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FttH: Fibre to the Headache

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FttH: Fibre to the Headache

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The fact that fast broadband and access to the internet has figured so prominently on the political agenda over the past several years would normally be something the business community would consider a good thing.

That is, it has provided an on-going dialogue on better infrastructure and an outcome we all want – better services at lower cost.

But this has not been entirely the case. Because the focus of the debate – the endless, tortured debate – has been on the technology and not the business outcomes. And that is frustrating.

Because anyone running a business does not care about the technology. Let me say this again: Anyone running a business does not care about the technology.

In relation to broadband, or to communications more generally, business cares about the service:

How available is the service? How does the service perform? How is the service managed? And finally, what does the service cost? This is what is interesting.

Technology decisions come later, after decisions have been made about requirements: Availability, service, management and price.

So you can see I have some sympathy for Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s technology agnosticism in relation to the National Broadband Network. And I certainly understand why business managers should maintain an agnostic view of the technology world.

This brings me, naturally, to a short discussion about technology. Fibre to the Node versus Fibre to the Premise has been the prime media focus and you could be forgiven for thinking this is the only show in town.

For those regions across the country that won’t be serviced by fibre there are other technologies that will play a critical role in Australia’s broadband future.

My focus for many years has been the provision of carrier-grade point-to-point wireless broadband for business and government.

For a technology that is fundamental to so many essential services in our community – and to the nation’s core infrastructure –- there is a very poor understanding of wireless communications. 

For regional areas in particular, this has caused unnecessary angst. Show me a regional centre in Australia, and I will show you a business, or local council, or government departmental office that is worried about fibre.

When will it arrive? What service providers will arrive with it? What service level guarantees will they bring?

Because just like the rest of the world, these organisations are moving applications and processes to the Cloud, and the reliability of connections has become critical. So certainly you can understand why the regional and outer metropolitan areas worry about the arrival of fibre.

And this is where better informed technology agnosticism is helpful. 

Because carrier-grade wireless broadband is a technology of bombproof reliability that can be very quickly rolled out, even in remote locations. Right now. But the discussion has been limited, and too often alternate communications infrastructure has been painfully underrepresented in the debate. 

Wireless access networks can deliver four nines reliability, or 99.995 per cent uptime. Wireless providers operate under guaranteed performance parameters, ensuring the operation of all data, voice and video operations.

Using a fixed wireless access network and a fibre core, carrier grade wireless broadband can be put in place very quickly, with the same or better performance and management characteristics of fibre. Easy integration with the NBN or other carriers in future then provides a wireless roadmap for future network redundancy for cloud services.

Reliability and performance are always going to be key in any organisation’s decision about connectivity options. But once a platform technology is found to meet an organisation’s requirements and the provider has met the contractual quality of service benchmarks, then the business manager’s agnostic instincts should kick in.

The other important business issue related to network connectivity – aside from price – is manageability. This is where Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) standards, and MEF certification is important. MEF is the Ethernet standard for wireless carriage. Ethernet, of course, is the most widely used and easily managed of network standards.

The misconceptions about wireless services can probably be sheeted to consumer-level personal experience. Anyone who has been frustrated by a mobile call dropout or Wi-Fi failures at home (which is everyone) might not fully appreciate claims of carrier-grade, gigabit wireless connections.

But carrier grade means exactly that: It is bombproof. So consider the rollout of a MEF certified, carrier grade, fixed wireless solution, to be nothing more than a big blue – but ultimately invisible – CAT5 cable, which doesn’t get tangled.

The debate about broadband in Australia has been a good thing. It has made access to fast broadband a priority issue, resulting in serious investment in communications infrastructure.

This is good for business, but now we have to take the discussion one step further. We can start by moving from the limited debate about speeds and capacity and to identify what businesses really need and match the infrastructure to those needs.