So it looks like there was a big stuff up with Telstra and ANZ EFTPOS terminals in recent days.
Now while this has nothing to do with our network, and wouldn’t have affected any of our users using wi-fi terminals, we thought it’s a good opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of backups. Rather than focus on the problem, let’s focus on the options so businesses don’t get stuck again.
No technology will ever be 100% reliable and as business owners, we have to perform risk management and identify single points of failure. I would argue that it’s only because this service is so reliable that we saw this issue. If it was failing regularly people would already have an alternate system.
If your business depends on EFTPOS for a substantial portion of your sales (and many do these days) just remember there are many reasons your EFTPOS could go down – not just network outages. It’s important that businesses think of risks and whether or not they’re prepared to take the risk that if something fails they have no alternative option for continued operation.
So what type of considerations would we recommend?
1. Some bank terminals such as Albert from Commbank work on both mobile and wi-fi. So that gives some extra buffer, but again the bank might have an outage which neither internet connection will save you from.
2. You could get a second Eftpos service from a different bank as a backup – for around $30/month. Again, how important is it to you – how much could you lose if it goes out?
3. You could sign up to an online merchant that has a low fee and you can do transactions on your mobile. This way if your bank goes out you can still take the payments. Square is a low cost alternative and you can either enter details manually, or you save a bit per transaction if you use the chip reader that you can buy for $29 or contactless for $59. More details about Square here.
4. You can just take the risk that it won’t happen often.
Then once you think about that, remember, having backup also extends to a range of technologies not so obvious, as the South Australia Correctional services have just found out when many offenders went unmonitored for 24 hours. We’re also unsure but suspect it may also extend to monitored alarm systems as many now rely on the mobile network rather than land line.
Potentially more to come…
TLDR: Now is a good time to talk to your local member of parliament about what’s important to you. I hope many of us will talk to them about the NBN.
“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt
While it’s tempting to despair at the state of our political system, given the machinations that have gone on in the government over the last week. However I do think we are getting what we deserve. Unfortunately the level of disengagement in politics is at an all-time high. Political party membership has been on the decline for years. We are gripped by short-termism.
It reminds me of the dynamics that are created in a strata title body (the groups that manage a block units for example) – where typically a small number of people, with too much time on their hands, end up capturing the decision making process because nobody else can be bothered to get involved.
Unfortunately we live in a democracy (described by Churchill as “the worst form of government, except for all the others”) and that means that if the voters get disengaged the government ends up being captured by small group of people. Yes I know getting involved with politics is a hassle and can be tedious. However there are lots of things in life that just need to be done, like cleaning the house or mowing the lawn. Politics and democracy is one of those.
I get annoyed when politicians talk about the silent majority. Why are they silent? They should get up of their arses and call their local member – tell him or her what’s important to them. If they are silent, they deserve to be ignored.
We are without doubt heading into an election over the next year. Due to the changes at the top last week all the politicians are entering “election mode”, they should be listening to their electorates more than ever before.
My personal important issue is the NBN. I was absolutely dismayed at how little the NBN came up in the last 2016 federal election. Both sides essentially put it into the “all too hard basket”. Labor said they would “do more fibre”, but that was about it and it hardly got any traction.
The NBN is due to be completed over the term of the next government. So government policy on what will be done next is really important. Is NBN going to be sold off? Is the new government willing to take the budget hit and write the debt down? Are areas going to be upgraded? To what technology? Who’s going to pay for it (users or taxpayers)? Most Australians have ended up on FTTN – some of it works well, others are barely better than the previous ADSL service. What do businesses need to drive our economy into the future (hint: they aren’t going to be using less internet in 5 years time)? Right now most of the business community consider NBN a joke and are running off to get their own fibre links. What have we got for our $50bn, how can this be fixed?
If you care about the NBN (or any other issue), please don’t just sit on the sidelines posting your opinions of Facebook, get involved. Our biggest problem in Australia is not left or right politics, it’s voter apathy. If politicians work in a vacuum, the result is what you see today. Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. The problem is not the politicians – it’s us, collectively. Our lack of engagement is what is creating these governments. Let’s not let this happen again.
Fixing democracy will take some time (as will fixing the NBN), but we have to make a start.
25 August 2018
Posted on August 25, 2018
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.
26 August 2018
Posted on August 26, 2018
I have written in a previous blog about how we need to get FTTP rolled out all across Australia. As far as I am concerned this is an economic imperative. However the biggest argument against doing this is the cost – is the country prepared to put up the capital required to do it? I believe this is a sound investment in our economy, but how about we arrange for it to be done for “free”?
To understand how this works it is important understand what NBN actually is. At it’s core NBN is a construction company who rents out the products it builds. This is no different from a hotel developer who spends a lot of money building a hotel in the hope of being able to rent out rooms by the night for many years to come.
Now it is clear that the owner of a five star hotel can clearly charge more per night than the owner of a three star hotel. An enterprising investor could use this fact to do a deal with the owner of a three star hotel who is currently turning away customers that want a five star hotel: “if I pay for the renovation of your rooms, could you give me whatever you earn extra on your room rates?”.
This is actually a good deal for everyone involved. The hotel owner doesn’t have to find the capital to upgrade his hotel, the investor just has to provide the capital to do the upgrade (not the entire hotel) and gets a return on his investment without having to get involved in running a hotel. Finally the customers are happy to pay extra because they get a higher quality room. A few rooms can even be left un-renovated for the budget clients.
The NBN is like the hotel owner with the 3 star hotel whose customers want to pay more for a faster service than NBN is currently able to provide. Can we use the same method to allow outside investors to pay the upgrade?
Currently NBN provides two main ways to pay for upgrades. The first is a single premises tech switch where NBN charge whatever it costs them to install FTTP to that premises. This is the most expensive method because a lot of infrastructure must be upgraded to get that first premise connected. Prices in excess of $20,000 are not uncommon. There are some equity issues when the next person gets it a lot cheaper because the first person has paid for most of the upgrades.
The second upgrade method is an “area switch”, this is where the entire area typically serviced by a single FTTN cabinet is all upgraded. This is actually the cheapest way to do it, per premises – around $2500 – however every premises must be done.
Right now when a tech switch is done NBN actually gets two bites of the cherry. They charge for the upgrade itself AND they then are able to charge extra for the higher speeds sold, that they would have never been able to sell without the upgrade. I do not believe this is intentional on NBN’s part, but it is important to see how this is paid for.
So if NBN were willing to give up that extra revenue it earns from the higher speeds (100/40 and above). This is revenue that it couldn’t have got anyway without the tech switch. This revenue can be used to give a return to an investor.
A superannuation fund (or other investor) stumps up the money for the area switch and anytime a higher than 50/20 service is sold by NBN (via an RSP), the extra revenue over the 50/20 price ($45/mo) is remitted to the investor. Initially the revenue from the faster speeds would be quite low (not many people take 100/40 and above), but over time this is only going to increase – we are talking a 40 year investment.
At which point NBN could even turn around and sell “high speed revenue” rights to the areas that are already on FTTP. It would be a way of at least partially selling off NBN.
So let’s run some numbers using the NBN’s new bundled pricing.
Right now in a typical area about 25% of people take a 100/40 or above. For the moment let’s ignore the speeds higher than 100/40 and say they all take 100/40 – bundled revenue is $65/mo – revenue remitted to investor is 65-45 = $20/mo per connection.
So let’s take an area switch of say 500 premises.
Upgrade cost: 500 x $2500 = $1.25m. Revenue from that area: 500 X 25% X $20 = $2500 per month or $30,000 per year – a 2.4% return on investment. Not great, but not bad either. However from here is where it get’s interesting.
Once upgraded to fibre more people will take the faster services because they will actually get the speeds! Also business districts would likely have a much higher takeup rate and of course over time people will slowly move up. Let’s say the takeup rises to 100%, now we are looking at 4 times the revenue – a return of 9.6%. Now that is a rate of return that super funds would get really excited about. That is way in excess of what toll roads produce. Don’t forget this is a seriously solid investment, it is government backed and it is infrastructure in the ground – it’s not going anywhere and there is no way we’re not going to need it the future (there is no tech that comes even close to the capacity of a light pipe).
All the above hasn’t consider what happens when people take faster than 100/40 (250 and above), then on the current pricing the revenue keeps climbing. However I would argue we need to bring the price of gigabit right down (it is too high at the moment – around $180/mo).
There you go, that’s how we get Australia upgraded to FTTP without spending an extra cent of government money or people having to pay for their upgrades.
26 August 2018