By Bill Morrow, Chief Executive of nbn
When people outside of Australia think about our national broadband network (nbn) – if they think of it at all – I imagine that their minds turn to the well-publicised political bun fight of half a decade ago.
No broadband project has ever been as politically hard fought as our network – a network of networks that is designed to enable the digital economy and bridge the digital divide across the only nation in the world that spans an entire continent.
Times change. The network is no longer a theoretical construct. It is starting to reach decent scale.
It is already capable of providing services to one in 10 homes. Services are scheduled to become available for the remaining nine million within the next five years.
Fixed-line connections by means of FTTP, FTTN, FTTB and HFC make up the bulk of network.
But we are particularly proud of the results we are seeing from our fixed-wireless deployment which aims to improve broadband access outside metropolitan areas.
In July, Ovum’s Fixed Wireless: A Global Comparison report showed that our fixed-wireless network was a world-leader in terms of speeds, data allowance and cost per GB to subscribers.
Right now it is possible for people in regional Australia to buy a wholesale 25Mbps/5Mbps fixed-wireless connection with 250GB of data for around A$69 per month from some RSPs offering services over our network.
We are not sitting on our laurels either, we are currently trialling a 50/20Mbps wholesale version of the service which we hope to make commercially available later in the year – I bet there’s a lot of country folks around the world who’d kill for that kind of broadband.
Connecting the unconnected
The reason we are so proud of our fixed-wireless network is that we are providing top-class broadband to people who have never had it before and who would have had little chance of ever getting it had the nbn network not come along.
As I am sure you know, Australia is a huge country with a relatively small population so delivering fast broadband to people outside urban areas is an extraordinarily expensive task – which is why the nbn was needed in the first place.
But here’s the kicker, some of the folks who are in broadband blackspots are amongst the most economically productive in the country – we are talking about agriculture firms, tourism operators and numerous small businesses.
The arrival of the nbn network is finally giving these folks the ability to not only run their businesses more efficiently but also to transform their businesses by finding new global markets for their products.
Maybe all this sounds a little like a pipe dream – but I can assure you that it is absolutely not, it is real and it is happening now.
One of our fixed-wireless end-users is Noel Penfold, owner of Murray Darling Fisheries which is located in Euberta some 500 kilometres from Sydney and for years Noel struggled by with an unreliable mobile broadband connection.
The arrival of the nbn fixed-wireless network enabled Noel to take his business to a whole new level by enabling him to showcase his products via video-conference to Chinese buyers – and he was able to double his exports to that crucial market.
We have plenty more stories like that and we now know that if we can get our rural and regional communities decent broadband then we open up massive opportunities for them economically, educationally and in other key areas like healthcare delivery.
Questions for the rest of the world
It’s not my place to tell any other country or operator what they should be doing with their broadband rollouts but I believe nbn is a fantastic case study for others to look at when they want to weigh up the merits of investing in rural and regional broadband.
Of course, the nbn fixed-wireless network has required a substantial investment from our Federal Government – this could not have been financed by a private operator – but we are now starting to see the benefits of that investment coming to life.
Regional businesses are getting new opportunities, school kids in the country are able to get the same access to online learning that their cousins in the city can and there are huge possibilities in other areas too – we are unlocking the huge potential of regional Australia via the nbn network and the results are going to be extraordinary.