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The Future of the NBN Broadband Network in Australia

As a Professional Engineer in Telecommunications with an earlier 30 year career in Telstra, mainly in the transmission network planning area, I sometimes muse about the ideal way forward for Australia’s NBN Broadband Network.

I like the fact that there is one wholesale network which retailers can sell from as opposed to competing wholesale networks which would cause a huge waste of resources due to unnecessary duplication for no benefit.

I think that the recent commencement of the NBN network installation is ideal to help with Australia’s future development in pretty well all areas of endeavour, including industrial development and improved telecommuting to take more pressure off road and air travel. And I very much like the overall deal that the NBN has currently done with Telstra. I feel it’s good for the NBN and also good for Telstra.

I like the point-to-multipoint fixed microwave radio plans for areas of regional Australia where Optical Fibre to the Home is not viable. Also the Satellite plans for outback Australia where the other telecommunications technologies are not economical.

The main area of change I would like to see is in the need to give priority to the areas where the NBN network should be provided first. These are industrial/business/medical areas plus residential areas where the current Broadband technologies are not adequate – eg in residential areas a long distance from their local exchanges where current DSL technologies don’t have effective reach. Also, areas outside the coverage by the existing hybrid Optical Fibre – Coax CableTV networks already serving residential areas pretty well for the time being.

With this targeted approach which would allow NBN profitability all the way through the NBN’s growth in coverage, I don’t mind if the Fibre to the Home network takes a few years longer to install overall. A longer install time would also enable us to work better with the limited availability of skilled installation staff in Australia.

However, I feel that diverting NBN resources into a Fibre to the Node approach would be a waste of Australia’s resources. This is because the gains over current DSL technologies are minimal for the large expenditure involved and we need to go to a Fibre to the Home approach at some reasonable stage in the near future to get the high speeds we will need going forward. In addition, Telstra is currently providing a fibre to the node type network anyway in areas where DSL does not currently reach. It’s called their “Top Hat” programme where they install small DSLAMs on their RIMs at the end of Optical Fibre main cables. Also, the node to the home copper network that would be retained for the NBN Fibre to the Node approach is the worst part of the current copper network. This is because it takes a lot of upkeep due to water getting into the node to home distribution copper cables, etc and causing lots of faults. On the other hand, the main cables from an exchange to a node are low maintenance due to the current use of gas pressurized copper cable to keep out the water or because they have already been replaced with Optical Fibre cables by the ongoing replacement programme by Telstra.

Overall, I feel that the multiple mobile networks covering Australia are working well and these provide a good flexible/mobile service, including for machine to machine communications, which is complementary to the fixed Optical Fibre/microwave/satellite network being provided by the NBN to provide good, continuous, high grade performance with no drop outs for general Broadband business/residential services into the long term.

Written by Ing. Kelvin Lillingstone-Hall – OAK Telecom, Australia.  0418 304 103, kelvinlh@oaktelecom.com.au

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