Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Australia, US move forward with fibre as the UK lags behind

TelecomPaper report that Nextgen Networks are to roll out an additional 2,000km of fibre as part of the Australian Government's Regional Backbone Blackspots Program (RBBP). The $250m RBBP program forms part of the National Broadband Network initiative, to provide superfast broadband to homes and workplaces. Nextgen Networks will roll out approximately 6,000km (presumably now with an additional 2,000km) of backbone infrastructure, to six priority locations:
  • Geraldton, Western Australia;
  • Darwin, Northern Territory
  • Emerald and Longreach, Queensland;
  • Broken Hill, New South Wales;
  • Victor Harbor, South Australia; and
  • South West Gippsland, Victoria.
Nextgen will offer wholesale services using the RBBP network assets on an open and equivalent basis, enforced through contractual terms and the funding of the agreement with the Australian Government. Construction began in February 2010. The additional links reported by TelecomPaper comprise:
  • a link between Tarcoola in South Australia and Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory (which will also pass the communities of Coober Pedy, Marla and Everard in South Australia and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory)
  • a link between Townsville and Marathon in Queensland (passing through the towns of Woodstock, Reid River, Charters Towers, Cape River, Pentland, Hughenden and Prairie)
The links are expected to take approximately 18 months to complete. However, shorter links are expected to enter service earlier. Picking up on the open access aspect, Google has invited cable service providers to run on its proposed fibre network, as reported by Broadband Reports:
"We (sic) definitely inviting the Comcasts, the AT&T service providers to work with us on our network, and to provide their service offering on top of our pipe - we're definitely planning on doing that. Our general attitude has been that there's plenty of room for innovation right now in the broadband space, and it's great what the cable companies are doing, upgrading to DOCSIS 3.0, but no one company has a monopoly on innovation. We're looking for other service providers to be able to come in and offer their service on top of our network so that residents have a choice when they open up their accounts. They get the connection from us, and then they have a choice as to who they subscribe to."
The above remarks were made by Minnie Ingersoll, Google's product manager for alternative access, at FibreFete, an invitation only conference held in Lafayette. Broadband Breakfast report that Ingersoll went on to say that more than 1,100 communities and nearly 200,000 individuals had expressed interest (see this previous post for more on the response). Broadband Reports offer this commentary:
"But will carriers want to be part of Google's experiment?...As it stands now, Google's fiber network is little more than a press release and some meeting minutes, which have resulted in a firestorm of endless news coverage with one common theme: many incumbent carriers aren't delivering the broadband speeds or prices consumers want. Most of the incumbent carriers already dislike Google for their positions on everything from white space broadband to network neutrality, and after a barrage of criticism, carriers may be in even less of a mood to play along with Google."
Their loss I expect though; I'm sure there will be plenty of others who would like to play. Remaining in the US, an interesting article from Internet Evolution highlights the measures being taken to bring broadband to the Navajo Nation, as part of the broadband stimulus initiative.

So, what about the UK? Well, in a blog post for 360°IT, a show due to take place at Earl’s Court in September 2010, futurologist and former head of BT Labs Peter Cochrane claimed that the UK would now fail to make a global top 20 for broadband, and that significant investment is urgently needed if we are to improve our showing:
"Anyone working in the UK understands that basic infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. It's estimated we need to spend £500 billion to bring everything up to standard...How much would it cost to get optical fibre into every home and office? Somewhere in the region of £5-15 billion, depending on the technology and deployment options. On a national scale this is truly an insignificant amount of money when compared to the £500 billion mentioned above (or indeed the defence, health, education and welfare budgets). Yet the potential for economic rejuvenation is I believe far greater than for any other sector or investment...the clock is ticking. The UK has to grasp the nettle, stop all debate, and get on with the job. In the next phase we are going to see manufacturing industry transformed by 3D replicators and networked operations across the planet. But without the infrastructure we won't be able to play."
Finally, TeleGeography report that international network operators have weathered the recession surprisingly well and that international bandwidth usage continues to increase. More information in an executive summary available here.

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