Tuesday, 16 October 2012

NBN: Mr Turnbull has but one opinion - Ethernet "Standard Guage"

Two details in the NBN rollout will force the Coalitions' "Better, cheaper, sooner" NBN to conform with the existing standards and roll-out plan:
  • The NBN Access standard for a layer 2 VLAN-in-VLAN ethernet bitstream, and
  • The deployment of Points of Interconnect (PoI).
NBN Co has moved into high-gear in deploying the core of the NBN access network: PoI's and the supporting Transit Networks linking them back to customers. They plan to be mostly finished in 2 years, around the end of 2014.

While there are 7 active PoI's today, by the end of June 2013, around half of the final 121 agreed by the regulator, the ACCC, will be up and running and works for the rest will be well advanced.

By the time we have an election, NBN Co will be too far advanced in deploying PoI's to do anything but be allowed to finish the job. At the very least, the independent regulator would have to be presented a convincing case by a new Coalition government to vary the number of PoI's and/or their location. Considering how long it took to access and agree the list the first time, its unlikely that a review could agree variations before the existing rollout plan was finished in 2014.

There is sound basis for the selection of PoI's: ~100,000 premises per PoI.

The technical implications of coalescing the last, say 25-40, PoI's into just a few are large. Each PoI now won't be exactly identical, but they will be very similar and the backhaul 'pipes' for ISP's and the volume of traffic will be similar. Introducing a few, very non-standard PoI's, and not in major metro areas, will increase capital costs and operating costs for RSPs/ISPs. A really poor idea that Telcos and ISPs will push back on very hard.

So Mr Turnbull has to allow NBN Co to finish its PoI rollout: they are central to the whole design working.

Then there's the small matter of "Standard Gauge" for customer access: the layer 2 ethernet bitstream.

The cornerstone of the NBN is "open access Customer Access Network", which requires a single, standard means for RSPs/ISPs to connect with it. This has been defined by NBN Co and I assume enshrined in the legislation. Good luck changing that legislation!

There's a standard for good reason: we need to avoid the current confusion, similar to the multiple incompatible railway gauges built around Australia in the 1890's.

Infrastructure standards decisions live for a very long time. Australia isn't going to change electricity voltage or frequency anytime soon, nor will we ever do the far easier change, drive on the right side of the road.

Mr Turnbull has to mandate that all his "cheaper, sooner" local Access Networks comply with the existing NBN layer 2 standard and connect to the existing regulator approved PoI's.

Yes, the Coalition may be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and actually build a cheaper mixed media network: Fibre for the privileged, 12Mbps ADSL, HFC and perhaps WiFi or WiMax for the second- and third-class citizens.

But this mixed media network will have to conform to the existing Network Plan based around 121 PoI's and support the current layer 2 ethernet bitstream standard. It can't be a free-for-all or the whole thing reverts to the expensive mess that Railways turned into. This means creating versions of the standard Client Premises interface, the ONT (Optical Network Terminator), for each media type. That's an expensive hardware development project.

Given the history and the countless decades to partially rectify the confusion of Railway Gauges, I can't see any Government being elected on a platform that might lead to the same mess.

"Albury, All change" isn't going to cut it on the Information Superhighway. Mr Turnbull take note.

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