“… lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
As it is pretty much every year, the NBN Co Corporate Plan is less a broad document that lays out the ongoing plans and technologies of the network but more a glossy, overwritten brochure on how “great” the network is doing and how fast it’s rolling out. There are dozens of pages of “telco” bragging – we connected this many people, this was the forecast, this is the revenue, this is the forecast, etc. Most of it is already available in the quarterly releases and the annual report, especially since NBN Co is more than happy to blow its own horn when it meets its rollout benchmarks.
There is largely nothing wrong with this – we would generally be even more upset with the company if it failed to meet its rollout benchmarks on top of everything else – but it all feels quite glib considering the overwhelming number of complaints and problems across the rollout, both caused by the excessive pace and poor policy decisions. The plan is really no different from the same glossy bragsheets that Optus and Telstra send to shareholders each year, which share the same kind of “all the benefits, none of the issues, everything is fine” blueprint. This is primarily because NBN Co’s CEO used to run Vodafone, and brought a lot of that marketing lead focus with him.
But since this was the first corporate plan that looked past the “end” of the rollout in 2020, I was curious to see how the company would handle the future landscape. I wasn’t expecting that much outside of a few vague directives and a bunch of buzzwords in regard to “managing expectations” and “prioritising limited areas of connectivity”. What was there, in fact, was a doubling down on the MTM’s whimsical upgrade paths – which was extraordinarily optimistic, even for a utility that still thinks installing new FTTN connections in 2017 is actually a good idea.
Much of this can be distilled down to a single, awful, diagram that takes the theoretical max speed potential of a technology and classes it under “Potential mid-term upgrade speed”. Now, in a few of my earlier articles, I went over much of this technology and highlighted the realistic upgrade speeds in the medium term. Based on the readiness of most RSPs and the issues regarding CVC, on top of the state of copper and the average distance from nodes, I would assume 120mbit is about the best any FTTN user is going to get in the medium term. The 10Gbits listed in the corporate plan is ridiculous.
There are obviously caveats here. FTTC is being stuffed into the backseat next to its awkward cousin, FTTN, and with it, carries the whole of these wild expectations. Sure, if you turn on Vectoring, XG Fast, have copper within 15-25 metres of a skinny fibre install in pristine condition and the wind is blowing from the east, then maybe, MAYBE, you could hit 700-800mbits sync. I can’t really imagine a situation within a residential environment where 10Gbits is being served consistently in any form. None. Copper is just not designed to stretch this far, and actually having the gall to put “FTTN” and “10Gbits” in the same infographic is beyond laughable – it’s almost a bald-faced lie.
Which is strange since the rest of the infographic is largely correct. DOCSIS3.1 does allow for 10Gbit connections which have been tested in the field, plus the technology has already been proven to be stable and reliable over distance. Same goes with the 1Gbit restrictions on fixed wireless and the “hell, we don’t even know” when it comes to Satellite speed upgrades. But why couldn’t they have stuck with 1Gbits? Sure, most FTTN users won’t even get close to that either, but it’s significantly more realistic than ten and effectively within the bounds of what those lucky to get FTTC are likely to find themselves within about five years.
This sort of vague internal direction is part of the reason why people distrust NBN Co so much. Instead of admitting to the restrictions of the awful hardware choices prescribed to them, they fudge and muddle the waters so they don’t look like they are holding back fast internet from Australia. They are “doing their best” because “you just don’t know what the future will bring”. They know most users have no idea what these acronyms mean or if they will apply to them. It’s a glossy, “Utopia” style brand nightmare that hides the truth and reality of 30%+ of NBN users by dumping it in an absolute best case lab scenario.
It’s especially laughable now that NBN is deciding to take on limited in-home wiring faults since these are a huge part of very low sync speeds, a situation they wouldn’t even have to deal with if they built new infrastructure rather than tacking onto the old one.