Getting to grips with the NBN

By | 2013/05/01

There’s been a lot written about the National Broadband Network (NBN) since it was first announced, but one thing which has been fairly consistent throughout has been the Liberal/National Party roundly criticising it as too expensive, too complex, and inappropriate.

Yet the NBN is one of those rare policies that has the potential to completely transform how Australia is connected, and so deserves significant investment and attention, rather than half-baked approaches.

A lot of people get genuinely confused by the technology and the speeds involved, so I wanted to break it down into some basic concepts.

If we look at broadband in Australia at the moment via ADSL, you might say that connectivity from your house to the internet provider looks a bit like the following:

Current Broadband

Current Broadband

Sure, there’s a connection there, but the pipe is pretty small, and so the amount of things you can do with that pipe are pretty limited.

On the other hand, the NBN promises a much bigger pipe:

NBN Broadband

NBN Broadband

With that bigger pipe, you can continue to do the same things as you’ve been doing before, only much faster, and you can do new things that didn’t fit into the previous pipe at all.

After much discussion about how they could do an advanced communications network for Australia so much cheaper and better than the ALP, the LNP’s version of the NBN turned out to look like the following:


LNP broadband

A slightly bigger pipe so you can do the things you’re currently doing a little bit faster, but not really any more room for doing anything new.

The ALP version of the NBN is promising to deliver a speed of 100Mbs. The LNP version of the NBN (which will supposedly cost more than half of the NBN) delivers a promise of just 25Mbps – a tiny increase by comparison against what Australian households currently get for broadband. So more than half as expensive, only a quarter as fast.

That’s their first target. They say they’re aiming for more. I say “supposedly cost”, because the LNP NBN will consume considerably more energy than the ALP’s NBN, and they’re not bothering to factor those ongoing costs into the equation. In fact, they’re studiously avoiding mentioning that at all. Climate change, who cares, huh?

But let’s take this away from computers for the moment and give an alternate analogy: television.

If we were to evaluate the current broadband environment and alternate policies with TV, you could consider it thusly:

  • Current broadband is the analog equivalent of having SBS, ABC, 7, 9 and 10.
  • LNP broadband is offering you the conversion to digital on just those channels, with no extra channels – but you can choose one channel to get in high definition. Just one.
  • The ALP NBN is offering you the analogue channels, plus all the new digital channels, plus some Pay TV channels … and, you can broadcast your own channel if you want, too.

Two extra points about the LNP version of the NBN, using the TV analogy again:

  • Imagine a big, 2-3 metre diameter satellite dish sitting on street corners helping to provide the signal. Tens of thousands of them. That’s also part of the LNP plan. That’s where all that extra energy will be used. Their system requires large, bulky equipment cabinets, which for the Australian climate will need activate cooling systems.
  • Imagine being told that your current antenna stays in place and you only get reception as good as you’ve been getting up until now. If you want to get complete reception (i.e., the “max” speed promised by the LNP), you’ll need to fork out thousands of dollars for a new antenna.

The LNP broadband policy is one which firmly looks back at the internet of the early 00’s and says “That’s all we need!”

The ALP? Their NBN is about looking ahead and saying “Imagine what you can do if…!”


7 thoughts on “Getting to grips with the NBN

  1. Edward Bourne

    Does the ALP pay you weekly or monthly? This is utter ALP propaganda rubbish. You would think an article about the NBN might include some price structures… but no. You would also think that ANY project (no matter how beneficial) would have a specific budget and project competion date… but again, no.
    And as for your ‘thin arrow’ vs ‘fat arrow’ theory… one computer can have the fastest connection on earth connected to your NBN style setup… but if the computer on the other end has opted to NOT spend the (unknown amount of) money on faster internet… the internet is no faster than it is right now!

    In short… you are an idiot.

  2. preston Post author

    “Does the ALP pay you weekly or monthly?”
    -> No, the ALP doesn’t pay me. I work in IT. I suspect you need to check your need to insult at the door.

    “Price structures”
    -> Did I say my article was meant to be comprehensive? No. You want to look for price structures, look elsewhere. I’m comparing speeds and effects.

    “Would have a specific budget and project competion date”
    -> The word you’re looking for is actually “completion”.
    -> Further, project scope growth and cost growth is actually fairly common, and this isn’t a minor “we want to erect a new street sign here” project, but a massive country wide infrastructure project. To expect that the very first budget and project timeline assigned to it will be absolutely perfect is ludicrous.

    “‘Thin arrow’ vs ‘Fat arrow’ theory”
    -> I don’t think you’re grasping my intent. This isn’t just about peer to peer networking, this is about overall net access speed. The speeds available at the telco end are significantly larger than the speeds at the household end. And the average household computer is more than capable of sustaining a massive performance boost in internet speed.

    “In short … you are an idiot”
    -> Was your purpose to actually raise salient points or to merely insult me? Did you want to throw in “poopie head” as well?

  3. George

    I’m paying Telstra $88 per month for 100Mbps cable broadband with a 100GB per month usage allowance. I regularly perform speedtests and get an average of between 70 and 100Mbps depending on the time of day. How much will I save if I switch to the NBN? How much will the NBN cost for the struggling working family ? Will the NBN solve the horrendous premature death rates in the Aboriginal population? What are the ALP’s priorities??

    1. preston Post author

      Then you’re one of the rare lucky ones in Australia getting decent broadband speed.

      As for the “priorities” argument – I don’t buy it. Suggesting that nothing at any given priority should be looked at or addressed before something of a higher priority is completely and utterly solved doesn’t achieve anything. We’re able to productively achieve multiple things, why shouldn’t governments also be able to do so? If you subscribe to that theory, you also have to start to put subjective value on human lives and people who are disadvantaged. For instance, which would get higher priority – a national disability scheme, or Aboriginal health? Or maybe the initial priority would only be Aboriginals with disabilities? It’s not really logical to suggest that only one thing can be dealt with and solved at a time.

  4. George

    Luck has very little to do with why I’m getting decent broadband speed. My wife and I work very hard so that we can afford to live in a suburb that Telstra offers decent broadband speeds to. The government doesn’t owe me decent broadband speed, I shouldn’t have to rely on government for my Internet. The government should bring about the economic conditions to allow enterprise and consimers to prosper so that they can reap the benefits of fast broadband if they so chose. I am capable of prioritising my spending habits, which unfortunately is more than I can say for the ALP. Sure, it would be great if everything had equal priority, it’s just a matter of harvesting that money tree that’s growing our the back of ALP headquarters. Everyday I’m hearing on the news about another company going bankrupt or shedding employees. At the rate it’s going, the only people who’ll be connected to the NBN will be the mining magnates, the politicians and about 35 of their friends.

  5. preston Post author

    That’s an even more ridiculous argument than your first. So, everyone should move to your suburb so they can enjoy the same broadband speed as you?

    As to whether the government owes you decent broadband speed, it’s not _giving_ you the speed, it’s enabling the speed. You’re also not even considering high speed broadband as a business enabler – something the LNP has proven themselves equally incapable of doing.

    This is about building -infrastructure-.

    You’re comparing your ability to budget personal finances with that of an entire government? Bit of a stretch, there. Also, it’s rather disingenuous to talk about the ALP’s supposed money tree when the Howard government handed out more largesse and tax concessions than just about every previous government.

  6. Ed Davies

    George, we wouldn’t even have an Internet for your broadband to connect to if it wasn’t for government (mostly US¹ with a bit of British and other European²) intervention. The telephone companies of the 1960s and 70s wouldn’t have done anything of the sort without some serious external kicking.

    ¹ Particularly the ARPANet and funding of follow ons to that.
    ² E.g., one of the inventions of packet switching at NPL in Britain which fed directly into the ARPANet and, much later, the web at CERN.

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