Prosecuting the case for pure fibre nbn (FTTP)

I am an engineer and am very much more comfortable sitting at a router command line than addressing a bunch of people. However over the years I have realised that in the modern technical world, decisions are still made by people, often very non-technical people. Unless we talk to those people about the some of the key technical issues, poor decisions are made. It is no longer good enough to be a nerd sitting in front of your computer and expect others to “just get it” and then complain about the decision.

A clear case of questionable decision making was around the switch from NBN’s FTTP rollout to the Multi-Technology Mix, which is predominantly FTTN. In my opinion this showed an extraordinary lack of forward thinking. However why did they lack this forward vision? Because we people in the know who live and breath this stuff did not prosecute our case well. As an engineer there is no use complaining about this – we have to go from here. The NBN is due to be completed over the term of the next government. Where we go after this is most definitely up for discussion.

Dale Carnegie said that “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. I see this all the time. People (often key decision makers) are dismissed by the engineering fraternity because they don’t understand the technology. How about we help them understand?

Over the years I have honed an argument for why we should have FTTP, it is all based around economics. The intention is to guide someone from their position (which is usually not a strong position) to one where they clearly see the argument for pure fibre. Feel free to share and use it.

A typical conversation would go something like this:-

Other: “I understand that FTTP is better technology, but it is so expensive, can we really afford it as a nation? Isn’t FTTN good enough for most people? Why spend all the extra money?”

You: “Yes agreed, compared to other technologies FTTP does have a very high investment cost. However this is a long term investment in our economy. It takes a long time to roll out any technology, it will have taken NBN, 10 years just to get to finishing the first phase of the rollout. Decisions we make now will have long term ramifications. Looking at our economy, would you say that a business’s ability to access the internet has become very important to the efficient running of that business?”

Other: “Oh yes without question, almost everything a business does these days is in some way connected to the internet.”

You: “OK and would you say that a business’s need to access the internet is going to increase, or decrease over the next ten years?”

Other: “Oh it is pretty clear this is only going to increase, some say exponentially.”

You: “So if a business’s internet access fails, what do you think that will do to their business?”

Other: “It can be disastrous, I have heard of businesses closing the doors for the day because their internet has failed.”

You: “What about capacity, do think a business is going to transfer more or less data and need a higher or lower speed, than today?”

Other: “For sure, speed and bandwidth are just going to go up and up.”

You: “OK so we agree then that almost every business now needs access to good, reliable internet and this is only going to increase into the future. Would it be a stretch to say that our economy will really run at the speed, capacity and reliability of the internet we can access as a nation?”

Other: “Yes that seems reasonable.”

You: “So we are standing at cross roads right now. We have to make a decision about what technology we can rely on that will provide our economy with the internet access it needs to grow over the next 10 years. We can’t really to take a lot of risks here, this is our economy we are talking about. We can’t just cross that bridge when we get to it and hope to muddle by in the interim. Surely we need to be planning this stuff now.”

Other: “OK, I see where you’re going”

You: “So what technology is there out there that is tried and tested, is guaranteed to work, will have the capacity that our economy needs not only for 10 years, but 50 years into the future?”

Other: “Well I guess its fibre.”

You: “Yes, surely there is only one: pure fibre all the way to the premises – FTTP. Nothing else comes even close in terms of longevity, reliability and ability to deploy today. There isn’t anything else even on the horizon. Yes it’s expensive to roll out, but compared to what? A poorly performing economy?”

Other: “Yes. I see what you mean. But what if some other technology comes along that may be just as good and cheaper, like 5G, we will have wasted all that money!”

You: “Then it will join the mix of technologies available. However I think this should be considered highly unlikely. Don’t forget that our bandwidth demands are growing at an extraordinary rate (doubling every 2 years according to the ABS). Any technology not only has to be as good as fibre right now, but in 5, 10, 40 years time. We spend a small fortune on building roads for cars and trucks, but there are significant clouds on the horizon about whether we will need the roads. When self driving vehicles are a reality and every vehicle drives at 200Km/hr, two meters behind the vehicle in front with synchronised braking and acceleration. Maybe we will not need all these highways in 20 years time. Yet we still build them now. We have to make our best guess at what we will need in the future. An investment in FTTP has got to be an almost dead cert investment in our economy.”

Obviously every discussion will be different, but the trick is guide people through a logical process so that it’s clear that there really is no other choice. The main thing holding back the case for full fibre is simply that most people and certainly most decision makers have not thought it all the way through. Once they do this the answer becomes obvious.

Good luck!

Damian Ivereigh
CTO Launtel
26 August 2018