NBN: Australian ISDN Revisited?

Simon Hackett’s fascinating talk (http://simonhackett.com/2013/07/17/nbn-fibre-on-a-copper-budget/) on the NBN and reducing the cost of it whilst retaining the fibre reminded me of some Australian telecommunications history - Australia’s ISDN overlay network.
Australia got into ISDN late and at greater cost than the rest of the world. We had our own standard for delivery, better suited to our environment: our ISDN went further from the exchange than the version deployed in Europe and parts of the USA. Telecom deployed it as an overlay service on their network.

The greater cost and delay were some of the reasons that Australia almost skipped over ISDN to ADSL technologies. Eventually, the overlay network was retired and the european ISDN standard introduced, but not before ISDN faded into Australian telecommunications history.

Perhaps, the moral of the story here is that fitness for a market is the product of:
  • price
  • functionality
  • timeliness
Improving a product or service at the cost of price and timeliness is a market risk in technological products and services (more so with shorter product cycles) and may lead to market failure or loss of potential customers.

As Simon Hackett suggests we have an opportunity here to use standardised technologies and competitive producers to drive down current and future costs. Furthermore, if our aim is to gain relative national competitiveness then learning from the past and preferring a more standard, earlier and cheeper solution may well outweigh any benefits of a more bespoke solution.