Friday, October 15, 2010

Broadband in the toilet: Why wait for the NBN?

I had a chat to the head of TransAct the other day. Ivan Slavich is connecting houses to fibre without waiting for the NBN.

As soon as a new suburb springs up on the outskirts of Canberra, he goes to the developer, does a deal and puts the fibre direct into every house as it is built.

(TransAct has wired most of Canberra with "fibre to the curb" which is a way of saying fibre to the node where the nodes are very close to each house. There would be only a few hundred metres of copper between my house and the node, hanging from an ACTEW electricity pole.)

But Slavich figures that these days, why bother with copper.

But surely your fibre to the home is only for new suburbs on the fringes where the developers come up with some cash, I asked him.

"No", he said. "Anyone who is doing a bit of urban infill or building some units can come to us. We'll connect them to fibre."

The point is Ivan is not waiting for the NBN. Fibre to the home is pretty much a commercial proposition for him without waiting for the NBN.

(And the speeds Slavach is about to get from his fibre-to-curb service make replacing it with the NBN a distinctly uncommercial proposition.)

In Brisbane Campbell Newman has the same sort of idea. The biggest local government operation in the nation, the Brisbane City Council owns the company that owns Brisbane's sewer and water lines.

As I mentioned a year or so back sewerage pipes are rather good for carrying fibre into each home, via the toilet.  Japan and the US are already doing it. There is plenty of room within each sewage pipe, and every home already has the sewer connected. The fibre swims in the sewage and a tiny robot clears the pipes to give it lots of room - an added bonus.  It is much cheaper than digging new trenches.

Back then a commenter pointed out that gas pipelines would be even better. They are plentiful in Victoria and they never clog up.

I reckon Brisbane will do it - on a purely commercial basis - ahead of the NBN. As a result the NBN will never be a truly national operation.

As I have been saying, some parts of the country have good broadband, others can get it and will get it soon enough (most likely ahead of the NBN).

Some can not. That's where I would be concentrating limited public resources. Reasonable?

Maybe not. Why don't we examine the question? I reckon that's reasonable.

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