Now about that NBN

Let's get a little less macro and a little more in-depth about one of my favorite topics: NBN.

Queue the exasperated groans from those who know me. This is going to be a much less 'objective' and well written post, and more of a rant. Now an ongoing theme of my blog, you may notice, is that whilst I don't blame the general public for not paying attention - I bet they'd be pretty angry if they did. I'll get to that at the end. It's been a while since I've paid due attention to NBN - despite being involved in it each and every day for my job. Amidst the turmoil of the world at large right now and the frenetic pace of technology globally, it is easy to stop paying attention to what is, without doubt, one of the largest mistakes of modern infrastructure.

Some personal caveats to begin with: I have been extremely interested in the NBN rollout since it was first announced in mainstream media circa 2007 (Kevin-oh-seven come at me). In a lot of ways, it was my introduction to the wider world outside that magical little bubble that so many teenagers believe will be the center of the universe for their entire lives. Also - whilst I have had experience working under Bill Morrow (current CEO of NBN) before, none of the information below is not available publicly in previous news articles.

Bill was hired to turn Vodafone around after a publicly calamitous 2011 where network underperformance and poor merger management between "3" Mobile and Vodafone bled the brand of any and all life (Nigel Dews - previous CEO - was famously let go for this). Bill was brought on to mastermind a titanic turnaround - arrest bleeding customers, bring the brand back on track and start making profits again. The idea was, in 2012, to spend a year or so building network capacity and reducing cost and to start being profitable again in mid 2014 (which was later revised to be mid 2015). In 2012, Vodafone lost approximately 450k customers. In 2013, they lost 1.2m. Bill left the sinking ship to take over NBN half way through this 'turnaround' program mid 2014. Vodafone was left in the worst state it had ever been in, with a CEO who had coined a three year turnaround program and abandoned ship when he realized it wasn't working. The next chief, Inaki Berroeta, has done a fantastic job - but firmly held his stance that committing to profitability mid 2015 was unrealistic when he took over. Credit to Vodafone, since Morrow's departure they have managed to arrest customer losses (somewhat) and seem to be genuinely turning it around.

Bill is now in charge of NBN. NBN was a lost cause before it started by being a political gambit. As I wrote in my last post, I do not believe that politicians and typical baby boomer aged CEO's are equipped to understand, much less direct, a technological rollout. Call me crazy, and many do, but Bill recently copped an unbelievable amount of flak for publicly stating that 'Australians don't want fast internet, and wouldn't even use it if we gave it away for free'. This is one of those times im so grateful that I can post whatever I want on here:

What a fu.... dingbat.

Here are the facts of the NBN rollout so far:

1. The original estimate of $29.5b from the Labor side of the NBN debate was unreasonable. No question.
2. However there is also no debate or question that the Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) proposal of NBN was technically superior by a magnitude of anywhere from 10x to 100x.
3. The main argument by, at the time, Malcolm Turnbull's communications team for Multi-Technology Mix (MTM) was that it would be cheaper, and be rolled out by 2016.
4. We are now in 2017, the NBN has scarcely reached anyone, and because of the MTM it's been more degrading then beneficial for the majority of people who have received it. The estimate for finishing is 2020 - the same estimated timeframe as the original Labor FTTP plan.
5. The cost of the NBN is now at $56 BILLION dollars - the maintenance costs are VASTLY more expensive than FTTP would be, and the speed is undeniably inferior - in some instances - even to ADSL 2+.

Let's take a moment here and consider that, shall we?

LNP's version of NBN is now more expensive, slower, technically inferior and completely redundant - making it a giant, epic, catastrophic waste of time and taxpayers money.

Thanks Malcolm, thanks Bill - bang-up job you guys have done.

So - redundant, I said. Why? Because NBN will arrive, for most, in 2019, 2020 and 2021. 5G is being tested as we speak, and I personally have been lucky enough to witness speeds in excess of 550mbps on a personal mobile testing unit in Australia with my own two eyes. This wasn't a lab-conditioned test; this was real world, impromptu happenstance where somebody who was privy to the testing network from Ericsson happened to be at a roadshow even I was attending - and after the seminar I asked him about it. 5G goes public during the Commonwealth games in 2018. But this is still minor-league. Add to this the fact that we have actually had Australia's best kept secret HFC (Hybrid Fibre Coaxial) internet that delivers speeds of up to 120mbps down, 2.4mbps upload reliably (as long as its Telstra's - not Optus) for 15 odd years, and it really does highlight how long ago we could have upgraded our nation (p.s: Anyone on ADSL now who is in a major metro area - do yourself a favor and check if HFC (commonly known as cable) is available where you are. Don't bother asking why, just do it. Only Optus and Telstra provide it - so don't bother with your smaller carriers).

As I briefly mentioned in a previous post, SpaceX and OneWeb are now launching their own satellite internet systems - and these guys have major backers. Google are backing SpaceX to the tune of $10b, and Apple are backing OneWeb to the tune of who knows, because #Apple - but you can bet it is significant. So what do you get when the two biggest tech giants both back arguably the two most innovative companies in recent times? You get success. Success and lots of it - and fast. These satellite systems are poised to deliver internet at speeds that, initially, will simply beat NBN. In the long run however, it's very likely that these satellite systems will completely trivialise it. Not only will it be more reliable, faster, have better tech in place - but it will be able to reach anywhere in the world, all the time. How beautifully and uniquely tailored to the Australian environment.

So what prompted me to write about this issue? I saw an advertisement by NBN as part of their new campaign called 'Gen NBN' - and it centered around getting ready for NBN to (finally) roll out in non-regional areas and deliver 'next-gen' internet to Australians abroad. But that's just it - it's not next gen. The rest of the world has had speeds faster than Australia for 50 years, and now the rest of the world is moving on - just as we were about to catch up with FTTP internet. Yet we're still paying huge amounts of dollars to this project that, in all honesty, I believe we should just stop. If we reinvested the resources of this project into 5g and/or satellite tech, we could simply leapfrog the last vestige of wired technology and cut ahead of the game to truly next-gen internet. $55b for fixed-line internet is a disgrace for a nation of 22m people, given SpaceX's program of 4000 low-earth orbit satellites are only going to cost $10b, and OneWeb's 700 satellites are going to cost somewhere around $2b!

My final point is this: There was a time when Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott were all battling it out amongst Australian politics to see who could take the reigns and embarrass the country the least - and NBN was one of the top three issues at the time used to prey on the ignorance of the general public with a promise to reduce tax-dollars going into it. Now in 2017 at a time where, to me, the NBN should be at the forefront of the news cycle due to it being twice the price and slower than ever to roll out with inferior tech - I rarely see it on the news. Gone are the frantic media postings about each billion dollars the new nbn might cost, or how it was a major political debate during parliamentary sit-ins. Now that neither party is using the NBN as a political heave-ho (probably because they don't want to touch it) it seems to be getting away with far worse than it ever was before - and quietly.

Oh, and Bill Morrow just paid himself another $3.6m last financial year - tripling his bonus from the year before - extending his lead as the highest paid public servant in Australian history, ever. Are you mad yet?