The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

A new series of tubes, oh my!

So the Ruddster has gone and made a post-overseas-trip splash of a technology / economy / “nation-building” announcement, dumping the old decent-but-not-great fibre-to-the-node proposal with an infinitely larger, more expensive, and more complicated fibre-to-the-home solution.

That said, FTTH is also more awesome! We are being promised 100 megabit, the same speed as a typical home wired network, and fibre has plenty of room for technology upgrades. But the 2017 completion date and complicated-sounding public-private partnership are less awesome; how the owner of the new network behaves will be an important question (or in other words, keep yer grubby mitts off, Telstra!). Details are just as scant as they were with the old proposal, so it’s no easier to draw conclusions.

To compare, the best residential Internet in California is 15 megabit, but most people (me included) have closer to 5 megabit; in New York City the fibre service maxes out at 50 megabit (though that’ll likely be upgraded). So it’s not fair to diss on this as slow — unless you compare to places like South Korea and Hong Kong, where crazy population densities allowed even my dodgy hostel to provide a hundred-megabit connection (on good days, at least).

A better question is whether this will be a worthwhile investment, given alternatives. If it works, I can see this giving long-term support to new online services, online TV and VoIP and the like — which would be a great way to nudge growth in the tech and media sectors. But it might also become an ineffective burden on the public purse rather like how Optus and Telstra competed to lay coax TV cables. That technology isn’t outdated and the cables are still useful, but the money could probably have been better spent in mobile coverage or international data links.

Thus I reserve judgement. All else being equal, FTTH is cool, and will be a good thing — it’s just that the devil, as always, lies in the detail.

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