[LINK] NBN needed in emergencies

Tom Worthington Tom.Worthington at tomw.net.au
Tue Apr 7 17:12:42 AEST 2009

At 08:36 AM 7/04/2009, I wrote:
>ABC Radio ... wanted me to say that Australia was well behind the UK 
>with broadband. I declined to say this, pointing out that if 
>everyone in Australia agreed to live in Sydney, we would then have a 
>similar population density to the UK and it would be easy to get 
>them broadband. ...

Correction: My comparison of the UK and Australia was incorrect. The 
UK has a population density of 249 people per km2. This is more than 
eighty times the population density of Australia (2.833 people per m2 
). This makes it much cheaper to run cable to each home. But I was 
incorrect in saying that if you moved everyone in Australia to 
Sydney, it would be like the UK. This would actually give seven times 
the density of the UK. But that is not as dense as some places who's 
broadband policies seem in advance of Australia, such as Singapore, 
with a density of 6,814/km2 , more than two thousand times that of 
Australia and so very much easier to supply with cable.

I mentioned wireless as an option. Obviously this is better for lower 
density areas. If you have everyone in an apartment block, then it is 
easy to lay cable when building (my apartment has twisted pair copper 
cable about thirty metres down to a fibre node in the basement). Over 
these short distances it is not clear if optic fibre has an advantage.

It should be noted that the effective bandwidth limit for wireless, 
as with fibre, is not technological, it is economic: how many 
subscribers per square mk are willing to pay for a service? Wireless 
systems can be divided into smaller and smaller cells, to reuse the 
spectrum, down to tens of square metres per cell, with multiple cells 
covering one home.

The problem in Australia has been how to provide a service in 
sparsely populated rural areas and also how to get a signal from a 
fibre optic node the last few hundred metres into the home. That last 
bit of fibre is very expensive. Twisted pair cable and wireless are 

High  bandwidth is available if fibre is used for the last few 
hundred metres. However, it is not clear if anyone is willing to pay 
for that much bandwidth or has a use for it.

If mobile applications and small screens continue to become popular, 
then the community may not want large fixed bandwidth at home. This 
trend is already happening with telephones: subscribers are moving to 
mobile phones, so providing a better wired telephone is an irrelevant 
"last century" curiosity. Similarly a wired home computer or media 
service may also become a curiosity confined to the pages of history.

As part of all this I suggest that the reliability of these networks 
should be set to at least as good as the old PSTN. That is, in an 
emergency, the system should continue to operate without mains power 
for a set number of hours (at least four), there should be provision 
for the system to carry essential traffic in times of high demand or 
network degradation. There should be multiple communication paths and 
sets of equipment so the loss of one link or carrier will not cut off 
communications to a whole nation, town, city or state.

Also the environmental sustainability of the system needs to be 
considered. The higher the network speed, the more electricity is 
needed to run the system. Offsetting this, a widely available network 
can be used to reduce materials and energy use by replacing travel 
with tele-communing and the like. Also it may be possible to power 
pare of the network by locally generated renewable energy, both 
lowering the environmental impact and providing increased reliability.

Tom Worthington FACS HLM tom.worthington at tomw.net.au Ph: 0419 496150
Director, Tomw Communications Pty Ltd            ABN: 17 088 714 309
PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617                      http://www.tomw.net.au/
Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Australian National University  

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