It's fair to say that things have not been going well for the National Broadband Network. Ongoing cost, technology and customer service problems have damaged the NBN brand - arguably irreparably. To make matters worse, competitors have been busy building faster, cheaper alternatives in Australia's capital cities, which begs the question: is the NBN facing irrelevance?
Lauded in the 2009 Commonwealth Budget as the single largest nation building infrastructure project in Australian history, the NBN is at risk of becoming an expensive white elephant in our cities. Years of political interference, poor technology decisions and a monopoly business attitude have damaged the brand.
Rather than meeting its objective of connecting 90% of homes and workplaces with broadband speeds of up to 100 Mbps, the NBN is looking more like a giant sponge. It soaks up public infrastructure dollars and returns high prices, long delays, unacceptably slow data speeds and service standards that are now the subject of an ACCC investigation.
As a result, a growing number of competitors are bypassing the NBN by undercutting prices and beating performance standards. For example, two aggressive startups in the Melbourne market are hoping to take a serious bite from NBN’s lunch.
Lightening Broadband is connecting homes and businesses using microwave links capable of delivering both 100 Mbps download and upload speeds. That’s better than the comparable NBN Tier 100, which offers 90 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload speeds.
The company is constructing microwave transmitters on tall buildings, connected to the telco’s core network using microwave links. Customers within a two-kilometre radius share a microwave transmitter, requiring a dish on their roof.
Another telco start-up, DGtek is offering its customers a full fibre alternative service.
Upon its launch in 2016, DGtek’s founder David Klizhov said:
“Ideally the NBN would have worked if it was fibre to the home, but it’s taken quite a lot of time and we thought that we could have a go at the Australian market using technology that’s been implemented already overseas.”
DGtek uses Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON) and runs it directly into tightly packed homes with the dense population of inner Melbourne. As a sweetener, DGtek offers free internet service to government organisations – such as schools and hospitals – in areas they service.
The threat from 5G and other new technologies
New entrant competition is not the only threat to NBN Co. Optus and Telstra are both launching 5G services in 2019. This represents a quantum leap in wireless technology that could win away millions of current and potential NBN customers.
Everyone has heard of concepts like self-driving cars, smart homes, AI and virtual reality, however their full potential will require a fast and reliable network to deliver. Seeing 5G data speeds through our trial that are up to 15 times faster than current technologies allows us to show the potential of this transformative technology to support a new eco-system of connected devices in the home, the office, the paddock and in the wider community.
5G is not the only technological game changer facing the NBN. iiNet in Canberra has launched its Very-high-bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL2) as its own superfast network.
According to iiNet, it is made up of fibre and copper and provides a faster connection than ADSL and most NBN plans. The network is independent from Telstra and differs to NBN in that iiNet’s VDSL2 network uses its own copper lines.
Levelling the field for smaller players
The huge capital requirements of rolling out telecoms infrastructure has always acted to deter more competition in the Australian market. But following a regulatory decision of the ACCC in 2017, smaller entrants can now enjoy cost-based access to some of the largest networks – including Telstra, TPG and Opticom – allowing them to better compete both with the big telcos, and with the NBN.
By providing access to superfast broadband access service (SBAS) and the local bitstream access service (LBAS), new entrants will be able to sell NBN-like fixed line superfast broadband wholesale.
Cost, technology and customer service problems continue to threaten the commercial success of the NBN. Without a radical rethink, it is doomed to fail its initial mission.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.