines - despite what an ill-informed press has to say about them (read "Steel, Spies and Spin by Yule and Woolner).

      As from Saturday, sit back and watch the half-wits in action. Or the half-wits' inaction.

      Commenter
      Grizwald
      Location
      Alexandria
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 11:52AM
    • Japan is ripping out their fiber because it can't be upgraded to 10G. Their migration plan for customers that need faster service is to build a second network for the upstream traffic.

      Our NBN is a cable TV network hack without the last mile coax and has serious preformance problems when scaled to large cities which is why Verizon and AT&T have stopped using that technology.

      Google's network in Kansas City is fiber to the node and then fiber from the node to home and they are delivering an unshared more than a gigabit in both directions unlike our shared NBN which can only deliver 1 Gigabit to 2 out of 32 customers at a time. They guarantee no price increases for 7 years while our wholesale NBN plans are already planned to double in that amount of time for a slower service. Google's network can also deliver 100 gigabits into places where it is needed and has been doing so for more than a year.

      We can do the NBN the wrong way or we can do it the right way and the current way isn't the right way.

      Commenter
      Tim
      Location
      Not in Kansas Anymore
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 12:01PM
    • @Tim

      The bandwidth restriction for the current NBN is not the fibre itself, it's the termination devices. These are essentially just electronic boxes sitting at the ends of the cable. As labor costs of replacing these is minor and unlike the fibre itself they have a relatively short lifespan, it was decided that in the initial rollout, rather than paying for devices which provide more bandwidth than we currently need, which would need to be replaced before we did need it, and which cost dramatically more at the present time, that they would install cheaper models and upgrade as they go along.

      The overwhelming majority of the cost of the NBN is the cost of burying fibre optic cable, cable which is, particularly if they are clever and bury multiple cables at once(which wouldn't add much to the cost) relatively future proof. It will eventually have to be replaced, but should be good enough to last us 40 years or better.

      Commenter
      Chris
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 1:02PM
    • @Tim: I'm curious about your claim that "Japan is ripping out their fiber because it can't be upgraded to 10G" (by which I assume you mean 10 gigabits per second). If you have a solid reference for that, I'd appreciate the link so I can read it. If they are ripping it out, what are they replacing it with?

      Even the fibre I was playing with 20 years ago could do 10 gigabits per second - we just didn't have the electronics to drive it at those speeds.

      Our NBN is, like Google's Kanas City example you cite, fibre to the home, and you pay for whatever speed you want - independently of your neighbours. Of course, delivering such rates also relies on back-end capacity, but that grows with the network. I cannot agree with your assertion that the NBN is a hacked cable TV network.

      Commenter
      Grzwald
      Location
      Alexandria
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 1:03PM
    • @Tim - mate, are you there? You've gone silent on us.....

      Commenter
      Grizwald
      Location
      Alexandria
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 2:22PM
  • Wow great vision Malcolm. Cabled suburbs have a "pretty good service now".
    This is why the coalition has never in its history initiated and delivered a single nation-changing initiative. I'm looking forward to another big sleep for Australia.

    Commenter
    chillster
    Date and time
    September 04, 2013, 7:49AM

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