NBN Co Blog
Fri 29 JUNComment
Technological breakthroughs no threat to NBN
Posted on Friday 29 June 2012 by Gary McLaren
Science is thrilling and we are all beneficiaries of advances in technology. But breathless headlines that suggest each latest technological breakthrough in communications is going to make the NBN redundant are extremely wide of the mark.
Yesterday came the news that scientists in California had found a way to transmit data 85,000 times faster than current broadband speeds by twisting beams of light.
It led to renewed criticism that NBN Co was risking taxpayers' money by building a communications network with fibre optic cable at its core. Fibre, the argument goes, might be easily be overtaken by another breakthrough on the technological horizon.
In the eyes of The Punch, the publication that ran the article, the experiment was evidence that by pressing ahead with the NBN in its present form, Australia was "naive, underprepared and under-committed".
In fact, it proves the exact opposite.
The media report omitted a key detail: that the total length over which the researchers were able to transmit the data was a grand total of one metre. As Australian Popular Science noted dryly, that makes "the achievement somewhat lacklustre from a practicality perspective". In the context of an island continent 7.6 million square kilometers in size, I'd say that's putting it mildly.
That's not to diminish the work of the team at the University of Southern California. Or the achievement of scientists in Germany last year who broke the world record for the fastest transfer of data over a single fibre optic cable. Or the research by another Californian into faster wireless data services (that to its critics defies the laws of physics).
However new communications technologies are often conceived in labs many years in advance of being commercialised. They also requires widespread acceptance from equipment manufacturers and network operators before any commercially available services can be contemplated.
These technologies are barely off the drawing board. None of them has widespread acceptance. There are no equipment manufacturing deals. There is no device ecosystem that telecommunications companies could use.
In short, they pose no threat to the NBN.
Fibre optic technology was first commercialised in the 1970s. It remains unbeaten as the fastest commercially-available technology to connect homes and businesses across a country to the Internet.
At the same time the amount of data people are transferring across communications networks continues to grow. The latest study by networking giant Cisco estimates that in four years' time global internet protocol traffic will reach an annual run rate of 1.3 zetabytes - the equivalent of 38 million DVDs being downloaded simultaneously every hour.
The old-fashioned copper telephone network that we're forced to rely on today would find itself increasingly unable to cope. This country ranks 21st in the world for wired broadband penetration, which is hardly surprising on a network where the speeds you can receive are largely dependent on how far away you live from the nearest telephone exchange.
The fibre optic National Broadband Network will deliver speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, at least ten times faster than anything residential consumers can currently access in Australia. Those speeds will be available not just to city dwellers but to homes, farms and businesses across the vast majority of the country.
Broadband signals travel down the fibre at the speed of light. The only limitation on the speed with which the ones and zeros can be reassembled into pictures, video and words is the NBN box at either end of the link and the capabilities of the home computer and networking gear.
Indeed, the backbone of the NBN, the so-called transit network of large cables that will traverse the nation, is capable of speeds much faster than that: up to 9.6 Terabits per second. This is commercial equipment using 96 beams of light on a single fibre each able to carry 100Gbps.
As communications technology improves, so too will the internet speeds that can be received in the home and the amount of data that can be carried over the network we are building today. That's as true for the fixed-wireless and satellite broadband services that will serve regional and remote parts of Australia as it is for the fibre network.
The real danger for the Australia would be to do as our critics suggest, which is to delay universal broadband adoption until the next big thing in technology comes along. That'd be like sticking with a horse and buggy while the rest of the world is driving motor cars on the off-chance that the car yard might one day stock Jetsons space cars.
I agree with Claire Connelly that Australia must be innovative. It must lead the way in the digital revolution. And that's what the NBN will allow.
The NBN is being built by people immersed in the latest in advances in telecommunications. The world-leading technology that's being rolled out is fully upgradeable so it can meet Australia's needs for decades to come and ensure we can play a leading role in the digital economy in the region and the world.
This post first appeared on The Punch.
When we talk about speeds delivered over the National Broadband Network, we are referring to the wholesale speed to telephone and internet service providers. The speed you can achieve, and services you can use, on your individual connection will depend on many factors including the services you subscribe to, the software and communication protocols you use, quality of your equipment and connection to your home/business, the broadband plans offered by your telephone or internet provider and how it designs its network to cater for multiple users.