The NBN Co was rebooted at the end of last year, and ever since then it has been behaving…strangely. All of a sudden, Fibre-To-The-Premises (FTTP) is a giant steaming pile of arse. Wait, what?
To understand why, we need to go back in time slightly.
Before the Coalition won power in the last election, the National Broadband Network Company (to use its full name) was fully committed to delivering fast internet to Aussies via a mix of Fixed Wireless and Satellite delivery networks, with Fibre-To-The-Premise forming the cornerstone of the plan. Millions of Aussies would see their homes and businesses passed by the FTTP infrastructure, which promised download speeds of 100Mbps to each connection.
The Coalition thought it frightfully expensive, and decided to run on a platform of building it cheaper and “sooner”, with something called Fibre-To-The-Node (or FTTN) at the cornerstone. FTTN would leave the copper in the ground through your street and up to your home, but instead of connecting to a Telstra exchange, it would hook up to a fibre box at the end of every street in the nation.
Combined with the beefed up Fixed Wireless network, Satellite coverage and existing hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) networks, the Multi-Technology Mix NBN was born.
A handful of Government reviews and a whole lot of talking later, the NBN Co was rebooted and started building the network the nation’s geeks were all crying out for.
But while the construction folks were busy retooling the NBN to make it MTM friendly, the content farmers at HQ were busy pretending the last five years of FTTN hadn’t happened. In short, they started to badmouth FTTN, despite the fact that it still makes up a sizeable portion of the deployed network infrastructure today.
Just yesterday, NBN Co announced in its half-yearly report that it had reduced the number of customers with unconnectable FTTP services, down from 31 per cent to 17 per cent in just one year of work. It’s working to fix the FTTP that’s already there, but doesn’t want anyone pining for it in future.
Its public messaging tells a story of carefully managed customer expectations around speed, deployment time and technology used in the rollout.
The New NBN Co wants you to know that the “average Australian household” only needs 25Mbps of speed down the pipe, despite the fact that old NBN Co was promising a minimum of 100Mbps for everything from telehealth through to 4K video streaming.
Gigabit speeds delivered over FTTP aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be either, according to New NBN Co. Looking at Singapore’s FTTP roll-out, it found that Gigabit connections were broadly cancelled because ISPs couldn’t connect the vast number of customers who wanted to sign-up in a timely fashion. Gigabit has now been branded as “marketing hype” by unnamed industry executives in Singapore. Oh well, better not ever have it then.
Same goes for the FTTP “broadband wonderland” of South Korea, which many FTTP believers held up as the gold standard in FTTP network deployment. Not according to new NBN Co, which told us on 5 Feburary, 2015 that the ISP revenues and the overall customer experience fell victim to fierce competition between customers drove fierce competition between ISPs, which was ultimately “detrimental for the operators themselves as broadband access profit margins were pared to the bone”.
Neither the South Korean nor the Singaporean blog posts reported any issues with the technology used to get customers fast internet, but they both had the underlying message that FTTP causes customer squabbles and poor user experience at the hands of inept ISPs. So why would we ever want FTTP, we’re encouraged to ask? From these examples it’s just a road to ruin, right?
The most telling headline comes from the coverage of Google’s Fiber product roll-out in the US under the New NBN regime and the Old NBN regime.
The Wayback Machine tells us that NBN Co wanted to share the “amazing speed of Google Fiber in the US” back in September 2012:
Over in the US, Google is doing a broadband rollout of its own, using fibre to the premises technology. It’s called, simply, Google Fiber.
Check out this demo on YouTube demonstrating the speed of Google Fiber.
The second half of the video, showing full high definition video, streaming from the internet, with the ability to instantly skip back and forth through the video is particularly impressive.
The post linked to a video which has since been stripped, but it was a demonstration of just how fast Google was able to pull speeds down over its FTTP roll-out.
Skip ahead to 20 Feburary, 2015, however, and you find that the agenda of throwing shade on FTTP in favour of the Government’s MTM in the post entitled: “Google Fiber: Leading from behind?”
The post goes on to say that “despite huge amounts of publicity” Google Fiber product deployment is slow and inferior to other private deployments from Malcolm Turnbull’s favourite, US telco AT&T. While the post is meant to be complimentary of Google’s FTTN roll-out (“Despite launching back in 2009 Google Fiber is still available in only three cities – but its impact on the US broadband market has still been significant”), it damns with false praise.
“Whilst Google Fiber might not have yet become the broadband giant that many thought it would a few years ago the American broadband industry has already changed dramatically just by its presence on the playing field,” NBN Co writes.
Translation? You thought you wanted Google Fiber, but look how wrong you are, and how right we are.
Get back in line.
During the Coalition’s election campaign, Malcolm Turnbull went to market to sell his MTM NBN plan, and held up AT&T in the US and BT in the UK as the ones “doing it right” with vectored ADSL, FTTN and other technologies. In the same way that the February post about Google Fiber looked to continue that favourable AT&T commentary, the NBN Co blog is keeping is up to speed with BT as well.
“BT ready to kick off G.Fast broadband revolution,” wrote NBN Co on 3 February, 2015.
The post talked about the UK broadband poster child’s roll-out of G.Fast: a technology capable of delivering “Gigabit-like speeds” over copper lines.
“From an Australian perspective, the BT announcement again shows the possibilities offered by a adopting a technology agnostic approach to broadband deployment and utilising existing network assets alongside exciting new technologies such as G.Fast,” it concluded.
The overarching message here is simple: our technology is best, and despite what you read, you don’t have a real need for the speed “the other mob” promised you.
Of course, all of this started when the NBN Co decided to purge almost all the blog posts from before the last Federal Election.
Only one post really survived the pre-election cull. During Labor’s tenure, NBN Co posted a blog about Han Shoing Siah. He’s in the Northern Territory and signed up to the NBN Fixed Wireless service to boost his family’s tropical fruit business.
“The NBN makes this connection so much easier and can help me expand my business,” he was reported as saying before the election in a 10 paragraph post that went on to talk about the sort of speeds customers could expect from Fixed Wireless:
NBN Co finished the rollout of fixed wireless in the Northern Territory in early April. The fixed wireless network is designed to offer service providers wholesale speeds of up to 12Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for uploads, with plans to increase these speeds to 25Mbps for downloads and 5Mbps for uploads from June 2013.
Fast-forward to 15 December 2014 after the cull, and the post shrinks dramatically to three paragraphs and a few bullet points. Gone are the references to speed in the slightest.
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt on that one, because as we now know, the Fixed Wireless network was up the proverbial creek without a paddle under the former Government according to a Coalition-led review.
This post shows, however, that some things from the old regime survived, even if NBN Co would rather they didn’t. Much like the remaining FTTP network it would rather not talk about.
All of this has happened before. As usual: don’t always believe what you read about the National Broadband Network. Just like the speeds you’ll get from the new multi-technology mix rollout, what you hear about the NBN depends on where you stand.