NightKhaos on Digital Freedom

Digital Rights and Technology Blog

Wireless is the future, so roll on FTTP.

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I want to take the time to acknowledge and explain a few points that keep coming up around the NBN policy. I may be repeating a few points I made in previous blogs, but considering how long it has been since I posted I feel you won’t mind. First off, before I crack into it, some house cleaning and updates of relevance:

  • The NBN policy seems to have addressed a few issues that concerned me. For example the CAN will not be shut down in remote areas anymore.
  • The NBN policy appears to be able to meet its ROI projections due to the surprising underestimation of the number of 100Mbps service users.
  • The Coalition have put together a workable alternative, which Renai LeMay from Delimiter sums up fairly well in a position I agree with here.
  • Telstra have released a simply awesome LTE network which appears to be delivering real world speeds of around 5-25 Mbps, comparable to ADSL services.

Right, on to the article post:

Yes, the future is wireless. There, I admit it. The world is going increasingly mobile, smart phone and tablet usage has exploded. I am not immune to this either, I have a HTC One XL, which I could not live without, and a Asus Google Nexus 7. I love the freedom this technology presents. I love the fact I can sit in the middle of a park and write this article. I can see a lot of these mobile devices in my future. And I think that FTTP, like what the NBN intends to deliver, are a very important part of this future.

Confusion, I suspect. You must have questions. So let me attempt to answer them. First, with some evidence, and since we’re talking about Australian Broadband here we might as well use statistics relevant to Australia: ABS 8153.0. Please note I have modified their reporting style to something more prudent to this article, however the values have not been changed.


Dec 2011
Jun 2012
  Fixed Line
Fixed Wireless
  Rural Options
Mobile Wireless
  Mobile Networks

As you can see from this despite the massive uptake of Mobile Wireless and Smartphone/Tablet with growth of 6.64% there is still a marked growth in the Fixed Line sector of 1.29%.

Volume Downloaded

Jun 2011
Dec 2011
Jun 2012
Fixed line
Total broadband
Total volume of data downloaded

Please note that in the above table Wireless includes Fixed Wireless and Satellite and the Total includes Dial Up and other connection types (not shown). Also the amount of usage reported is for 3 months, not 6.  This is a limitation of the ABS 8153.0 data set.

However, even more telling than the continuing growth in Fixed Line is the amount of data that is being downloaded on the Fixed Line networks. In June 2012 we were up to an average of 64.42 GB per user for the period, as opposed to the 1.44 GB per user for Wireless.

So why are we seeing this trend? Well, considering 4G networks like Telstra’s do in most cases outperform ADSL2+ and Cable connections, it clearly is no longer about the fact that “fixed-line is faster”, although I do not doubt that particular trend will re-establish itself if the NBN continues past the election. No, it has too do with the capacity that each type of network allows for. With fixed-line connections the quotas you can expect are between dozens of gigabytes to completely unlimited, with the typical plan being in the range of hundreds of gigabytes.

Granted this is more than the average usage, however that is probably due to the tendency of most users to overestimate their requirements because they do not want to suffer a loss in speed or excess usage charges. I remember when we first got Broadband, and we would consistently go over our 1GB capacity. Downloading a game demo of 300MB even managed to burn through a large chunk of our quota, and that would only take an hour or so too do. Ever since then my family have insisted that we get capacity well over what we use, especially after experiencing the perks of a Unlimited connection in the UK. Right now with 5 people in the house we are on a 200GB plan and we probably never go over a 100GB.

In the mobile space however the quotas available are significantly less, at between 200MB and around 10GB. And no this isn’t a money grabbing exercise by the providers, there is a legitimate technical reason why, and this reason can be seen the world over. AT&T for example refused to offer tethering on their iPhone unlimited data plans unless you first downgraded to a limited quota plan. The reason is quite simple, network congestion . Mobile networks in particular suffer from this problem.

Why do you think companies like Telstra and Optus have invested in 4G technology? It isn’t because they fixed line as dead, it is because they are fighting a losing battle with their customers over data usage on their wireless networks. They need you to use a little as possible so that they can provide a consistent experience to all users of the network. This is why every smart-phone in existence has the ability to switch to WiFi. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where we start to get to the substance of my initial statement.

Our wireless future does not in fact rely on the advances of wireless wide area networks (WWAN) like 3G and 4G technology, although they will be important, our wireless future relies on the advances of wireless local area networks (WLAN), like 802.11g, 802.11n and 802.11ac. It is with these technologies that our mobile nirvana will occur, as well as other technologies like mesh networks. Short range, low power, high bandwidth networks. The backbone of these  WLAN networks will be some from of high bandwidth fixed line technology, which is not limited by spectrum and does not suffer from congestion as easily as WWAN networks do. And the best technology to do this job is currently FTTP, and there have been no sudden leaps in the technological space that suggest otherwise.

There are technologies out right now like Fon that can even further reduce the load on our WWAN networks by sharing our WLAN networks with the public at large (a practice that probably has proved unpopular in Australia due to our ISPs still having usage quotas). It is with high penetration of FTTP, and WLAN, mixed in with a little bit of WWAN to “fill in the blanks” is the shape I see our wireless future taking. Just remember the fact that you are getting a FTTP connection does not mean you’re tethered to a desktop computer to use your connection. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a WLAN access point in their home today, and FTTP is not going to change that.


Written by NightKhaos

December 8, 2012 at 11:27 am

States should opt-out of opt-in.

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Not a good situation to be in...

There has been some political game playing go on in reference to the NBN, as there always is. As usual there were some reports coming from various sources which, according to Mr Malcolm Turnbull, just proves that the NBN is a big fat waste of money.

I could go on to explain that fast passenger transit is not analogous to the ability to move information quickly, and completely refute the one of the premises of the report “Superfast: is it really worth the subsidy?” which compared FTTH to Concorde.

But I digress, that report does have some merit, it does point out the obvious: that upgrading to Fibre is expensive. Drastically so. Why does the opposition think it is going to cost $27b of tax payers money?  And this has not been unknown by the industry, nor does it make FTTH a high risk as the above report asserts. No, it only serves to mean that providers have a hard time rolling out the service because it costs money to do it.

We could compare it to building a motorway infrastructure or high speed rail infrastructure. To do so you need to completely rethink your premise of building your network. Any yet governments still do this, why is that? I’m not saying the price difference between roads and motorways is as significant as fast to super-fast broadband, nor that the price difference between rail and high speed rail is that significant either, but what is significant however is to roll out such a network of comparable scale (the entire country) of such technologies is equal to if not greater than that of running out FTTH to every home.

But again, I digress. The point of this post was to talk about Ted Baillieu recently saying that connecting to the NBN “ought to be optional.”

Well, yes, it ought, but not if such options mean that those ignorant of the changes happening will get stung by $400 installation fees when their Telstra CAN connection gets disconnected. (Let’s not forget the wonderful article that brought us this news from the state of Victoria thought that we are building a “carbon-fibre network”, which causes a few chuckles around my friends to be sure.)

Which brings me to the whole reason I started off on this rant, a Twitter user by the name of @BrettPemberton who reports that his landlord “cannot make a decision on Fibre” even through he, and allegedly NBN Co, both asserting that the FTTH connection was free installation, and also that once roll out is complete if you are not connected to FTTH you will be without a phone line.

Ignorance, from people like Brett’s landlord, is the reason why we should make it opt-out, not opt-in. I do not want to hear horror stories in the coming years where little old ladies are forced to cough up $400 because they didn’t understand what that consent form the came in the mail two years ago meant. Afterall, it’s still optional, you have the option to opt-out.

But maybe that’s just because the roll out has just started, maybe if an advertising campaign like “Get Set for Digital” was used, we could make the transition a little more smooth and prevent situations like Brett’s from occurring. But I have yet to see an advertising campaign encouraging people to opt-in to the NBN, probably because Mr Conroy is too busy spending $136k on a glorified web shortcut…

Written by NightKhaos

December 8, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Posted in NBN

Tagged with , , , , , ,

There is a debate

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For those of you not following Question Time, please make sure you have a quick look at the #senateQT hash tag. You will notice a trend, the Opposition are going on about the NBN until the cows come home.

All because the Government did not realise a few documents regarding their NBN policy (hypocrisy anyone?). Honestly it’s really starting to annoy me, from both sides of the debate: what precisely is so important in the document that it is going to take you many months to redact it Labor? Just give them the document already, redacted or not.

And then there are the Coalition, who’s Broadband Policy isn’t, lecturing the likes of the Australian Senate almost continuously on how much of a “bad idea” this is, by any means necessary. And I’ve had it. Seriously.

Polarising the debate only serves to remove the best interests of Australians and instead create a situation of “he’s wrong, I’m right.” And why is this important? Because either way, someone in Australia will lose when it comes to Broadband.

Under the Coalitions Broadband Policy (the CBP), however, it my opinion that more Australia’s will “lose” than those who will benefit from it, and it is for this sole reason I support the NBN over the CBP. If the CBP were a measured approach to put forward the steps to ensure that all Australians receive an acceptable quality of service for what is more and more becoming an essential part of Australia life, such as:

  • incentives for Private Enterprise (PE) to build FTTH networks
  • mandates for PE to build open data, carrier and service neutral networks
  • mandates to prevent or reduce vertical integration within PE
  • the structural separation of Telstra and the generalisation of the minimum service mandate (in that a carrier must provide a service, not Telstra must provide a service to every home)
  • mandated restructure and complete review of Telstra Wholesale’s business in order to find and scape inefficiency as well as improve the quality of service
  • redefinition of what what these mandated services entail, such as voice capability either via VoIP with access to emergency services, or a POTS line, with a minimum bandwidth delivery or CDR to exit of network (not “Minimum Peak Speed”) of 1.5Mbps until by the of end of 2011, by the end 12Mbps at the end of 2015, 50Mbps by 2020, etc.
  • government investment in rolling out fibre and next generation wireless solutions to remote areas in order to meet the mandates specified by the above redefinition
  • government subsides for those who are unable to get fixed line broadband and are forced to use an expensive wireless service (such as Telstra NextG)
  • but most importantly, the acknowledgement that privatisation of Telstra has resulting in broadband service quality in Australia stagnating and it is a government imperative to invest in methods to accelerate the deployment of fast (50-100Mbps) services to all homes in Australia within the next decade.

Let me come back to a point I made earlier: “a minimum bandwidth delivery or CDR to exit of network”, many of you will probably already know what I mean, but for those of you who don’t I mean that the network is capable of providing, under normal usage conditions (it is impossible and prohibitively expensive to engineer a network that will always do this) provide a service of at least that speed to their Points of Interconnect (POIs) and within their network to every single user. Note this mandate should apply to all carriage service providers (CSPs) to ensure that there is little to no back haul congestion.

Now if the CBP was along those lines, rather than the patchwork policy they offer now, I would support it over the NBN considering it’d likely cost the government less than “going it on their own” as Labor are doing. But it’s not, not even close, if anything it seems to say all the right words, but in reality things like “minimum peak speed” and investment in HFC over FTTH mean that it will leave a lot of Australians with slow, unreliable broadband. In fact, the CBP isn’t actually that well thrashed by the press so no one can be exactly sure what the CBP will do, because it is much easier for the likes of Mr Malcolm Turnbull to say “look at Labor, they are wasting money” than to say “look at our policy, we are doing nothing to fix the problem” isn’t it?

What about the NBN? Well as I pointed out in my previous post the NBN has some flaws to it’s implementation that mean people like @philhart will be forced off a perfectly reliable, albeit it slightly slower than I’m sure he would like, ADSL connection, and put onto a Satellite connection because the NBN is going to completely replace Telstra’s Copper Access Network (CAN) without even considering, for a moment, that there may be some circumstances where leaving the CAN in place would be better for the consumer. Granted the number of users in his position are scarce, but I thought the point of the NBN was to give better broadband for all Australians?

All Australians deserve access to good quality, cheap, broadband services, not just the majority, under the NBN, and not just the minority, under the CBP. I don’t like picking better the lesser of two evils, so if you really want to get my attention Coalition, put an actual policy on the table.

Written by NightKhaos

November 23, 2010 at 10:11 am

Do we really need FTTH right now?

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It’s a question that has been bothering me, not because I question the need, in the long term, for FTTH (Fibre to the Home), but because I’m thinking about the short term as well. It comes down to this: does any solution we implement to fix broadband in Australia other than FTTH have a viable upgrade path to fibre to the home that justifies spending less in the short term even through the in the longer term it will likely cost us more?

Another question that has been bothering me is “does the NBN provide a good mix of FTTH and other solutions for the whole country?” since these two issues are linked; is the NBN just another interim solution wrapped in a $43billion price tag, or is the majority of money we spend on the NBN going to result in savings in the long term?

You’ll notice, rather early on, that I have separated the issue of FTTH and NBN. I feel it is important to reiterate this point because on Twitter there seems to be an assumption that the two things are one in the same; they are not. The NBN is just one way to deliever FTTH to majority of Australia’s and I’m increasing getting the feeling that it is the wrong way.

Of course, considering the alternative (or lack there of) offered by the Liberals, spearheaded by the ever increasing short-sightedness of Mr Malcolm Turnbull, if we want, and believe me we should want, FTTH, we need to do it via the NBN.

To start this consolation of ideas and frustrations I’ll begin with the argument I hear so much of in the Australian Broadband Debate, speed. Speed seems to be all it has come down to, on the one hand we have the Labors offering so much speed we don’t know what to do with, 1Gbps to each home connected to their FTTH solution, with 12Mbps wireless to the country. I can see a couple of my fellow geeks drooling at the prospect, and to be honest, I don’t really blame them. Us geeks are the first to know exactly what we are going to do with that bandwidth.

Then there is the Liberals, taking a more conservative approach, which makes sense, being a conservative party, offering what seems like a much more reasonable goal of 12Mbps to everyone. Which sounds fine and dandy, and also conveniently is pretty much, with a few tweaks here and there, what we can get now.

And truth be told, I’m sure the majority of people have no idea what 12Mbps will give them. Because even in the days of dial-up there has been a complete disconnect between the speed, and how the technology can be utilised, and what that means for consumers. The dreaded “Up too.”

Of course there has been attempts to make it easier for consumers to understand what that means but all things considered, they still have no idea. And that is just fine to be honest. However a consistent delivery is something I would like to see. What do I mean by that? Well, remember this when you first got 256k ADSL? “Over four times faster than dial-up” I’m sure you were told, and to your surprise, it most definitely was. You couldn’t believe the difference. Then you got full speed ADSL, and the introduction of the “up too” came back, just when you thought you’d got rid of it with broadband it comes back to haunt you.

This is where FTTH will shine. If I have a 25Mbps plan, and I upgrade to 50Mbps, I can most definitely expect the websites to load around twice as fast as before. And this is by far the greatest thing that could happen to the telecommunications industry. Let me put it this way:

If you currently have a connection capable of streaming in real time a single 720p video from a VoD service, like YouTube, and you are currently on the 25Mbps plan, you would reasonably expect that if you upgraded to 50Mbps, you could quite happily stream two.

And to extend to this, if your friend across town can stream that video on his 25Mbps connection, wouldn’t you reasonably expect when you get home that you could too since you too are on a 25Mbps connection?

It’s this sort of assurance that we can’t get with ADSL and wireless. It’s fine now, that most people only go online to check Facebook. But like every new technology, like smartphones, once someone makes it easy to use everyone will catch on. I’m sure one day we’ll get a VoD service in Australia that is what the iPhone is to smartphones.

Kinda of like Hulu and Netflix have started to be in America. Of course, a few in the industry, like @jimboot, have stated that compression make this idea redundant; and in a lot of ways he is right, we don’t need all that much bandwidth to achieve it. A high definition video stream in 720p of reasonable quality using only 4Mbps.

The only problem with this is that if everyone in the family want to watch a different stream, it starts to add up, and we only have enough bandwidth for three streams per household under the Liberals policy. Which isn’t that bad, but compression can only do so much. As 1080p and 3D content become more popular as the technologies mature, we will need ever more bandwidth, and that 12Mbps might no longer be enough for three streams, in the worst case it might not even be enough for one.

Then the the agruement for upload. Currently the majority of technologies deployed are asymmetric, i.e. the amount of download far exceeds the amount of upload because the majority of home internet users are consumers, not producers. This is unfortunately changing, which means network engineers need to rethink the services they are delievering.

Let us take Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, YouTube and various other image and video hosting services. They make it very easy for users to share content. So much so that users are uploading far more content than they were before. The majority of the content for home users is of the downstream type, but the trend is changing.

It was common through when the technologies like ADSL and HFC cable were developed that users would want to download far more than they upload, and this has proved true with a few exceptions. Those exceptions include video conferencing, working from home, and online gaming. All activities that are getting increasingly more popular.

So this assumption lead to the development of the 20 to 1 rule of thumb. In order to download at 20Mbps you will need to provide 1Mbps of management traffic on the upstream. The problem with this is obvious, the rule has very little margin for error. So if your son upstairs is exhausting the connection downloading a 720p video from YouTube, you are unlikely to be able to do even low traffic operations like a VoIP call via Skype.

Now many of you may have guessed that I am going to point out to you with Fibre we will get an increase to the upload bandwidth. Of course there are two fundamental issues with this: of the plans I have seen so far from the likes of Internode and iiNet they are still not offering products with higher upload ratios or symmetrical (the upload rate is equal to the download rate) on the NBN, and for services (with the exception of Wireless) all can easily be adjusted to provide greater upload or even symmetrical service (at the cost of reduced download).

This is where the NBN shines out like a torch in the night: the costs of changing the ratio are far less for the NBN than they are for existing ADSL technology. The reason for this is that the NBN network is being implemented as a dumb pipe system. You can tell it what upload and what download you want for the particular service and it delivers it. You can even install more than one service per pipe, say if you wanted cable TV and 100Mbps/25Mbps internet for example. The NBN can quite happily provide this configuration.

However with ADSL2+ technology we are already stretching the limits of the technology. The best that can be down is a 2Mbps upload (only offered by Internode at the moment) and to adjust the ratio further than that, not only would the ISPs need to replace the very expensive DSLAMs at exchanges (each DSLAM costs in the order of $75K) but also get the customers to change their modems as well ($100 per customer).

HFC is a little bit more flexible, fortunately, but unfortunately cable providers are very hesitant to adjust the ratios because it would mean they could no longer offer customers the brand new “100Mbps” plans via DOCSIS 3.0. Because, like I stated above with downstream, there is even more of a disconnect to what upstream means. With FTTH since the systems are cable of delivering a total bandwidth of around 1.0Gbps between the splitter and ONT (or the last few hundred meters as it were) the providers have much more options. They can even provide a 100Mbps/100Mbps service without any worry.

Recently, even more interestingly, have been the development of “cost saving technologies” since the industry seems unsure on Fibre (the industry has been unsure of Fibre for about a decade if we’re honest, I read an article recently, written sometime between 2002 and 2005, that proved that, especially for new offices, the cost of FTTD (Fibre to the Desk) is actually only about $9 more expensive per desk than running a traditional Cat5 network even through it involved installing $200 fibre cards in each desktop.)

You can check out that article here. In the same article it did point out that FTTH solutions are approximately 10x more expensive than copper based solutions, and this seems oddly true even today, however it did make an interesting point about remote areas where it will be cheaper to run fibre because of the greater performance characteristics. I find it slightly ironic that the NBN plan opts for wireless for remote areas in light of this, but I never said the the NBN was a perfect plan.

A recent article suggested a new technology that could be used as the Fibre killer could be in the form of VDSL loops, able to provide approximately 25Mbps total throughput (both upstream and downstream) to each home in a loop of 16 homes with a maximum of 400Mbps per loop. And it could be a possible viable interim solution, as to be done properly it would require that fibre drops be run out to each cluster of 16 homes. You can read that article here.

However my friend pointed out to me that ring structures in networks tend to have very high latancy, so the online gaming community may not be so appreciative of this “upgrade.” I also have a strong feeling that such a “middle step” is a waste of time, but that won’t stop the Liberals from suggesting it, and good on them, on face value it actually looks as if it might work. If I wasn’t so familiar with the technology behind it I might have gone for it too.

When it comes to the NBN through, I am slightly concerned, another person I follow on Twitter, @philhart reports that althrough he is currently on a reasonable ADSL connection, under the NBN he will be downgraded to Sat. (And yes, even through he may get 12Mbps once the two new Sats have been launched for NBNCo, the latency performance of Sat based internet connections is such that I do consider it to be a downgrade compared to a 1.5Mbps internet connection).

So what does that mean? Well it seems to me that we do need FTTH, but maybe not exactly the FTTH that the NBN will provide. But it’s a new policy, it’s bound to have a few teething problems. Let’s hope people like @philhart can also be taken care of in Broadband Policy, for example, why don’t we keep part of the CAN (Copper Access Network) functional where to replace it would not be cost effective in the medium term rather than just saying “No, you’re getting Sat”?

It’s suggestions like these I want to see coming out of the mouths of people like Mr Malcolm Turnbull, not assertions that they can do it better without FFTH, because I don’t think they can.

Written by NightKhaos

November 11, 2010 at 8:39 am

Posted in NBN, Technology

Tagged with , , , , ,

Know thy Voters

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I only moved to Sydney in 2010. Before then I had been living in Glasgow in Scotland. So when I tell you the behaviour of your major political parties makes me sick to my stomach I want you, Australia, to understand my full meaning.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what you, the people can do about it, all I know is that what I have seen throughout this electon has turned out to be a lot of false promises and lemon policies.

It seems to come down to one very important thing, one thing that the government in the UK and the government in NZ are capable of doing. That simple thing? Listening to your voters.

Politicians in this country don’t. Well that is not entirely accurate: they only listen when they are likely to lose their position. Senator Stephen Conroy is a prime example of this behaviour.

This particular minister is the bane of most of the IT and telecommications industry at the moment. For various reasons. The first reason is the prosposed Mandatory ISP filtering.

For those of you not aware the Mandatory ISP Filtering, or Filter, is a policy put forward by the Labor government because of the “moral responsibility to remove child pornography, bestiality and other illegal materials that have no place a civilised society.” I’m paraphrasing there, but that is in a nutshell the argument which at face value seems like an admirable goal.

The filter first and foremost, which was sold to protect children by preventing them from accessing pornographic content inadvertently, while also protecting them from online predators, and stopping the trade of illegal child pornography via the Internet in Australia

Except it won’t. First off, as protest against the filter raised the scope had to be reduced from X18+ rated material, to RC rated material, and now there is talk of reducing it even further to just illegal material. So the amount of material that will be blocked from inadvertent expose by children has been reduced from millions of pages, to tens of thousands, to now less than four hundred. This is out of approximately two trillion pages on the web today.

To put that in perspective; we have greater odds of being killed or seriously injured in a car crash tomorrow than our children do of inadvertently browsing to a blocked page. And that is only if we use the process of selecting a random web-page. The risk is reduced even further when we consider that the Internet is a searched medium. Meaning you need to actively search for content.

Then their is the predator argument. This one made me chuckle when I read it in the MX “[The increase in child predators] raises the requirement of a content filter”. So let me get this straight, a static list of illegal content on the net is going to stop a child predator, a real person, from grooming children? That’s like saying a program to remove all images of car crashes from television, books, and news papers will reduce the number of road accidents on our roads. If anything, the removal of child pornographic content on the web will actually increase the number of paedophiles present on the web.

And finally, to stop the trade of illegal pornography you have to hit them where the trade is occurring. The trade of illegal pornographic material occurs in closed Peer2Peer networks across the globe. The filter on the other hand is only covering web-pages.

But that’s alright, because we have a moral responsibility. Senator Stephen Conroy continuity refuses to listen to experts in the field who continuity repeat these above points to him, going so far as labelling anyone who comes out against him as being in favour of Child Pornography. Never-mind the facts, never-mind the surveys that show over 90% of respondents are opposed the filter. He even refuses to listen to the arguments, stating on a recent television appearance on Q&A that there were only two concerns with the filter: that it would slow down the Internet, and that there is little transparency in what is being blocked in the current proposal. Both of which are minor issues compared to the fact that it won’t work. He even counters the fallacy that the filter will slow down the Internet by as much as 87% (this figure provided by GetUp! which I unfortunately have be unable to verify) with another fallacy that it will only result in a speed difference of “One Seventieth of a Blink of an Eye” which I can find even less evidence for than GetUp!’s 87% figure.

Mr Conroy also refuses to listen to the public on the NBN. There is concern from aspects of the industry that it’ll cost to much, that by the time we have rolled out the technology there will be a better technology available and it will have been a giant waste of money. Granted, leaving up to experts and individuals such as myself to debate is understandable, however you would think that when the opposition starts echoing the concerns presented by the public that maybe, even then, Mr Conroy would make an effort to explain a few thing, not to mention that if our debates started to come to conclusions different to his own he would take the same stance he takes on the filter of completely ignoring the public.

The only reason I can think of this is the fact that there have only been two minority governments in history in Australia. This means that a major political party has had the power to dictate policy from the lower house without any negotiation with the minor parties in order to pass a bill. That means that whatever the major political party says, goes. I for one hope that Labor stay on a knife edge from now on, because maybe they will start listening to facts. Like try this one on for size Mr Conroy, 7% of voters in Queensland voted against you by placing you as one of there last place candidates by voting below the line.

Written by NightKhaos

October 18, 2010 at 12:29 am

Posted in ISP Filtering, NBN

Tagged with , , ,

The Problem with Mobile Broadband

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With the NBN policy in full swing there has been some concern from the industry, and political followers of the issues, that it costs to much, with the political opposition going so far as to call it a “White Elephant”. Some Telecoms even put forward a new proposal, dubbed “NBN 3.0” that was supposed to reduce the overall cost of the project while delivering similar results.

The problem with those advocating the use of Wireless lies with a fundamental misconception about telecommunications; that everything is “going wireless”. It is easy to understand why people would think this, almost everyone has WiFi in their homes, at their university, sometimes even at their local Café. The trend is to buy and use mobile broadband, since it’s more flexible, and you can use it just about anywhere. With the devices like the iPad, and smart-phones starting to take up major ground in the Australian market, the argument seems flawless.

Everyone wants wireless, so why should we invest in fibre? Why should Australia waste around A$40 billion on installing a network that will deliver speeds of up to 1Gbps with a minimum delivery target of 25Mbps into the home.

I’ll tell you why: wireless is a terrible technology, and increasing the usage numbers of said technology will only serve to make the situation worse and likely drive the cost up to consumers as networks try and keep their usage numbers down. This is opposed to fibre, where increase usage numbers will serve to improve the technology, as providers try and innovate with new service delivery models and content delivery methods.

Now this, at first glance, seems odd, why would a technology get worse the more people who use it? Wouldn’t the increased usage numbers allow for better innovation and push companies to deliver more robust and stable networks, thus removing the problems of the current network?

You would think so, and a lot of self called “industry experts” have been saying this. In ten years time their will be a new fibre killer technology which makes it look like going down the fibre road was a waste of money, they say. While we’re at it, for the select few who want a fixed like connection, there are new DSL variants which offer speeds comparable to what the NBN is offering and do not require is to replace the copper infrastructure with fibre.

If you take what these “experts” say at face value, then the opposition are right, this is truly a waste of money. However, and now, for the punch line. Let us look in detail about what wireless technology actually does.

A wireless connection needs three things. The first is an allocation of spectrum. This is the “space” where the data and voice signals will travel. For 3G technologies the spectrum used is in a few spots, generally 850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, and 2100MHz. For in the home WiFi and technologies like Bluetooth it is generally at 2.4GHz, with standards in WIFi also reaching into the 5GHz band, as well as DECT, or cordless phones, usually working either 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz.

Once you work out where you’re going to put it, you need a transmitter. This transmitter needs to be powerful enough to penetrate a given geographic area, and weak enough that it doesn’t interfere with other transmitters running on the same frequency. This is why in home WiFi only has a range of a maximum hundred meters, and the mobile phone towers have a range of a few kilometres. It all depends on how big of an area you want to serve.

And finally, you need a channel. This is an allocation of the spectrum specific to you. Without channels you couldn’t have multiple networks running close together from different carriers, and every time you connected to your WiFi you would get problems because of your mate next door using WiFI. (Of course many home WiFi users are not aware of the channels, and often you get conflicts anyway. If you are having bad signal issues at home and there are a couple of WiFi networks nearby, I suggest trying changing your channel and see if you get some better performance.)

Now this seems fine and dandy, but let us continue with our story, unless the communication method is direct line of sight, or they is only ever going to be one client on the network, you will never achieve the maximum theoretical speeds your network is designed too. This is known as contention.

Contention happens because every device on the same network uses the same channels (usually two, one for transmitting, know as TX and one for receiving, known as RX, some technologies will use more, often in an attempt to bias speeds in a certain direction). This means that if you want to send a packet from your, say part of an email, or an MMS, you will need to wait until no one use on the network is transmitting before you do. And to avoid the situation of two clients noticing “no one is transmitting right now, so it must save for me to” it is often done via a rotating queue, the access point, or tower, deciding who is trying to send the most packets and thus needs to most “spots” on the queue. If you ever downloaded a file on the WiFi you will notice that it often starts slow and speeds up as the file progresses.

So, the more clients you have, the less of a “window” you will have allocated to you to transmit, and the less bandwidth you will have, even if the other client is not doing anything it will still be allocated a “window” so that it can inform the network that it needs a bigger “window.” There are even empty spots where clients can announce they “hey I want to connect to” which, depending the network, can sometimes take a significant part of the window. This is why in busy areas it can sometimes take a long time to connect to the network. Engineers have a hard time making this all work out such that it is seamless for the user.

Now, hopefully you can understand where I am going with this: the more users you have in a given tower, or cell, the slower your connection will be, and thus the deliverable bandwidth you receive will be less. This is also when we completely ignore the issues like signal degradation over distance, where a phone closer to the tower can get a better signal than one in the fringes of the cell. Scale this to many hundreds, or even thousands of users, and those theoretical speeds of over 100Mbps are starting to look like less than 1Mbps per client.

This is worse not only than we currently get now on fixed line broadband (1.5Mbps being the minimum delivery target), it is also worse than what we get on existing, and less efficient, wireless technology. And there are only two ways we can fix this, short of someone working out how to cram more data in the limited spectrum, which often involves a completely replacement of the current infrastructure to achieve.

Option one: we increase the spectrum we have to work with. However, there is very little unused spectrum in the right area (microwave) that we can use for this purpose.

Option two: increase the cell density, thus reducing the number of clients per cell. This will require more backbone fibre to be laid, comparable to what the current NBN is going to lay out. Meaning that we will end up spending tens of billions of dollars anyway.

Fibre on the other hand, if you say it is going to deliver 100Mbps, it will deliver 100Mbps. Not only that, but to upgrade it is much cheaper than the initial roll out, because you simply have to replace the equipment at either end, and you can leave the existing cable in place. This is almost exactly the same as fixed line connections on copper today. The only difference is in maintainable costs, which I understand may be slightly more expensive, however this is offset by fibre cable being much cheaper to buy and produce than copper.

While we’re on the subject of copper, as I mentioned previously some advocates have pointed out advances in DSL technology that negate the need for fibre. These rely on common deception from Telecoms currently: maximum theoretical speed, also known as the dreaded “up to”.

DSL technology delivers slower and slower speeds depending on how far you are from the exchange. In fact, in some areas, if you are far enough out you can’t even get DSL because the signal isn’t strong enough to reach you. No new DSL technologies have fixed this issue. All they have managed to do is increase the bandwidth to the select few who are close to the exchange. One of the options pushed, known as UniDSL, will even fall back to an older technology if you cannot receive one of the higher bandwidth signals.

Fibre on the other hand will be able to deliver the same bandwidth no matter how far you are out from the exchange, because it’s losses over distance are negligible compared to copper (that isn’t to say it doesn’t have losses, but the losses are so small as that for cables less than 5km, or the length you expert for a typical telephone exchange setting, you can expect to see no losses, and there are methods to extend that distance further, such as reducing the number of clients per splitter).

Now you will remember I also said that I agree that the tread is wireless. So if this is the case how do we continue to service this trend while overcoming the issues I’ve mentioned here? Well, as I said, one of the methods is to increase cell density, which involves pretty much the same thing we have been doing now, a select few who actually need the portability can pay for (relatively expense) mobile broadband option, and the rest of us can use fixed line connections with a WiFi access point at the end of it. It’s worked pretty well so far, so why do we all need to suddenly make the switch to completely wireless?

There are other technologies than can help us, like public WiFi from every home. In the UK BT currently, with everyone’s (with an option to opt out) ADSL connection, takes a small amount of bandwidth and dedicates it to a seperate network, a BT Openzone, which anyone who uses their ADSL, or has an Openzone account can use. AT&T in the US currently has MicroCells, which is a little device that boosts 3G signal in the home by acting as a repeater, and T-mobile in the US has recently started offering WiFi calling for their Android G2, where you can make a call on the WiFi network via their VoIP services.

The truth is, we need fibre and it’s not an if, it’s a when. And it has been projected that if we wait any longer it will cost us more to deliver it. So Australia, suck it up, otherwise we really will be in the dark ages when it comes to telecommunications. I’m not saying the NBN 2.0 is a perfect plan, but I have yet to see a better one offered, and if pressed, I’d say this project would be perfectly fine, provided Labor stopped trying to tell us that you will be able to get a strong ROI at the end of it, because if that were the case, someone would have started already.

Written by NightKhaos

October 12, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Posted in NBN, Technology

Tagged with , , , , , ,