National broadband network
will waste power
I agree with your observations and concerns regarding the government’s proposed NBN FTTH network (Publisher’s Letter, November 2009). Like you, I am convinced that the government is committed to separating Telstra in order to gain access to the underground duct infrastructure without proper and fair compensation.
While it may be valid to deplore the crippling of upload speed on the FTTH network, my major question is whether it is absolutely necessary for the average home to have access to 100MBit/s download speed. A home-owner might think it is cute to be able to view a full length movie in real time on a networked TV set but this is a very poor justification for piping such a wide bandwidth into every home.
My contention is that FTTH for 99% of the population is well and truly overkill and the expense of $43 billion can not be justified. I contend that all that is required by the average home is a minimum 15MBit/s which can be adequately provided by a much less expensive network using FTTN.
While it would be possible to allow existing exchange switches to provide standard POTS over the old copper cables while transferring the high-speed services to the fibre, this is unlikely to be considered economically justifiable. After all, why run a fibre to every home just to provide a high-speed internet service? So it is probable that fixed-line telephone services would operate using VoIP over the fibre connection. But this service will only be reliable if the home fibre terminal is powered by a UPS.
It would also mean that the existing exchange infrastructure would be redundant despite it being capable of providing reliable telephony service for many years yet.
Another point which I have wondered about is the comparison between energy costs associated with a FTTH network as compared to a FTTN network. As I understand it, a FTTH network requires every home to have a fibre terminal which must be powered from the domestic mains supply and if the customer wants to have an uninterrupted service the terminal must also have a UPS. These terminals will be the responsibility of the home owner to maintain and to pay for the power which runs them.
If my maths are correct, each terminal consumes around 15W. So if there are eight million households, the standing power requirement will be 120 megawatts just to keep the FTTH terminals operational – even when they aren’t actually doing anything for the major period of each day. This isn’t very green in my opinion.
In contrast, I would estimate that a FTTH network would consume far less power because only the fibre nodes would have to be powered and this would be performed by the telco (eg, Telstra) via their underground cables in much the same way as the Foxtel cable is now powered.
Since the exchange power is battery-backed and the exchange possibly has a diesel generator to cater for long outages, the customer would still have a reliable network and telephone connection, exactly the same as is now provided over copper. Only the high speed internet connection using DSL would be transferred to the fibre nodes which serve up to 1000 customers while the existing fixed-line telephone service would continue to be provided over the existing copper cables.
The customer would only have to maintain responsibility for his own network modem etc as he currently does and fixed line telephones would not need to be upgraded to VoIP telephones or to be powered using a UPS. All in all, a FTTN NBN makes more sense in the short to mid term and it also provides a logical phased integration platform for a fully blown FTTH network when it is economically viable.