Why is fast, reliable Internet so appealing?

Fibre-optic maker Corning is a supplier to NBNco.

by Steve Jenkin and Lachlan Hinds

21 June 2013

Time has never been more valuable. Our recreation time is becoming less and less – at a rate that is concerning mental health researchers. One of the ways of creating more personal time is to have efficient, reliable and fast internet access. By having more time to do those things we enjoy, our health and happiness indexes increase immensely. That means we have better relationships and are more energised, more creative in our home and work lives.

In 1996, after 25 years, “The Net” exploded into our lives and within 5 years had created a spectacular Stockmarket bubble, The Dot Boom/Bust. One invention, “The Worldwide Web”, accounted for this transformation. Since the first boom, The Net has continued to grow & evolve, now impacting most areas of our lives and is set to keep changing everything.

On the table at the moment is the promise of faster broadband. The fastest option of which is Fibre To The Home (FTTH). Home is a valuable place to us. It’s where we are free from the pressures of work and get to relax and follow our interests & passions.

By the time our work and study are done, plus any travel involved with these, there are various things we have to do such as domestic duties, eating and sleep. Outside of these necessary things we have our ‘real’ time, where we get to choose what we would like to do. All the latest research is saying we are getting less and less of this. By having more reliable internet and faster upload and download times we can better use the time previously used waiting for our material to upload and download.

Another important aspect of High Definition internet is the ability to transmit very clear images of the people we are online with. People respond to faces. It’s a positive emotional response that has been proven over and over. When we are talking to friends and loved ones, having images that are highly defined communicates feelings of emotional ‘warmth’. Subtle facial expressions are displayed more clearly, which along with speech, is a vital aspect of personal communication and relationship, much more than we consciously realise.

Corning tv 3d - Buzzmania

Corning’s futurist vision of all connected services and surfaces to the cloud

Communication and human interaction are very important for our mental health and wellbeing. Talking to a pixelated image of someone that constantly freezes and has a voice which isn’t synchronous with the lip movements is not only frustrating, but causes a level of disconnect from the person we’re interacting with. Never mind having to re-boot the system to get past slow internet glitches. Compare this with a stable, very clear image that closely compares to the sights and sounds we experience when talking to people in real life and the contrast becomes very clear.

Beyond this we have things like telehealth (also called e-health) where in-home facilities can be used to communicate clearly with health professionals (mental and physical) to monitor or assess your condition. Education is another massive area (which we will cover in a future article).

Where we are going in the future is an amazing place and it’s not that far away. Optical Fibre is here to help us make the most of the spare time we are given and to make our interactions on the internet for those we love and care for more fulfilling. High speed fibre to our homes is a key facilitator in this, getting past the slowness, unreliability and limited scope for modernisation with last century’s copper.

FTTH also allows for multiple users in a single household to multitask on the internet without it slowing down. Shared households, whether families going about their evening online routines or flatmates getting into their online lives with friends and family, are where FTTH comes into its fore. Copper connections (FTTN) have a lot of reliability and speed issues (as does wireless, just think of how many mobile phone calls you’ve had drop out). One of these is congestion, just like a traffic jam, making the internet a lot slower when more than one person is using it in a household. Fibre works off light, so it doesn’t lag or bottleneck. Your internet is only as fast as its slowest link, FTTH removes the slowest (and most unreliable) link – the copper line to your home. There are other subtle interactions where your TV download will freeze if someone uploads big files or does a backup, a particular problem with Copper, not Fibre.

The internet is no longer just an inert system for or distributing data. The internet is all about human interaction. FTTH facilitates this interaction and these relationships like no other communication medium. It’s reliable, it’s fast, it’s clear and it’s upgradeable to suit our needs for decades to come.

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  1. Thank you for your well written analysis on our very real need for internet speeds for the future & what this will mean for us.

    There will be no benefit in having a last year”s solution for something that we shall need next year & beyond. The opinion that FTTN will be “good enough” is not an option. Things change extremely rapidly in the world of the computer & the internet. This may not matter to those who are quite comfortable with using ancient XP & dial up but I resent having to wait for anything to load on to my computer. I am not young & time is precious to me.

    Another overlooked thing would be that the ghastly & ugly FTTN ginormous boxes on every corner & along every street would be an inviting target for vandals with the resultant loss of internet services affecting everyone in the area. Then, of course, there are the out-of-control cars side-swiping them.

    FTTN would be dated before it was started & is a totally visionless concept. Do hope it doesn’t come to that as we would be the laughing stock of the world if we threw away the chance to have such a made-for-the-future infrastructure

    • Joy,
      Lachlan and I are glad you enjoyed the piece. Thanks for your positive comments.

      You’ve identified the central issue of measuring “fast”: How long do I have to wait to do simple tasks?

      Lets hope enough pressure can be brought to bear on the Political parties to give us direct Fibre, not another 25 years on clapped out copper.


  2. I’m not so certain that either the current ALP plan *or* the proposed Liberal plan are the way to go.

    The current rollout is typical ALP – grand vision but horrible execution (cf. Pink Batts Fiasco BER Rorts etc etc). Firstly, on a high level, the usual suspects are making all the money as prime contractors while subcontractors are being hired at pittances. Among other things, this means that the number of people required are not available, as they will take any other work before accepting NBNCo work and this continues to cause delays. More direct oversight by NBNCo and better contract negotiation/management may have forestalled this. Secondly, the ALP’s grand vision says *everyone* must have fibre to their door, despite the expense and time involved. Even NBNCo suggested that FTTB (Fibre To The Building/Basement) would be better for flats, townhouses and apartment blocks (better known as MDUs). This is because of the extra design work, the requirement to negotiate with bodies corporate and various building management companies and the extra civil works involved in laying new conduits WITHIN these buildings unlike houses where the work stops at or adjacent to the entry point.

    Unfortunately the Liberal plan is worse. Not because of the somewhat lower speeds, since they are correct in saying that 90% plus of people won’t require that sort of speed and won’t pay for the higher speed plans on the current NBN, but because it still leaves us at the (non-existent) mercy of Telstra. Turnbull’s plan (and costings, btw) are predicated on Telstra giving away the use of their existing copper over the last few hundred metres from the node to the premise AND Telstra allowing their HFC network (used now for Foxtel and Bigpond Cable) to be wholesaled. The only way that Telstra would do this to make it look like a no cost transaction, is if they are granted exclusive rights elsewhere – probably exclusive rights to maintain the copper plus the rights to fibre greenfields estates. The cost of maintaining the copper is currently around $1 Billion per annum and will naturally increase every year. This has not been factored in to the Liberal plan but is required in any solution that utilises the current copper from node to house.

    In my view, the optimum solution, taking into account speed of rollout, costs and end-game, is FTTP for single dwellings and FTTB for MDUs.

    Some of the benefits of this proposal:

    • No need to use Telstra’s copper with concomitant $1Billion per annum maintenance bill. No lease or one-off payment, either. The only copper used is in-building (or specifically from the common connection point, which may be an MDF)
    • Building owners are responsible for in-building wiring. This will reduce the complexity of liaison between NBNCo and bodies corporate, for example. It will speed up the rollout considerably as there will be no need for extensive re-cabling or provision of extra power points for NBNCo Network Termination Devices (NTDs)
    • This will bring MDUs to the same point as standalone dwellings viz NBNCo deliver fibre to the building – anything inside the building is the concern and responsibility of the building owner. If copper needs to be remediated, it is not the responsibility of NBNCo (or Telstra, for that matter).
    • The network design for FTTP is already done, the design for FTTN is not. The design for FTTB will simply adopt the existing FTTP design, up to the building.
    • Power is used from within the building, not on the street, a reduction in ongoing expenditure but also in initial cabling
    • Less vandalism of FTTB cabinets as they are on private property.
    • A “FTTB box” could fit in a comms cupboard, under a stairwell etc. On rare occasions, for very large buildings, it may be necessary to deploy a larger cabinet, although smaller than the current FTTN proposal. These can still go on the property but outside.
    • A faster rollout will ensue – mostly because subcontractors are freed up, but also because less design work is required per building.
    • Typically one residence within an MDU contains less users than a single dwelling meaning extreme bandwidth is less likely to be required.
    • No need to negotiate with Telstra and Optus to wholesale HFC. There would certainly be a cost involved in such negotiations but, more tellingly, the effort involved in allowing multiple retailers is not trivial – from writing billing systems to providing hardware interfaces. And the delays in providing such as solution could also be significant. Yet, under the currently proposed Liberal scheme, it would have to be done, otherwise we have a monopoly retailer able to hold some customers to ransom, whilst the rest of the population has a choice of providers. Note also that if HFC is used, then Telstra’s copper must still be used for telephony whereas, optimally, we should be looking at removing all reliance on them and their copper.
    • I would also consider reducing the ‘contingency’ built into the current rollout. Although NBNCo refused to say what the figure is, I believe it is running at 60%, mostly to “allow for future over-building” (their words). Given that one of the supposed advantages of FTTP is to encourage and enable growth in areas OTHER than CBD/inner suburbs, I would think that using an extrapolation of existing planning approvals (if that is what they are doing) is fallacious.

    I know this was a long post; it should have been a simple issue, but between them, the ALP and the Liberals have made it incredibly (and needlessly) complex.

  3. Alan Koboroff says

    It’s a shame that the NBN has been such a political football. The Labor FTTP solution is a no-brainer, but the rollout has been designed to garner votes in Parliament, not to service users. If the initial rollouts were in areas with a certainty of take up (eg. North Ryde Technology Park, the Sydney CBD etc), NBN Co would already be generating considerable revenues to fund the rest of the rollout, business would be receiving the obvious advantages of high speed broadband and a lot of the huffing and puffing of critics would be silenced.

    I’ve worked in IT from a home office since 1989. I’ve seen communcations move from 2400 bps modems to ADSL2+ broadband. Once the NBN is in place, many others will also to be able to work from home or from local centres. Imagine the efficiencies of not having to commute, removing cars from crowded roads and peak hour crowds from public transport, reduction of pollutions from cars, improvements to family life, letting people work into their older years. I’ve experienced all these benefits and the NBN will eventually let others share this way of working.

    The NBN will be as big a revolutions as roads, railways and electricity were. It’s a shame we have to rely on bone-headed politicians of all stripes to implement it.