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Broadband: Doing it right

Last week I wrote that we are doing broadband wrongly. That for a country that is heavily reliant on its ICT infrastructure we are slipping behind and risk running into a traffic jam that will slow down the ICT industry, and other business by default, within New Zealand.

A lot of you commented and contacted me with some great ideas and I’ve spent a little bit of time looking at what the rest of the world has done to deal with the impending issue. Some of you thought my article was “drivel”, as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do.” 

That said, there is a lot of overseas information on the subject and it makes for interesting reading.

Countries that have a, cohesive, Broadband Strategy tend to be better placed than others. A strategy is not a loose goal of x connections by date. It includes policy, “push and pull” strategies, and support for the industry rather than a hands on approach at board level.

Here’s a good example:

“Malaysia developed its Information, Communications, and Multimedia Services (MyICMS) 886 Strategy in 2006, setting several goals for broadband services. One was to increase broadband penetration to 25 percent of households by the end of 2006 and 75 percent by the end of 2010. Although these targets were not met, the results have been impressive: the household broadband penetration rate in the country topped 53 percent in October 2010. Now the government is focusing on WiMAX, 3G, and fiber to the home (FTTH) platforms to boost broadband adoption. To that end, the government is funding a fiber optic network that will connect about 2.2 million urban households by 2012. The network will be rolled out by Telekom Malaysia under a public-private partnership, where the government will invest RM 2.4 billion (US$700 million) in the project over 10 years, with Telekom Malaysia covering the remaining costs. The partnership is expected to cost a total of RM 11.3 billion (US$3.28 billion).” – Source

Here is New Zealand’s:

The Government announced details of the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative in September 2009, committing NZ$1.5 billion to accelerate the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband via a fibre optic connection to 75% of homes over 10 years.” – Source

You can see the difference and if you are interested in details globally on Broadband initiatives this Wikipedia Article is a great source of information.

So what does a good Broadband strategy look like? The Broadband Toolkit has a massive amount of detail which I’m going to summarise.

“A good plan should aim to promote efficiency and equity, facilitate demand, and help to support the social and economic goals of the country. The most successful plans will start with a clear vision of what broadband development should be and contain well-articulated goals that can be used to develop specific strategies to achieve success.”

  • Establish specific plans and policies, noting the work “specific.”
  • Provide a national focal point for broadband and develop broadband capacity. Interestingly, this is managed in other countries under a “GCIO” type role, and further, that GCIO role is either an independent body within government or fits into portfolios that are more traditional “infrastructure.”
  • Develop policies for both sides of broadband coin: Supply and Demand. This includes examples like establishing wholesale open networks, subsidising local and national ventures, and mandating local loop unbundling. In terms of supply it includes thing such as facilitating access to public land and incorporating broadband into city planning by default. When it comes to demand it is suggested that schools are by default connected, community centres are established as connection points, ensuring government in all its facets is an anchor tenant, and pushing hard on price to ensure greater uptake.

The Broadband toolkit goes on to describe the types of technologies that can be used to drive broadband, dismissing the fallacy that UFB is the second coming:

Source: World Bank

Source: World Bank

Starting with the International links stage it is noted that:

“Limited access to landing stations can have a chilling effect on the diffusion and take-up of broadband services. Conversely, limited opportunities or burdensome regulations related to cable landing can discourage interest in that market among cable operators, again creating a connectivity bottleneck. Governments and regulators may need to implement competitive policies with respect to issues such as submarine cable landing stations, open access, and infrastructure sharing to eliminate such bottlenecks.”

So there is something that government can do. Working on making it attractive, possibly in a public-private partnership deal, to land more undersea cables in new Zealand.

National backbone is generally fibre. Though in some countries the use of microwave is still prevalent. The toolkit goes on to note the challenges of rolling of fibre in general:

“As countries build out their backbone networks, several issues must be considered. For example, the initial fixed costs are significant. A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), for example, concluded that around 68 percent of the costs in the first year of rolling out a fiber network to the premises are in the civil works associated with the digging of trenches and the installation of cables (OECD 2008). In countries with large physical distances to cover, this fixed cost may be substantial and difficult to justify when demand is uncertain. The risk associated with the high up-front costs of fiber backbones can be alleviated through various mechanisms such as risk guarantees and demand aggregation.”

Sound familiar?

In relation to metro-connections:

“In many cases, as governments develop policies to encourage backbone development or the rollout of local access networks, the metropolitan portion of the broadband supply chain can be forgotten. But building out the two ends of the network—backbone and last mile—will be ineffective unless capacity exists in the middle to tie all the pieces together. Hence policies to address middle-mile and backhaul problems, such as promotion of facilities-based competition or open-access requirements, are just as important as policies in other parts of the network.”

In terms of the “last mile” connectivity, along with fibre wireless and copper feature prominently, here’s an example:

“In Israel incumbent operator Bezeq has been rolling out VDSL2 as part of its NGN deployment, with coverage to around half the households by the end of 2010 (Bezeq Group 2011). It was advertising bandwidth of 100 Mbit/s for DSL connections on its website in March 2011. Bezeq plans to offer up to 200 Mbit/s through VDSL bonding, which uses two copper pairs per subscriber.”

The point is that multiple technologies are required at the last mile, not just UFB. While UFB, ultimately, should have a theoretical speed advantage over every other technology, the others are not far behind. Here is another example:

“With the rapid growth of the Internet and mobile communications industry and ever-increasing demand on bandwidth, a group of radio scientists in CSIRO in 2002 saw the future need for gigabit wireless backhauls. The multi-gigabit wireless project was established in CSIRO in 2004 with the challenge to develop a 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) digital system operating at the millimetre wave frequencies known as E-band. By the end of 2005, a new signal processing method had been invented to realise the bandwidth efficiency required to deliver the targeted data rate. In mid-2006, a 6 Gbps system had been completed which was scalable to up to 48 Gbps and was the world’s fastest and most spectrally efficient system for wireless communications.” – Source

Whatever the answers are, continuing to plan and deploy as we currently are will run us into traffic jams.

Ian Apperley is the director at Isis Group and blogs at Whatisitwellington