Australia sets the standard for next-generation broadband rollout

2 Jul 2010

The news that Australia is to invest close to US$10bn in a pan-Australian fibre-optic network that will transform its country socially and economically for the decades ahead should set an example for economies in Europe.

Last week, operator Telstra revealed it signed a US$9.7bn deal with Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) to migrate Telstra’s telephone and broadband customers onto a national fibre network with its copper network to be shut down and no more broadband services to be provided over its hybrid-fibre coaxial cable network.

In other words, every Australian citizen will have access to state-of-the-art fibre broadband. The social and economic impact of this will be enormous.

It was a brave decision that many thought would never happen and has electrified the telecoms world.

It is a brave decision that also makes the notion of letting market forces decide the future of next-generation networks look weak and indefensible.

Broadband – it’s infrastructure

The fact of the matter is, this is infrastructure. It is infrastructure for the future that is just as important as roads, water or electricity. No Government in the world can wash its hands of this infrastructure because it is an infrastructure that will impact a country’s economy and society and will also impact on democracy and freedom.

One of the companies to benefit from the decision is Alcatel-Lucent which has been selected as a strategic supplier for the rollout of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN).

The NBN Co has committed an initial Aus$70m fixed price purchase and has also committed to spend up to $1.5bn on this highly specialised network equipment during the lifetime of this project.

Alcatel-Lucent will provide state-of-the-art GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network) equipment, aggregation and engineering assistance to the National Broadband Network Company (NBNCo).

The organisation will roll out a 100 Mbit/s fibre to the premise (FTTP) broadband network to 90pc of Australian premises over an eight-year period. The NBN will support a vibrant and innovative retail service provider eco-system, delivering life-changing new services to Australian homes, businesses and communities.

Alcatel-Lucent’s CEO, Ben Verwaayen, said: “The Australian NBN is one of the most important initiatives in our industry. The world is watching.”

Food for thought

According to the head of Alcatel-Lucent in Ireland, Kevin O’Callaghan, the decision by the Australian government will make other nations pause for thought.

“It reflects the vision of the government there that they see broadband as a public infrastructure and they’re prepared to invest in that. There are other countries that have taken the lead in next-generation networks like Australia, South Korea and a few more.

“It is a topic for debate: how much government are prepared in other countries to invest in infrastructure, some take the view that it’s going to be an infrastructure to help develop businesses and economy over time. In that context, it would be nice if Ireland would follow the same route, but there are a lot of other countries that haven’t taken this approach and are leaving it to industry to do it.

“Given our topography and the variety of different telecoms companies, it’s not going to be easy.

“The recent TIF report on next-generation broadband makes it clear that no one organisation will be able to deploy next-generation broadband in Ireland. A key point from the industry perspective, there’s not one entity that is going to deliver all of this but if we can find common ground to encourage investment in infrastructure, that’s what we need.

“It’s an exciting thing they are doing in Australia, it is certainly causing a reaction in the telecoms world that it is going ahead,” O’Callaghan said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years