It’s a sad state of affairs when Australia is featured in the New York Times about how incompetent we are when it comes to technology. The latest report is about how we’ve bungled the NBN rollout.
The previous mention was last year when the Australian Census website acted like it was the 1950s and made us the laughing stock of the world.
Sadly, both of these stories in the New York Times were spot-on.
The latest story appeared a few days ago under the headline “How Australia bungled its $US36 billion high speed internet rollout”.
It rightly points out that our internet speeds are slower than that of the US, Western Europe, Japan and South Korea despite the $49 billion National Broadband Network rollout.
In fact, Australia came in at an appalling No 51 on the Akamai ranking of internet speeds behind countries like Thailand and Kenya.
Now you’d think, after spending nearly $50 billion over the last eight years we’d have some semblance of a national high-speed network that would be the envy of the world.
Instead, as the New York Times rightly points out, we’ve got a situation where costs have blown out with a grab-bag of new technologies like fibre mixed with old and outdated copper wire.
It’s like bringing a Ferrari to your driveway and only being allowed to drive along roads full of speed bumps.
My current set up at home is with Optus cable broadband delivered via HFC (hybrid fibre coaxial) which has now been declared substandard by the NBN and replaced by FTTC (fibre to the curb) between July and December 2018.
At the moment, I can already achieve speeds close to 100Mbps but with rubbish upload speeds that barely crack 1Mbps on a good day.
But download speeds are fast and it’s reliable. With the delivery of the NBN there is every likelihood that I may have to pay more to stay with the 100Mbps download speeds.
Yet I don’t know whether the NBN will use the same connection from the street that I have now – part of the Optus infrastructure that the NBN has declared not up to standard – or come the rest of the 10m from the curb to my house with a copper line that’s been there since the middle of last century.
Unfortunately, the “go big or go home” attitude about the NBN that arguably swept Labor’s Kevin Rudd to the Prime Ministership in 2007 has been considerably watered down amid political squabbling and negotiations with Telstra that took a lot longer than expected.
When the Coalition came to office in 2013, the NBN was running way behind schedule and with a projected cost of $70 billion.
Instead of upholding the Labor plan of connecting most homes with FTTP (fibre to the premises) the decision was made to swap out areas with FTTN (fibre to the node) and FTTC (fibre to the curb) with existing infrastructure like copper taking it the rest of way.
But rather than replacing the copper network, we were told it was still a viable technology but it would take $640 million to improve.
The result is still the same – slower internet than we’re capable of.
And sadly, this makes us look like a technology backwater despite being a country that’s rich in resources and with a climate and lifestyle that’s the envy of the world.
Now while all of this is going on we are seeing the rollout of the advanced 4G LTE and 5G networks which are capable of speeds of up to a staggering 1Gbps per second.
Speeds that are 10 times faster than the NBN on its best day.
Back in 2007 when the concept of the NBN was floated for the first time, I wrote in a Daily Telegraph newspaper column that by the time the NBN fibre network was finished in 2020 we would have wireless technology that would be faster. And I was right.
You’d expect that after spending $50 billion dollars on a network it would be the best in the business.
It’s not and the rest of the world is starting to notice.