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Vision needs to remove NBN Co monopoly

Gary McLaren's picture

Frank makes up some great points.
But unfortunately there is common ground across the ideological and partisan NBN debate about the fundamental disconnect in Australia's telco policies - everyone seems to consider the NBN Co monopoly as sacrosanct. This is starting point for everyone's disparate "visions".
Australia seems to be the only country that starts from this position. This is the core of Australia's problem. Monopolies do not invest unless someone provides extra funds, usually taxpayers or customers who have no choice! As a result investment either doesn't happen or is too late.
Any vision for the future of Australia's telecom policy must first consider the fundamental issue of telecom monopolies.
Why is Australia the only market that considers this a no go zone?

The Utility of Broadband

Tim Herring's picture

Transferred to the main blog under "Broadband"

How should the FTTx investments be recouped?

Frank den Hartog's picture

I agree with Prof. Tucker's conclusion that the NBN will not bring Australia higher up the international ladder of fixed broadband connectivity speeds. But "being high up the ladder" should not be a goal in itself. The real tragedy is that we (industry, public, government) do not seem to have a shared (!) vision on our society's needs for broadband now and in the future, how these needs would translate into a measurable improvement of the society's well-being, and how this improvement subsequently would translate into everybody recouping a fair share of the investment costs and taking a fair share of the investment risks. Said otherwise, a viable business model and business case seems missing, plus a vision on how to implement such a business model given the existing organisation of Australia's telecommunications market.

As an illustration: the article discusses the costs of FTTN and FTTP deployment internationally, but costs may differ greatly per country, especially the OPEX part of it. Besides, who cares about the costs if there is a clear vision on how to earn them back? And what role could mobile networks (5G) play in this discussion? But lacking that vision, the only thing we can do is minimising the investment costs, and then comparisons like presented become relevant indeed. And, to be honest, even $2500 then sounds like a lot of money to me: with a fee of $50/month per household it would take ~10 years to earn this back, depending on which part of the fee should cover the infrastructure investments (here estimated on ~50%). Which company, nowadays, or even government (with its <3 year cycle), is prepared to take such a long term risk for an unclear outcome?

I firmly believe that Australia should be much better connected than it is now in order to maintain our standard of living, or even improve it. I believe that FTTN will help too little too late. But as long as we discuss broadband policies on the basis of just believes instead of facts and evidence, we will loose a lot of time, energy, and money in discussing and fighting. Resources we should better put into updating the network. I support Prof. Tucker's conclusion that NBN needs a vision for the future beyond 2021. But that's easier said than done. The lack of this vision is the real tragedy.

Good observations, Bob.

Graham Shepherd's picture

Good observations, Bob.

In the latest Journal, I try and take an overall view of the latest policy and Gary McLaren compares the utility model you describe with the competitive model proposed by Vertigan. The government seems to be hovering between a utility approach and a comptitive approach. In the Business Spectator last week ( Mark Gregory noted that if the government delays selling off the HFC until NBN Co upgrades it then a well-cashed-up player like Telstra could walk right back in to a dominant position in broadband access.

I wish that rational argument would prevail but despite the mantra of rational economics I doubt that it raises even a lazy eyebrow. Daniel Kahneman in "Thinking fast and slow" demonstrated that markets and consumers are not rational (unless they really concentrate). I suspect that governments and politicians are the least rational of all and wide open to powerful forces, including half-cocked ideologies, political expediencies and modern, more sophisticated versions of the good old brown paper bag (Askins, I think they were called).

I remember Richard Alston laughing his head of at naive young me when I suggested that he simply had to explain to the Australlian people the "good reasons" for privatising Telecom Australia and he would get his legisltation through. Of course, it was the mountainous tax-payerfunded political pay-offs to Senator Harradine that actually ensured the result he wanted.

There will be a wide readership of the Journal articles. You might like to add your comments there.

Graham Shepherd

Gigabit connections: MyRepublic says NBN chief is wrong

Nigel Swinney's picture

Given the rediculous cost to get 100Mbits currently I doubt we could justify 10x that for gigabit but it would be good to have if they priced it right

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Ian Campbell's picture

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Rob Nicholls's picture

PDF file reissued

administrator's picture

Thanks, Bruce. I hope that you received the reissued version of the pdf file on the same day.

Graham Shepherd

Ericsson "fair co-existence ... in unlicensed band"

Ken Sayers's picture

I recall when I worked for Neighbourhood Cable in the mid 2000's we had a Wi-Fi network in Mildura which was running perfectly until this mob from Tasmania called One Wire (according to Whirlpool they went belly up in Feb. 2008). This mob was sucking money out of the Broadband guarantee program then being run by the Howard Government. They put up a WiFi network which created massive interference to our network. When I spoke to the ACMA I was told "unlicensed spectrum is like the swings in the playground. All the people who want to use the swings have to agree on how they will be shared. There is no police who can come in and set up a regulated system, so unless they are interfering with licensed spectrum, too bad". We ended up having to send our technical guys out to fix their kit so as to reduce interference. So while it might sound like a great idea to use unlicensed spectrum for LTE, that use comes with risks. 5GHz in less risky as it's a pretty broad band, but then it is also pretty short range, so it might be good in a closed space like say a Race Track, as long as the users of that spectrum is limited by e.g. the club that owns the race track.

Ericsson "fair co-existence ... in unlicensed band"

administrator's picture

"Ericsson says ‘The testing validated LTE performance in the unlicensed band and fair co-existence with other technologies like Wi-Fi within the unlicensed 5 GHz band.’"

This is a very big claim. Such matters should be independently determined, not just claimed by a vested interest.

Graham Shepherd

2015 Charles Todd Oration

Douglas OHara's picture

Are there any vacancies for this Sydney event on 26 November 2015?

Regards ... Doug O'Hara

“Just” the Tragedy of Commons: what about LTE-U?

Brian Louey-Gung's picture

Andrew Kerans rightly points out that the WiFi bands are explicitly governed by Class Licenses and that anyone is allowed to play, as long as they abide by the sharing rules. Telstra is using the WiFi standard and as such is following the rules. He also points out quite rightly that at least some of the users being affected by the problem described by Stan Beer will be complicit as they will have prioritised the Telstra service on their smartphones – something that is easily rectified by changing the relevant smartphone options. Maybe the ACCC or the Council of Small Business Australia could create a pamphlet that gives straightforward instructions for the most popular smartphones so that affected businesses could distribute it to their customers.

However, Stan’s article leads to a related WiFi issue - LTE-U. This is where all of the carriers, not just Telstra, will start accessing the WiFi bands to supplement their already massive spectrum holdings. The developers of LTE-U assure us that they are going to great efforts to ensure that it won’t degrade the normal WiFi experience. Forgive me for being a little bit sceptical that their assurances are completely unbiased.

Stan is not the only one to notice WiFi sharing issues. Apparently the Dutch Radio agency Agentschap Telecom published a report recently noting many instances of overloaded WiFi at 2.4Ghz (Sorry, I don’t read Dutch, so I am quoting second hand). So even when everyone plays by the WiFi rules, the Tragedy of Commons occurs – too many users attempting to share a limited resource spoils it for everyone. While opening up the 5Ghz band alleviates the problem, this is just a temporary fix as the user-base grows to fill even this 'enlarged' commons. The deployment of LTE-U will add a massive new user base for WiFi spectrum in one hit.

Rather than relying on the backers of LTE-U telling us not to worry, I’d be much more comfortable if someone like the ACMA analysed the issue and provided independent expert assurances that the ordinary WiFi user is not going to be at the ‘Tragedy’ end of the Tragedy of Commons.


Is Telstra the bully or is it just the tragedy of the commons

Andrew Kerans's picture

In CommsWire on 7 October Stan Beer decried Telstra for being ‘the bully in the playground’ stealing everybody’s ‘WiFi’ lunch money.  Really, is it that bad and is it just Telstra.

To answer the second question first, no it isn’t just Telstra.  Various technologies use, or are looking at using the ‘free’ 2.4 and 5.8 GHz ‘WiFi’ bands.  They are also perfectly entitled to.  These bands are not actually set aside for WiFi, nor does WiFi have and special rights there.  WiFi must share these bands with whatever else comes along.

The beauty, and ugliness of these bands is that they are practically globally harmonised for the same purpose, Industrial, Scientific and Medical applications, hence the proper term for them, ISM bands.  This global harmony has brought about a proliferation of different ingenious devices doing almost everything you could imagine could be done with radio.  Yet each one of these devices must share the spectrum in accordance with the rules set out in the ACMA Class Licence (in Australia).

Stan also says that patrons of coffee shops ‘find the Telstra service barging its way onto their screens interfering with the weaker local signal’.  Really?  I doubt it.  The powers (in EIRP) are defined in the Class Licence and I doubt very much an organisation like Telstra would flout them the way some other smaller ISPs have and do, particularly when using 5.8 GHz for point to point feeder systems. 

The WiFi radios in the Telstra system would operate to the same rules the smaller WiFi systems do. If the box in the coffee shop is carefully positioned then there would be very little difference in power.  WiFi is cooperative, so just like in a crowded ‘multi system’ shopping centre things will still work OK as long as everybody obeys the rules.  Now if you happen to let your smartphone or tablet ‘prioritise’ Telstra and don’t disable that, then the barging in is really your own fault, albeit a human weakness that perhaps Telstra knows about.

So, the WiFi bands are not the domain of WiFi or of any one or any group of operators.  In my time in the ACMA we called them ‘garbage bands’ because there was simply so much stuff in there.  The other problem with these bands is a soon as one person’s application cops a bit of interference from another they think the ACMA should drop everything, step in and fix it.  Well they simply are not going to, they have bigger fish to fry and besides, playing in the garbage can get smelly.

The value the ISM bands deliver to the community through technical innovation, and yes: WiFi, is undeniable.  But just as the town commons does not belong to any single sheep herder these bands do not belong to WiFi.  So Stan, either pool your lunch money into a communal fund, or find another playground.

Dr Andrew Kerans; Spectrum Management Associates.

IoT security

Tristang's picture

It opens alot of questions, there is alot of of people discussing it. I have organised with Stuart Corner to talk on IoT next month and these will be some good questions to pose to him.