NBN: Nation Building?

Yesterday’s announcement of the scrapping of the Request for Proposal (RFP) process for Australia’s upcoming National Broadband Network (NBN), and therefore the federal government’s plans to go it alone in building the network has raised a lot of questions, and sparked much heated discussion within the industry.

Without going into the “good versus bad” aspects of the plan, I thought it timely to elaborate on what a properly designed, constructed, and (most importantly) legislated NBN means. What’s in it for home and business users?

Starting with business users first of all – you’ll be able to get a fixed, hard-wired (via optical fibre) connection of up to 100Mbps. Fast? Certainly – it’s as fast as the local network in most small to medium businesses today. The big question will be contention ratios – will the upstream backhaul networks be able to cope with the massive increase in data.

I’m sure that that network will be designed with this in mind – so I think we are safe there. However, international backhaul will be equally important. Australia is somewhat lacking in international “firepower” in this regard at the moment, so this will need to be considered also. Certainly, PIPE Networks new submarine cable PPC-1, currently under construction to Guam – (and directly connecting to the US backbone) – will become very necessary. More such cables may be required as the build out of the network continues.

The biggest advantage in laying out the NBN won’t just be related to the carriage of internet and other data. Advanced telephony services (such as VoIP) will finally have the raw bandwidth required to make them a REAL challenger to existing fixed line copper-based services. The advantages of such services were lost to small, and even to medium sized businesses, due to the bandwidth requirements adversely affecting call quality. This problem will practically disappear.

For the home user – costs should be able to come down. Instead of paying $50.00 every month for an internet service at a fraction of the proposed speeds – and bundled with web space, email accounts, and all the other rubbish – people will be able to choose what they want.

Just want data, don’t need web space, and using a Gmail account for email? Just pay for data – you’ll probably get 12Mbps – the previous minimum requirement for the NBN tender – for around $25.00 a month once connected. Nice.

If you want those features from your ISP – you can pay for them in addition. A-la-carte – exactly what you want, and nothing you don’t need. This helps the ISPs with economies of scale for their add-on services also.

Power users – who might run their own mail and web servers – can finally get cheap, serious bandwidth, and not have to worry about all the frills that are normally tacked on for home users.

The end result will be a very competitive SERVICES market – completely free of worrying about data carriage. Such competition can only be good for innovation and allowing market forces to determine the right price.