Telecommunications Policy


(David Boxall) #1

As far as I can tell, the Party has no policy on telecommunications apart from this:
“The current copper network is not sufficient to meet the requirements of a growing digital society. A fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure project that connects the majority of Australians to a fibre network, where economically feasible, is fundamental to the creation of a vibrant digital society in Australia.”

The Coalition has made a complete dog’s breakfast of the NBN. Labor seems to have pretty much abandoned it as an issue. Blunders of the past have done a pretty good job on Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure, in general.

The telecommunications network is far more than the NBN. In fact, the NBN can be viewed as little more than a repair job on a system that’s been damaged by past poor judgement - an attempt to restore what should always have been.

My perspective is set out on my home site. There’s some history, analysis and editorialising there that might clarify what I’m on about.

Optical fibre will evidently serve for at least a century. We therefore need to plan on that time-scale. Bearing in mind that Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure grew from little more than a single iron wire to a copper network covering nearly all of the population in less time than that, we can probably achieve quite a lot.

I’d aspire to cover:

  • fibre to every Australian premises;
  • mobile coverage over all of Australia’s territorial land areas and as much of the sea territory as possible;
  • effective competition in the retail space;
  • public ownership of the infrastructure.
    I doubt that any of the first three will be achieved without the last.

(Isaac Pursehouse) #2

So you know what you want to do but how do you suggest it is accomplished.
The main holes I can see most people poking in your plans are:

  • The population was a lot smaller and less geographically spread out when the copper network was originally rolled out and has been built along side the population spread as it went.
  • There are still a lot of rural and regional properties that don’t have a phone line so getting fiber to them is very unlikely (hence the 2 way satellite component to the NBN)
  • Mainland Australia covers ~5% of the earths surface and we have less than 0.6% of the global population, making us the least populated country in the world, so why would we try to cover all of Australia with mobile signal, even if it was possible?
    Cambodia which is one of the poorest nations in the world can provide universal mobile coverage with unlimited plans for about $6-$8/month because they have more than 60 million people in an area the size of metropolitan Sydney.

I was working for Telstra during the CDMA shut down and had to support all the government, health and transport departments way out in the sticks during the change over.


(David Boxall) #3

[quote=“Isaac, post:2, topic:770”]
So you know what you want to do but how do you suggest it is accomplished.[/quote]How would you go about it?

[quote=“Isaac, post:2, topic:770”]
… your plans …[/quote]I don’t pretend to know enough to plan, that’s why I speak of aspiration rather than targets or goals. In raising the issue, I hope to get the attention of someone knowledgeable, with the wit to think outside the box and the courage to think at the necessary scale.

[quote=“Isaac, post:2, topic:770”]

  • The population was a lot smaller and less geographically spread out when the copper network was originally rolled out …[/quote]Before making such assertions, you might like to study a little history. At that time, Australia’s major industries were agricultural and therefore rural. In 1901 around 50% of the population lived outside major centres, either on the land or in small settlements. We were, in fact, far more “spread out”.

[quote=“Isaac, post:2, topic:770”]
… and has been built along side the population spread as it went.[/quote]I think you’ll find that the population preceded the telephone by around a century. The network had a lot of catching-up to do, hence the overhead wires and party line mentioned in one of the links from the opening piece. Those were stop-gaps, just as satellite and fixed wireless are today.

[quote=“Isaac, post:2, topic:770”]

  • There are still a lot of rural and regional properties that don’t have a phone line so getting fiber to them is very unlikely (hence the 2 way satellite component to the NBN)[/quote]Copper is limited by its service life. The network can’t be any larger than what can be replaced within the service life of the technology. Even so, our forebears managed to get copper to some surprisingly remote locations. Places that I doubt we’d have the courage to attempt these days.

The service life of fibre is many times that of copper, so the network is potentially many times larger. If we’re going to rely on satellites as more than stop-gaps then, given the exponential rise in demand and the short service life of a satellite, we’re going to need an awful lot of them. <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-15/outback-nbn-internet-plan-won’t-end-data-drought-lobbyist-says/7028818>

[quote=“Isaac, post:2, topic:770”]

  • Mainland Australia covers ~5% of the earths surface and we have less than 0.6% of the global population, making us the least populated country in the world, so why would we try to cover all of Australia with mobile signal, even if it was possible?[/quote]I reckon you’ve answered your own question. We would aspire to cover Australia with mobile telecommunications because its sparsely populated. The more remote the location, the more vital is communication; literally - lives have ended for lack of it. I have relatives travelling the outback right now; they have an EPIRB, but the cost of a sat. 'phone was beyond them (actually, I don’t think they believed me when I told them that their mobiles wouldn’t pick up a signal over most of their route).

If we’re going to push fibre to the max, then why wouldn’t we leverage that investment as backhaul for the mobile network?

The social good and business benefits are difficult to quantify, so accounting for and offsetting them against the costs of the network would be problematic. I’ve no doubt, however, that the potential benefits are substantial.

I’m guessing that you look at this from a short-term profit perspective. My long-term aspiration would be to break even, at best, and run at a loss if necessary. Running the entire network as a coordinated whole, I reckon the profitable parts could more than offset the others. If not, then it probably doesn’t matter much.

When discussing the NBN, we tend to concentrate on Internet access. The fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) plan had other dimensions. It provided for both video and audio, outside the Internet. The long-term intent, as I understand it, was to transfer as much as possible of what is currently broadcast onto the fibre. That would potentially free up radio-frequency resources. Ending broadcasts is only practical where FttP is ubiquitous.

At present, valuable longer-wavelength radio resources are wasted on metropolitan broadcasting. There’s substantial potential in those resources for mobile telecommunications covering remote and maritime areas. (Longer wavelengths propagate better over distance and around obstacles.)


#4

The formula is a bit complex and this small mind only understand a fraction of it (re:carrier waves, modulation, etc) - but, in general, the lower the wavelength the less data bandwidth is available. I understand that LW propagates much better (I remember listening to Radio Luxembourg as a kid) but it may at the expense of bandwidth. It, perhaps, would be a waste of money putting in an outdated infrastructure.

As to that inevitable question - a solution? I’m afraid that our continent does not lend itself to an easy solution apart from fronting up with $$$$s. As to a cost effective solution - only if micro-satellites are able to provide effective cost-effective Broadband solutions; the problem goes beyond my limited understanding.

Caveat: I think FttN is simply bad policy as it installs a sub-standard compromise which will need to be upgraded - it’s passing on the problem to the future.


(Isaac Pursehouse) #5

First of all David thank you for clarifying the mysterious phrase that is “Thinking outside the box” I shall add that to my resume under Continuing Professional Development and I am left in no doubt that you are indeed a witty and courageous man.[quote=“davidb, post:3, topic:770”]
In 1901 around 50% of the population lived outside major centres, either on the land or in small settlements. We were, in fact, far more “spread out”.
[/quote]

Correct.
BUT, the telecommunication system at the time was the Telegraph which was only connected to the local post office, not people homes and the usage of the telephone didn’t overtake the telegraph until 1945 and it wasn’t until 1994 that we changed from a 6 digit local number to an 8 digit local number as more rural and remote homes were connected.[quote=“davidb, post:3, topic:770”]
There are still a lot of rural and regional properties that don’t have a phone line so getting fiber to them is very unlikely (hence the 2 way satellite component to the NBN)

Copper is limited by its service life. The network can’t be any larger than what can be replaced within the service life of the technology. Even so, our forebears managed to get copper to some surprisingly remote locations. Places that I doubt we’d have the courage to attempt these days.
[/quote]
This inst about copper vs fibre service life. This is the fact that homes that are still too remote for a copper cable are definitely going to be too remote for a fibre connection, as a copper cable can be strung up on poles but you have to trench fibre and in the arid area of Australia there are plants whose roots steal water from other plants roots by slicing into them and they do the same thing to any underground cables they come across so they have to have extra reinforcement. In the metro areas they just install the cable in to the existing utility conduits.

I know how remote Australia is, my father was a helicopter musterer in FNQ and we lived in and near places like Aurukun, Doomadgee and Kowanyama which didn’t even have road access and were only accessible by air.
My family also own a property in rural NSW and even though our farm is only 10 minutes out of town the phone line wasn’t installed until the 1960s when my mother was in primary school and the property 2 farms further out didn’t get his line until 1992 (he gave me a call on my 9th birthday)
And this is a town which is a minor regional centre as it is on the junction of 2 highways that used to be the way to drive from Sydney/Brisbane to Melbourne/Adelaide before the Sydney/Melbourne freeway was built so there are thousands of places which are far more remote.

I couldn’t care less about profit and didn’t think I mentioned anything to suggest that.
As far as I am concerned the NBN should be treated like any other piece of infrastructure like roads, hospitals and schools and it is the Governments job to build and maintain them as a mater of priority not cost.

Any services provided by Fibre, including audio and video is purely IP based and will only work over the internet connection (one of the other support roles I had for Telstra was converting the South Brisbane Exchange over to Fibre to make room for the what is now the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital so I know a lot more about fibre than most people).
So this will not free up any of the spectrum allocation.
Now that the analogue TV has been turned off part of that spectrum is now being used for Digital Radio and Digital TV but this had no effect on any types of internet or mobile coverage[quote=“davidb, post:3, topic:770”]
At present, valuable longer-wavelength radio resources are wasted on metropolitan broadcasting. There’s substantial potential in those resources for mobile telecommunications covering remote and maritime areas. (Longer wavelengths propagate better over distance and around obstacles.)
[/quote]

Again Correct,
BUT, the longer the wave the less it can carry. Long range radio waves have a length of ~130-180m and can only carry a trimmed down audio signal one way which equates to about 15kb/s and due to the signal bouncing off the inside of the ionosphere can make it around to the other side of the world.
Mobile phones operate in the microwave spectrum of ~3cm and can transmit up to 30Mb/s in BOTH directions at the SAME time, or 60Mb one way. but can at best travel 6-8km in a straight line and will not bounce off the atmosphere.

SO as Australia is 7.692 million square km and one tower can cover 201 square km then we would need 38,269 towers to cover just the mainland.

I can lend you a screwdriver if you want to get started and we will see if you are better at building mobile towers then replying to people critiquing your bold statements


(David Boxall) #6

[quote=“MartinS, post:4, topic:770”]
The formula is a bit complex and this small mind only understand a fraction of it (re:carrier waves, modulation, etc) - but, in general, the lower the wavelength the less data bandwidth is available. I understand that LW propagates much better (I remember listening to Radio Luxembourg as a kid) but it may at the expense of bandwidth. It, perhaps, would be a waste of money putting in an outdated infrastructure.
[/quote]I’m well aware of the complex relationships between frequency, transmitted power, distance, noise, landforms, structures, vegetation, other obstructions (the list goes on) and data capacity. In brief, I reckon the existing reuse of old television broadcast frequencies in the mobile network shows the promise. At this stage, arguing about the species of the fleas on that dog is futile. It’s a question of the right technologies for specific applications; a good reason why a coordinated approach is required (and why the fragmented private-sector model has failed). And no, it wouldn’t involve building outdated infrastructure; is Telstra’s 4GX outdated?

[quote=“MartinS, post:4, topic:770”]
As to that inevitable question - a solution? I’m afraid that our continent does not lend itself to an easy solution apart from fronting up with $$$$s. …[/quote]
Indeed, it won’t come free. We have the added burden of repairing damage done by more than a quarter of a century of mismanagement.

If we look at it as investing in infrastructure that should serve for at least a century, the cost is quite reasonable. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’d be very surprised if it averages out to as much as $1 per week for each premises.

[quote=“MartinS, post:4, topic:770”]… As to a cost effective solution - only if micro-satellites are able to provide effective cost-effective Broadband solutions; the problem goes beyond my limited understanding.
[/quote]I feel that $1 per week is very cost-effective. :wink:

Micro-satellites and low earth-orbiting satellites (LEOS) are often proposed. Sadly, their limitations make them extremely expensive over time. My baseline is the century-or-so anticipated service life of fibre. The current crop of geosynchronous satellites have a service life of 15 years. LEOS and micros have shorter lives and less capacity. The cost of repeatedly replacing the necessarily-large number of satellites would quickly exceed the cost of fibre (although satellite solutions should be faster to deploy). For mobile applications satellites probably have their uses but, like wireless, in applications other than mobile their role is little to none.

[quote=“MartinS, post:4, topic:770”]
Caveat: I think FttN is simply bad policy as it installs a sub-standard compromise which will need to be upgraded - it’s passing on the problem to the future.
[/quote]I reckon ubiquitous FttP is inevitable. Our choice is between passing on:

  • the cost of building it, mitigated by the value of having it and;
  • the cost of building it compounded by the costs of not having it until it’s built, plus costs incurred in building short-term stopgaps.

(David Boxall) #7

So many inexactitudes in a single post! I’ll need to pace my responses.

[quote=“Isaac, post:5, topic:770”]
First of all David thank you for clarifying the mysterious phrase that is “Thinking outside the box” …[/quote]You’re welcome. If one genuinely means to communicate, then it’s wise not to assume that your audience will understand every reference. I’m delighted that you found it enlightening. :wink:

I began this thread in the hope of stimulating debate to facilitate policy formulation. Do you have nothing constructive to contribute?


(Isaac Pursehouse) #8

See original post

Discuss


#9

Just a thought David…
I’m in my mid forties. Slightly less than half of the people I know (in that same group) don’t have a fixed telephone line at their premises, they’re fully mobile. Their work/business/social life simply doesn’t lend itself to “fixed lines” - nor do they want to go back to fixed-line Internet. To them the NBN is a waste of money only if it promises faster wifi with better coverage.
Now, I don’t know the stats of the younger gen’s Internet usage, but I kinda suspect that they’re more inclined to mobile.
But, perhaps you have already taken this into consideration…

Cheers
Marty

[edit: We all know that a better infrastructure brings better Wifi. The point I’m making here is about the cost of FttN or FttP. For these ppl they would be happy with a Tower upgrade/expansion - yes we have discussed the advantages to Medical and other essential services.]


(David Boxall) #10

[quote=“Isaac, post:5, topic:770”]
… the telecommunication system at the time was the Telegraph …[/quote]The telephone arrived in Australia soon after completion of the Overland Telegraph. Only a couple of years after it was patented, in fact.

[quote=“Isaac, post:5, topic:770”]
… which was only connected to the local post office, not people homes …[/quote]In 1950s suburban Sydney, very few of my neighbours could afford a 'phone at home. Even fewer had home telegraphs. :wink:

In those days, most urban residents relied on public 'phones (which were far more common and widely-spread than they are nowadays). Home 'phones were probably more common outside cities; public 'phones were not as accessible and then, as now, communication was recognised as vital for business. Of course, overhead wires and party lines were the order of the day.


(David Boxall) #11

[quote=“Isaac, post:5, topic:770”]
… This is the fact that homes that are still too remote for a copper cable are definitely going to be too remote for a fibre connection, … [/quote]You imply that you and yours couldn’t achieve any more in a century than you could in three decades. Most people aren’t so ineffectual.


(David Boxall) #12

[quote=“Isaac, post:5, topic:770”]
… as a copper cable can be strung up on poles but you have to trench fibre …[/quote]Overhead fibre is actually quite common. Common enough to be unremarkable. The plan was for most of Tasmania’s NBN fibre to be overhead. In Sydney (and probably elsewhere), Telstra and (I think) Optus both did what commercial operators characteristically do; tried to cherry-pick the same markets. Parts of the city ended up with two optical cables, strung about 30 centimetres apart under power lines. In Canberra, the earliest implementation of TransACT involved optical fibre strung from power poles. That’s obliquely referenced in this old post from one of my mailing lists.

Overhead installation increases maintenance costs and decreases service life. The PMG replaced overhead wires with underground cables for good reasons.

In installation, there’s little practical difference between fibre and copper. Either can be strung overhead, trenched or ploughed in. Fibre is cheaper than copper, but that’s a minor factor in overall installation cost.


(David Boxall) #13

Which raises the question: should overhead fibre be considered as another stop-gap, along with wireless and satellite? I think not, but it’s worth debating.


(Isaac Pursehouse) #14

“Brooks said the majority of Tasmania’s NBN roll-out is likely to go in
overhead cables, due to the existing infrastructure in place by energy
provider Aurora, who was also awarded the contract to build the first
stage of the NBN.”

The important word here is EXISTING.
Existing utility tunnels are the first choice, if no tunnels then they use existing power poles and if there are no poles they have to dig a new trench.


(Isaac Pursehouse) #15

The only commercial optic fibre network in Australia that has ever existed is what was installed by the NBN and Telstra’s SBX conversion.
The cables you see strung under the power lines in metro areas are the HFC “Pay TV” cables are are NOT optical fibre.


(David Boxall) #16

Which differs from copper, how? :confused:


(David Boxall) #17

Dear, oh dear!

HFC stands for Hybrid fibre-coaxial. In our context, the cables strung between power poles are optical fibre. From the poles to premises, the feed is coaxial cable.

You implied that fibre cannot be installed overhead. That’s of limited relevance, except as it belies your claims of knowledge and experience.


(Isaac Pursehouse) #18

See original post where I explained this 3 days ago


(David Boxall) #19

No Isaac, you make unsubstantiated assertions which typically prove untrue.

Going round in circles now. Are you trolling?


(Isaac Pursehouse) #20

“Hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) is a telecommunications industry term for a broadband network that combines optical fiber and coaxial cable

The big cable on the right is an Optic cable as used in the NBN, the smaller cable on the left is the HFC.
As it is thinner and had a coaxial (copper) cable reinforcing it it has more flex and is stronger so that it can survive being hung out in the open. The real optic cable is much more brittle and less tolerant to things like swaying in the wind when hung between poles, which is why it gets trenched away safely.
Also as you can see the optic cable has 5 optic bundles compared to the HFCs 1 which is what allows it to maintain such a higher speed and bandwidth.