[LINK] NBN may increase Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Tom Worthington Tom.Worthington at tomw.net.au
Tue Apr 14 08:50:11 AEST 2009

At 12:55 PM 9/04/2009, Michael Still wrote:
>Tom Worthington wrote:
>>The government's $43B National Broadband Network plan has 
>>implications for greenhouse gas emissions. ...
>I don't think the world is that simple though. ...

Yes, the NBN is not a simple project, so before spending $43B, I 
thought we should see how to do it well. It is not clear to me that 
FTTH is worth the cost; FNTH (Fibre Nearer the Home) may be better, 
both for economic and environmental reasons.

We do not want to repeat the mistakes of a few years ago when when 
Tesltra and Optus spent billions of dollars running hybrid 
fibre/copper pay TV cables down the same streets of Sydney and 

This Pay TV system was obsolete about as soon as it was put in, if 
not before. Apart from wasting funds which could have been spent on 
something more useful, the cables take up space which make it more 
difficult to install other cabling, such as for the NBN. This result 
was not unexpected as Tesltra ran a FTTH trial in a northern suburb 
of Canberra some years before. The result of that trial was that the 
residents had more difficulty getting broadband than those in the 
suburbs not equipped with FTTH 

>... news websites are better for the environment than having a teenager throw
>dead tree at your house every morning (probably from a car). ...

At the Symposium on Sustainability of the Internet and ICT, in 
November 2008 <http://www.ee.unimelb.edu.au/green_internet/>. 
Turlough Guerin from Telstra mentioned that they had done some 
calculations to show it was better for the environment to send out 
electronic bills, than paper ones. But this was only the case if the 
web server used was heavily loaded. A lightly loaded server used so 
much electricity that it caused more CO2 emissions than the vehicles 
used to deliver the paper bills.

>... I do think that you have to take into account that progress has 
>advantages. ...

Those advocating the new technology need to make the case. In its 
2007 green report the ACS pointed out that, for example, digital 
telephone handsets use a lot of power and there are other, better 

A typical VoIP telephone, such as the Cisco SPA921, uses 5 Watts 
A VoIP Broadband Router, such as the Linksys WRP400 v3 Wireless-G 
uses 7.9 Watt 
In contrast an analog telephone handset uses no power when "on-hook" 
(not in use) and less than 1 Watt when in use.

It would be unfortunate if we spent $43B and then discovered that we 
had created a large ongoing extra bill for consumers for the carbon 
emissions. Better to work out how to build an efficient system from 
the start. It is unlikely that renewable energy sources could be put 
in place fast enough to power the NBN, so other ways are needed to 
offset its effect. But this will need to be taken into account in the 
planning. It is possible to use more energy efficient equipment, but 
it will cost more.

There may be ways to achieve environmental and other goals with the 
NBN by careful expenditure. As an example the cheapest way for the 
company building the NBN would be to require the customer to provide 
the power for the electronics on the end of the cable in their home, 
but this may not be the best solution financially, environmentally or 
in terns of emergency service in the long term. This would waste 
considerable amounts of power and also would not work during a blackout.

A better option for the community, which would cost the NBN company a 
bit more, might be to power the customer equipment from the node. 
Transact do this with their service in Canberra. Telephone services 
on Transact's network are powered from the Transact nodes, which have 
battery backup and work during a backout. Data services on Transact 
have less battery backup 

I suggest the NBN should go a step further and provide backup power 
supply for the voice and data services and for a minimum of customer 
equipment. This would allow, for example, the phone to be powered 
from the system in the customer's home. It may also be possible to 
run a small web terminal from the same source for basic information 
services. Apart from providing power during a blackout, the use of a 
few larger power supplies should be more efficient than millions of 
plugpacks in people's homes.

With this arrangement fibre to the home may not be viable, as a 
copper cable will still be required to carry power into the home. In 
any case it is unlikely that a pure optic network should be used. 
Given the difficulty of running a new cable, the installers should 
take the opportunity to run some twisted pair copper cable at the 
same time. There are cables available which have both copper and 
fibre in the one jacket. However, this requirement may need to be 
regulated. A commercial company may decide to not install any copper 
cable because this would be easier for its competitors to use than 
the fibre. Also for political reasons the government may decide not 
to install any copper as if it was used, this would show their fibre 
policy was a waste of money.

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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