Broadband: Consumption vs Production

The Coalition has launched its broadband policy (from a technical perspective little more than an update of its previous fibre to the node copper to the home policy) and from a technical point of view it has only 2 advantages it is deliverable for a lower price sooner.

Why should Australia stick with our existing fibre to the home strategy rather than go with something less expensive we can have sooner?
The Coalition plan is akin to opposing the electrification of Australia to widen the gas mains. Enhancing an old technology for short term lower cost benefits but for a technology which has a limited future.

I propose 2 reasons in order of importance for favouring fibre:

  • Fibre offers a better future growth path and comparable costs of the system
  • Do we want to be a nation of producers or consumers

Fibre growth path

VDSL and ADSL and other technologies over copper are limited by the fact that copper itself lowers less speed both bandwidth and latency than fibre. These very clever technologies help us get the most out of the lesser facility offered by copper. Replacing copper with fibre resets the clock on development offering us 20 to 30 years of possible technology improvements.

The claimed lower costs of the Coalition plan are somewhat manufactured:
  • Where we need to replace the copper with fibre in the future it will be more expensive as it is piecemeal and we will eventually want to replace it.
  • The maintenance cost on the copper network will have to be met.

Producers versus consumers

We spend a long time talking about download bandwidth, but 2 other numbers are probably more important in the long run:
  • upload bandwidth
  • latency
Fibre generally is better for both.

Producers upload. Consumers download. We are all consumers to some degree, but the unavailability of good upload speeds limit opportunities to start producing. Even simple things like uploading a 10 minute video of medium quality takes over 15 minutes on reasonable ADSL and can completely block your downloading activity. The current ratio of upload to download is constrained by the technology and is more easily addressed in fibre than copper.

Home businesses and businesses starting up benefit from the ready ability to get good upload speeds with low latency. Even where servers located in data centres are used remote desktops will perform better with lower latency.

The long run

In the long run fibre is the better option - we will go fibre eventually wherever we can - the only question is whether we put in an interim technology in the meantime. There will be little reuse of the interim network in the final network so we don’t save money and postpone the future by putting in a stop gap copper based network.