The Australian Coalition Government’s rapid move to shut down installation of the current National Broadband Network and move to an entirely different model may save money in the short term but it will hamper expansion and uptake of electronic security systems for decades to come.

NO doubt about it, the biggest news in monitoring this month is the new government’s quick action on the plan to cut back the $A45 billion national broadband network currently being rolled out across Australia. I think no matter which side of the political divide you sit, the presence of reliable, high-speed, future-proof NBN infrastructure was an appealing thought to electronic security people. With 1Gpbs download and 400Mpbs upload to each site, it promised fast, secure and dependable comms. If properly installed and maintained, it would have lasted many, many decades. 

It’s worth taking a look at the coalition’s alternative which it says will cost around $A30 billion. Based on fibre to the node technology, the slimmed down NBN will take fibre from exchanges to street cabinets where the path will run down existing 2-pair pathways to the premises. Nationally under the coalition, fibre to the premises will support 22 per cent of premises — with 71 per cent covered by this fibre to the node technology.

Questioned pointedly by tech journalists recently, the new comms minister Malcom Turnbull admitted the new hybrid NBN would offer “at a minimum 25Mpbs download and 4-6Mpbs upload”. But more oddly than this, Mr Turnbull even more recently stated that rolling out NBN in metro areas – where it’s needed most, remember – is not a priority. And he raised the unusual spectre of driving the new NBN over unrelated hybrid fibre coaxial networks installed 20 years ago for pay TV. 

To me, this seems a red herring. No one is going to readily run public NBN over a private HFC network its own builders have been itching to pension off. Further, it’s possible to buy a 100Mpbs cable service in metro areas right now, so it seems pointlessly challenging to build an overlay on a proprietary cable plant. 

To compare performance numbers is instructive when talking about the 2 NBN options. The glass to the door NBN would have given 93 per cent of Australian premises download speeds of 1Gbps and upload speeds of 400Mbps. That’s the sort of performance the electronic security industry needs if it’s going to play around with remote video monitoring integrated into PSIM applications, video verification of alarms in high resolution, HD to the cloud and all the rest of it. Regional areas would be supported by satellite and wireless broadband, delivering speeds of up to 25Mbps download.

According to the Coalition’s media release issued in April, the Coalition’s policy is based on download speeds of between 25Mbps and 100Mbps by the end of 2016 — effectively the end of its first term in power — and 50Mbps to 100Mbps by the end of 2019, effectively the end of its second term. 

According to the Coalition’s statement, the 25Mbps to 100Mbps pledge applies to “all premises”, while the higher pledge by 2019 applies to “90 per cent of fixed line users”. The Coalition has not specified certain upload speeds for its network. Then there's that paltry 4-6Mpbs upload we'll have to make do with for the next 20 years or so. 

While fibre to node technology has been employed successfully in other countries it has a bandwidth choke point beyond which it can’t pass. That is a concrete fact. FTTN performance is fine for many domestic applications, it’s a sad thing for security businesses and end users that might have benefited from 1Gbps highways. 

There’s a lot of talk about a $A94 billion end cost for the FTTD NBN – a $A50 billion blowout over the former government’s and industry’s projection of around $A45 billion. The $A50 billion blowout was announced by shadow treasurer Joe Hockey at the end of last year and despite being based on no evidence, it’s hardly been contested in the non technical press. 

Perhaps what grates on me most, is that while $A94 billion is too much for an FTTD NBN (and there’s no concrete evidence in the public domain that supports this huge number, mind), then conversely, $A30 billion is too much to pay for the one eighth-measure NBN we’re going to get. 

In my opinion, NBN-lite is a bad investment – a half-measure we will have to do again later on. It’s bad for Australia and doubly bad for electronic security people. We’ve spent too long time selling products that work brilliantly on LANs but are stuck in local comms loops, like crocs in a billabong. 

Highly respected independent observers and consultants in the telecommunications industry have consistently said an NTTD NBN is technically superior to a FTTN NBN, offering the potential to deliver the nation superior performance long-term, with improvements in service delivery and productivity.

Something else that’s odd to me is David Teoh's TPG Telecom just got the go ahead to haul fibre to Australia’s metro apartment buildings. This glass is going in on top of TPG’s 3800km of fibre which already connects businesses to the internet across the country. Obviously, high density residential is the most profitable NBN segment by far. If private enterprise is getting handed the low hanging fruit, it’s hard to understand why private enterprise wasn’t challenged with the entire job in the first place. 

Given the dithering at the top, it’s likely that whatever improved broadband city folk end up getting for their A$30 billion, it’s likely to be marginally better and a way long off. What does that mean? For installers and end users the uncertainty means that on the alarms front, wireless remains your go-to technology. An NBN that goes the last mile through easily cuttable PSTN cables and housings is not secure enough for front-line security operations. 

Those monitoring stations which were were longing to provide live HD video tours and offer HD video verification of alarm events – commiserations. Perhaps some other day. 


By John Adams