Switkowski toes the Coalition's NBN line

NBN Co chairman’s responses to questions at his first grilling by the Senate Estimates Committee are not surprising for all the wrong reasons.

NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski’s responses to questions at his first grilling by the Senate Estimates Committee were surprising for all the wrong reasons.

Nothing that Dr Switkowski said was unexpected, some of what he said was quite remarkable, and what he did not say was of great concern.

Australia was warned that the Coalition’s target of a minimum of 25 Mbps download speeds for all Australians before the end of 2016 would be highly unlikely when Dr Switkowski said it would be a "very, very tight timetable.”

Yes it will be, first Telstra has to be given barrow loads of gold, construction companies will need to be placated with yet more barrow loads of gold and those darn cities and countries that have been flooding the news with plans for immediate Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) rollouts will be sent stern messages that they are not following Coalition policy.

Predicting traffic and demand  

Dr Switkowski's carefully constructed statements echoed those made by Communication Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Nothing surprising there, but Dr Switkowski went on to make a statement that has been a staple of the Coalition’s flawed argument against FTTP.

“In 1995, neither you nor I could have picked what was relevant in this industry in 2005,” replied Switkowski. “I know that for a fact because I was around at the time. In 2005 and 2003 we would have missed 2013 by a very, very wide margin. We’ve got to be very careful about making decisions today that have associated with them today enormous costs and enormous execution challenges because we think that in 10 years (time) there’s going to be particular applications required for just that delivery.”

Is Dr Switkowski really expecting the Australian public to believe that the Australian telecommunications industry cannot predict with some certainty what the nation’s digital network traffic characteristics, download rates and connection speeds will be over the next decade and beyond?

Dr Switkowski, in his role as the Chancellor of RMIT University, has over 50 Academics at his disposal that would be able to provide him with clear concise guidance on where the internet is going.

During the Senate estimates committee session Dr Switkowski asked the question “What’s significant about a gigabit per second?” The answer is straightforward and goes to the heart of why a UK BT style FTTN is unacceptable.

A fibre network provides the opportunity to achieve the key requirements for a next generation digital network which were provided in an earlier article titled “Thinking beyond ‘copper’ versus ‘fibre’":

1. Minimum access network speeds of 1 Gbps download and 400 Mbps upload

2. Average 100 GB per month per customer increasing tenfold over the next decade

3. Network utilisation below 70 per cent

4. Implement Quality of Service (QoS) utilising four traffic management classes

5. Three backhaul provider connections at each PoI

Having listened to Dr Switkowski’s comments at the Senate estimates committee, I wonder when was the last time Dr Switkowski visited a major appliance store where he would be confronted by an array of new 4K televisions?

Possibly Dr Switkowski missed the news that Netflix is trialing streaming of 4K TV so that service can be made available to customers with fibre connections in 2014?

The UK Internet Service Providers' Association’ spokesman Craig Nelson, told the BBC: "We think streaming of 4K TV services will require minimum broadband speeds of about 100Mbps to work properly, but only businesses, production houses and a limited number of homes currently have that kind of speed.”

That’s right and in Australia we’re not going to get that speed until sometime after 2020 so don’t hold your breath.

Entertainment aside, a FTTP network will provide reliable managed network connections suitable for high bandwidth education, health and business applications that will rely on effective traffic class management. And yes more than 100 Mbps will be needed together with the four other key requirements listed earlier.

Has Dr Switkowski ever wondered why Google is building Google Fiber? What about Los Angeles’ decision to roll out FTTP?

Following BT's footsteps?

The most important message provided by Dr Switkowski at the Senate estimates committee is that there is no need to wait for the NBN review due to be released on 2 December 2013.

NBN Co has commenced the process of rolling out a UK BT style Fibre to the Node (FTTN) non-upgradable network.

Justification for the decision will be a rehash of the Coalition’s NBN plan with cherry picked snippets from leaked reports that support the Coalition’s position.

Australia is being sold a lemon at a time when sanity needs to prevail.

Dr Switkowski, a nuclear physicist, has spent his life tilting at windmills in his personal quest for Australia to embrace nuclear power. So it’s puzzling that an individual with a personal perspective based on a logical yet socially and politically unpalatable argument to replace coal with nuclear power has failed to grasp that FTTN is yesterday’s technology and the rest of the world, including most Australians, are keen to embrace FTTP.

But then again, possibly Dr Switkowski was accidentally reading from a future skit by the soon to be reformed Monty Python at the Senate estimates committee?

Or was he serious when he said that Australia was to be provided with a non-upgradeable UK BT style FTTN network that will doom the nation to telecommunication hell for 30 years?

Mark Gregory is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University. You can follow @_markagregory on Twitter or read his blog here.

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