Why country people should support rolling out optical fibre to the home


If you're one of the seven percent of Australians who are slated to get an NBN wireless solution that offers a vast improvement on your plain old telstra copper offering. Whether it be mobile broadband or satellite then it is in your interest to support the completion of optic fibre to the rest of the nation's homes and here's why.

Before I start , this article isn't about the benefits of high speed broadband, if you aren't yet aware of the benefits then look no further than the countless articles that are being written in newspapers and online news sites about the NBN.  You can also check the NBN | www.nbnco.com.au website or the technology forum Whirlpool www.whirlpool.net.au some other great sites for NBN information are nbnexplained.org,nbnmyths.wordpress.com and nbninfo.blogspot.com.au
The NBN that is being rolled out today (current fibre based NBN) is based on three technologies, Fibre to the Premises (FTTP),  for 93% of the population, Fixed Wireless served via a special network of dedicated wireless base-stations for four percent of the population and satellite for the remaining three precent.

Now if you're earmarked for either the wireless or satellite solutions you might ask why you should support the rollout of the NBN FTTP to the other 93% of Australia.

Here is a case of what's in it for me.

Everyone else in Australia gets fibre by 2021 (or a year or two later depending on how good the government and NBNco are at meeting their self imposed deadlines), then you'll be in a good position to get it soon after.  But on the flipside of the coin. If the current Fibre plan to reach 93% of the nation is halted by the Liberal National Coalition as they are proposing, much of Australia will be stuck on Fibre to the Node copper technology which involves expensive powered cabinets within 1km of each house.  There is no way that this solution could ever be affordable in many remote locations as cabinets would in many instances be dedicated to one customer and if fibre was proposed then people in the cities who didn't have a subsidised fibre connection would be an opposing political force because country people would be getting a much better service than them at a much higher cost and that would be seen as being grossly unfair and economically unjustifiable.
Fibre will be cheaper to install to remote and regional Australia than copper ever was.  This is the case for a number of reasons.  Productivity increases in the way we would approach a rollout of fibre, the advantage of having all the existing Telstra easements in place that have been oranised over many decades and the option of using existing powerline infrastructure for aerial connections (as fibre doesn't suffer from the electrical and storm interference that copper does) which makes planning much easier and the use of modern highly mechanised advanced machinery not available during the copper rollout days.  In addition optical fibre is much cheaper to manufacture and distribute due to its size (fibres are tiny a fraction the size of a hair), there is less handling which reduces logistics costs.
The same day that any rural or remote property is switched onto optical fibre network there will be significant saving in energy, operations and maintenance.  Today Telstra must power an exchange in almost every village no matter how small, these mini exchanges require power for climate control, telco and computer equipment as well as backup battery systems in case of power outages..  In addition to this anyone living at multiples of 10-15km or more from an exchange must have fully powered repeaters installed at these intervals increasing maintenance and energy costs.

Under the NBN hundreds of exchanges and thousands of repeaters can be retired and replaced by point to point optical fibre that can run all the way back to a regional access node  (the NBN equivalent of a telephone exchange) There are 120 of these across Australia called POIs (Points of Interconnect).
The design of the FTTP portion of the NBN is based on GPON a very appropriate technology for densely populated city and towns. For these locations it is already available delivering upto 2.5Gb/s upgradeable through NBN's plan to 10GB/s and with research already pushing this to 40Gb/s   This system shares that bandwidth with upto 32 households, each with their own dedicated optical fibre back to an optical splitter located in an unpowered kerbside cabinet upto 20kms away.  This may or may not be the appropriate technology for an extension of the NBN to the rest of Australia depending on densities and distances involved. Instead in many instances the simpler conventional point to point fibre option would be appropriate. By 2020 Point to Point fibre will be able to achieve up to 200km (120km today) without needing a powered repeater. Compare this to 15km on the old copper network that doesn't even handle broadband data and in many cases can't sustain a full service dialup modem connection and you can see where cost advantages will come in.
Being able to cover distances of upto 120km or more (research and development is active in working towards making domestic grade single repeaterless optical fibre runs even longer) is the primary reason it would be cheaper today to rollout fibre than it was to do the original rollout of copper telephony to regional Australia during the 1940s -1970s.

Additional benefits of the network would include the option of a significant boost for mobile telephony in regional areas.  Femtocells currently offered by telcos worldwide including Optus in Australia are mini mobile phone cells that currently cost $200 and are located at your house or business and carry your mobile calls via the NBN (today they are mostly used in city blackspots on slower ADSL networks) while you are at home.  These femtocells could be rolled out as standard at all remote and regional premises.  This would then free up and significantly increase the performance and coverage of existing mobile network base stations that would be more available to serve mobile users that are on the road or at the shops, rather than doing what they do today allocating most of their resources to serve customers who are at home. Reducing the load on rural mobile networks, hence making them perform better would be an immense benefit that would alone easily justify the an Australia wide NBN rollout 
Although it will require some financial help upfront for the capital build their would be significant savings on operations and maintenance and the new network could be integrated with the power network (perhaps even strung on power lines as there is no problems with electrical interference with glass fibres) to offer improved monitoring and control  (less blackouts) at the same time as delivering world leading broadband to all of Australia.

Let's not let history repeat itself in a bad way.

It will take country people, farmers and people in towns that are being bypassed by NBN fibre to get government support to make this a reality.  Regional Australia did well out of Rob Oakshott and Tony Windsor holding the balance of power under the Gillard Government, this meant that regional areas have been some of the first to get the NBN and the fixed wireless and satellite solutions have been priortised for Australian's in remote and regional Australia.  It is a good time now to start working with your local politicians of all political persuasions to find and support the champions who will put the case for the Federal government to take the lead on wiring up the rest of Australia for NBN fibre direct to all houses, farms and rural businesses.

In the past a significant number of people opposed rural electrification and the introduction of the telephone, this time you don't want to be on the wrong side of history or worse actively opposed or failing to support bringing Fibre to the country, depriving yourself and your kids of what's fair and levels the playing field for access to knowledge opportunities and services now and in the future.

Come on Australia, let's get a wiggle on, lets get connected with fibre to all our homes!


Matthew Wright is the Executive Director of  energy security think-tank Zero Emissions.

Zero Emissions supports the NBN which will significantly reduce energy needed to run the nations telecommunications networks making a switch to 100% renewable energy in the future more affordable and efficient.