NBN: Not Mobile Wireless Broadband

A lot of debate over the NBN has centred on whether it should be a completely wireless solution. Certainly, there are functional benefits to wireless solutions, and many believe the NBN would be much cheaper and easier if it were a wireless solution. However, as I have discussed previously, wireless isn’t as quick, easy, and cheap as many would believe.

There have also been several interested “lobby groups” pushing the wireless agenda, such as that from the so-called “Alliance for Affordable Broadband, which I examined here as not much more than a self-serving interest group of wireless operators.

Now comes another wireless operator crying foul of the NBN and it’s plans.

According to Pivotel managing director, Peter Bolger:

“People want to get high-speed data wherever they go so you really have to look a providing high-speed data services everywhere across the country using various technologies.”

As the MD of a wireless operator, Bolger is obviously empowered to look after the interests of Pivotel, but I feel that he has either missed the point of what the NBN is, or is simply using the whole confused debate over the NBN within the wider community to get some easy publicity. In the long term, I don’t know that either is such a brilliant idea.

Pivotel’s own website clearly positions them as a provider of mobile communications services, such as satellite internet and phone service.

The bottom line is, the wireless proportion of the NBN project – (designed to provide the 94th to 97th percentiles of the 100% coverage map) – is not about “mobile broadband” at all. The wireless services provided by the NBN will be FIXED location – that is, an antenna mounted on your house, with the signal feeding down to the same network termination unit as you would find on your house if it were in an area served by fibre.

Many people talk loudly that we shouldn’t be spending so much money on a fixed NBN, because everyone wants to be mobile, and that the NBN doesn’t allow for this – and they are correct. In fact, it has never been designed for this, and most likely will never contain any mobile services.

If you want mobile broadband, you can have it – right now – and that won’t change.

Mobile broadband operators have nothing to fear from the NBN, because the NBN will not be operating in this space. Even as recently as last week, Telstra was allocated a large chunk of spectrum in regional areas to expand mobile coverage. The government would not have allocated this spectrum if they felt it would threaten the NBN in any way.

Indeed, part of the deal between the government, NBN Co, and Telstra is that for agreeing to close down its copper network and move customers onto the NBN, Telstra would be guaranteed the right to bid for 4G spectrum after 2013, when a large swathe of the RF spectrum is freed up by the completion of the switch off of analogue television services.

All operators will be able to compete for and get access to this same spectrum – whether they be Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, or indeed, Pivotel.

I just wish the mobile operators would stop using this point of confusion as to what kind of wireless services NBN plans to deliver to push their own unrelated agenda, when in fact, they should be welcoming the NBN simply because it doesn’t impede on their established mobile broadband market segment.

Mobile broadband will continue to remain very important, and will continue to grow. It is however an expensive consumer solution for an “at-home-always-on” service, such as that which the NBN will provide, at much more realistic end-user prices.

In the end, muddying the waters like this does nothing but to confuse the public debate even more than it already has been.