One of the biggest arguments surrounding the National Broadband Network (NBN) is over how quickly it can be deployed. A reunion taking place today of workers who built the first cable connection between Sydney and Melbourne reminds us that the process has never been speedy: that single project took five years to complete. Plus: vintage photo gallery of network construction 50 years ago.
Telstra today is hosting a 50-year reunion for seventy workers who helped lay the first coaxial cable between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. That cable enabled simultaneous TV broadcasts between the three cities, as well as direct (rather than operator-connected) phone calls.
Total planning for the project took five years, with cable construction in Germany taking over two years, while deployment ran from 1960 to 1962. 15,000 tonnes of cable were used across 960 kilometres. As Telstra's announcement release explains:
The cable took five years to build with the teams laying the cable two to four feet (60cm-1.2m) below the earth's surface, averaging five miles (8km a day). Two thousand plans were drafted by hand, 15,000 tonnes of equipment were hauled across the length of the route, with 3000 coaxial joints and 103 minor repeater stations built.
Both technology and rollout methodologies have improved since that time (the coaxial cable itself has since been replaced with fibre), and there's a big difference in scope between that three-city connection and a network designed to potentially connect every building in Australia. Nonetheless, it's a reminder that the Coalition pledge to ensure improved connections by 2016 is an ambitious one that can't be realised without using lots of existing infrastructure. Given that effectively all bets are off until the NBN strategic review takes place, timing is really unpredictable at this point.
The other thing the gallery of photos below reminds us of? While we argue over download speeds and appropriate connection technologies, at some point it all boils down to ditch-digging.