Australian Broadband – Where to go from here

In the past I've argued that Telstra is not to blame for the entire country's woeful broadband connections, and if competing carriers wanted to supply faster internet connections then they should roll out their own infrastructure. It's also been my point that carriers have no interest in rolling out their own network because it's much easier to turn a profit if you just make like a remora with Telstra, onselling their incredibly expensive ADSL services.

Past changes have allowed increases to internet access for ordinary Australians and greater overall choice and speed. In 2002, two years after Telstra's initial deployment of ADSL, Unbundled Local Loops were offered by Telstra to their wholesalers. This made it possible for wholesale providers such as OptusNet, Internode, iiNet and others to connect customers directly to their own DSLAMs, bypassing Testra ADSL Wholesale. This was essentially the first step towards releasing the stranglehold on Broadband which was previously held by Telstra.

There were also explorations into other technologies, such as Telstra's 17Mbps and Optus' 10Mbps Cable internet services as well as a number of Wireless internet providers.

So how badly off are we now?


Metropolitan internet speeds are currently sitting at about 20Mbps thanks to the rollout of ADSL2+, although rural areas are still limited to slower ADSL1, Satellite or *gasp* Dial up. Corporate customers in large metropolitan areas can purchase much faster Fiber internet connections, but they will pay a great deal more for the privilege.

By comparison, the majority of countries in the world have roughly the same types of DSL internet connections that we do. Some countries have basic 256kbps to 1.5mbps ADSL1 only, some have up to 24mbps ADSL2+, and some countries (including us – read about TransACT further down) have VDSL, a 45Mbps Very high speed DSL service. As for non-DSL services, many countries have access to Cable internet, but only in limited areas (and they're limited to 2Mbps in most cases), and then there's Fibre and other Ultra High Speed services.

US company Verizon FiOS service is a full FTTH (Fiber To The Home) service at 50Mbps (although the fiber itself is an OC-12, capable of running at 622Mbps). Hong Kong and Japan's internet providers offer everything from 50Mbps VDSL to 1Gbps Ethernet, as do many European States like Finland which has carriers offering 10mbps Cisco Long Reach Ethernet and FTTH. The most remarkable is probably Slovenia – All ISP plans have no monthly download limit, are priced based on speed and top out at 1Gbps FTTH. A totally unlimited 10Mbps down / 10Mbps up FTTH connection will cost around AUD$50 per month, and a 20Mbps down / 20Mbps up FTTH runs in at about AUD$94 a month.

So if that's the case, we're actually up there with most of the world so far as our DSL speed goes, not so great when it comes to Ultra High Speed services, and our data pricing is atrocious. Almost every internet plan available in Australia has a draconian monthly download limit, and speeds are thereafter capped to a painful 64Kbps. As data rates go, we have the most expensive plans in the world. Pretty sad when you look think about Slovenia.

So what can we do to increase the quality of Broadband internet connections within our great brown land? Well, ADSL2+ DSLAMs could be rolled out to regional areas. That would be a nice start. In addition, Data pricing and shaping needs to be significantly reviewed. With some broadband plans offering as little as 400Mb a month, we look fairly pathetic compared to what providers are offering around the rest of the world. So, we want to exceed the current world standards and start using our "Internet connections" for something other than just the internet, right? To do that, we'd have to roll out something a little quicker than the run of the mill 24Mbps ADSL2+. Something like Fiber to the Home.

Unfortunately it's pretty obvious that Fiber to the Home is going to be a costly exercise – running a Fiber optic cable is reasonably expensive to say the least, but running to every household will put costs into the hundreds of billions of dollars – especially when you consider the massive distances at play in Australia. But that doesn't mean that ADSL2+ is as quick as we can go. Perhaps our communications carriers should consider the idea of Fiber to the Curb, like what TransACT runs in Canberra. A prime example of a carrier rolling out their own network, thus avoiding Telstra all together (not to mention it's sub-par network and service) and raising the standard of internet delivery all on their lonesome. They figured out that running a new fiber for each house will be incredibly expensive and will be a pain in the arse, so the simple solution would be to run one to street corners and use DSL based technology for the 'last mile'.

Most of the fiber network is already in place, so it's fairly simple to put a mini-DSLAM into the streetside pit, splice out a fiber and connect the end user's copper pair to said DSLAM. Let's say it's a 622Mbps OC-12 connection, the same as what's being used to deliver the FiOL FTTH system to American homes, as mentioned before.

This would allow Phone(s), High-Speed Internet and HDTV/On-Demand HDTV (see: Triple Play) over a VDSL2 connection. With plenty of bandwidth to burn and incredibly low latencies, There's the high possibility it would work out well – The OC-12 is a dedicated bandwidth of 622Mbit/s, and the VDSL2 is rated at 200Mbps at source, 100 Mbps at 0.5 km and 50 Mbps at 1 km. You could connect about 62 households to said DSLAM at an unheard of oversubscription ratio (by ADSL standards) of 1:1 (assuming they're at an average distance of 0.5km, or are artificially capped at 100Mbps). Oh, and that's a symmetric speed rating. None of this 24Mbps down, 1Mbps up bullshit like we have with ADSL2+.

So, fully symmetric, dedicated 100Mbps internet service which could serve full Triple Play features at a fraction of the price of a Fibre to the Home connection.

Sound good? It sounds fantastic to me.


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