Are National Broadband Networks Doomed?

Over the years, I’ve worked with national broadband projects in Australia, New Zealand, Qatar and Singapore. More recently in Australia, the National Broadband Network (NBN) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Their Retail Service Providers (RSPs) – who sell the NBN services to end customers, have been up in arms about NBN approaching large enterprise customers directly. Today, they announced that they would no longer do that – and that has the RSPs like Vocus, Mactel and Telstra very happy. Arguably, the decicion for NBN to sell direct was in breach of the founding principles that the Australian government put in place when it created NBNCo.

Such controversy is not why I think the NBN and the equivalents in other countries are doomed, although it’s not helping their case in the eyes of the public and end customers.

No, I think the proliferation of 5G networks and more recently global players like SpaceX’s Starlink constellation could be the harbinger of death for NBN.

Slow Rollouts

NBN has been copping a lot of flack lately in the media for taking too long to roll out. I get it, Australia is a HUGE country – even with most Australians living within an hour of the coast, it’s still a lot of physical ground that needs to be covered by the fibre and HFC networks that cover the bulk of the NBN end users. This has lead to a level of dissatisfaction with NBN as a whole.

Slow Network

Those end customers that do have a NBN connection are often complaining to the telecommunications ombudsman about the service they get – and while some of those faults are laid at the doorstep of the RSPs, some of it is due to physical breakages of modems and network termination devices and some are the fault of NBN – in all cases, because in Australia, we include NBN in the product offerings of the RSPs (ie – its customer facing), NBN cops the blame for ALL of the issues. As an example, my RSP (Optus) sold me a 100/40 HFC based NBN connection – which is usually fine. I often get 90-95 Mbps downstream and 30-37 Mbps upstream. However, so many HFC customers were seeing much slower than advertised speeds that Optus removed that speed combination from the market – the fastest they sell now is 50/20. (50 Mbps down, 20 Mbps up).

5G Networks

The 5G rollout in Australia is still pretty limited, but the 4G (LTE) rollout is pretty comprehensive and on 4G, I often see speeds approaching my home NBN based connection. Assuming 5G will bring a significant boost in speed (along with many other advantages including much great density of connections per cell) – which means that a 5G connections promises to deliver faster connections than NBN and without the need to tie the end customer down to their home boundaries.

If you add unlimited plans (in terms of Gb to be transferred up or down) to such as 5G (or even a 4G service) then you have a strong competitor to the NBN.

Some local mobile network providers and even MVNOs are already talking about selling fixed mobile services instead of selling a NBN based home (or office) connection.


This morning, SpaceX launched another 60 satellites into orbit, bringing the total to 240 – that’s 120 new satellites within a month – well on the way to 12,000 satellites.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous blog post (see, SpaceX’s Starlink constellation of communications satellites promise to deliver broadband (up to 10 Gbps) AND low latency (good for gaming) to 100% of Australia (other than the Australian Antarctic Territory). If SpaceX can deliver reasonable plans (in terms of speed, capacity and price) then SpaceX will be a strong competitor for NBN. If the plans are right, it could kill NBN.

Two NBN alternatives – either could kill NBN

Sure, NBN in Australia is facing some significant challenges, but these are exactly the same challenges that all national broadband networks/project face… Customers have zero allegance to NBN – and if 5G or Starlink will provide faster speeds at a competitive price, NBN is doomed.

If you disagree, let me know what you think…

Telco leaders support IMS over LTE

Originally posted on 25Nov09 to IBM Developerworks where it got 7,721 Views

I noticed this article today at FierceWireless today:

Verizon, AT&T, others rally on IMS approach to voice over LTE

November 4, 2009 — 11:10am ET | By Phil Goldstein

Read more: Verizon, AT&T, others rally on IMS approach to voice over LTE –

Verizon Wireless, AT&T and several major international carriers and vendors threw their support behind an IMS-based approach to delivering voice and SMS services over LTE networks. The level of operator support–the approach also is supported by Orange, Telefonica, TeliaSonera and Vodafone–sits in sharp contrast to another approach, called Voice over LTE via Generic Access, or VoLGA, which is supported by T-Mobile International.

Vendors including Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks, Nokia, Samsung Electronics and Sony Ericsson also voiced their support for the initiative, dubbed One Voice. The companies said they concluded that an IMS-based approach “is the most applicable approach to meeting the consumers’ expectations for service quality, reliability and availability when moving from existing circuit-switched telephony services to IP-based LTE services. This approach will also open the path to service convergence, as IMS is able to simultaneously serve broadband wireline and LTE wireless networks.”

The companies said that the purpose of the initiative is to create the largest LTE ecosystem possible, and to avoid fragmentation of technical solutions.

Interestingly, both Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson also support the VoLGA approach, and Nokia Siemens has supported its own solution, called Fast Track Voice, which proposes having mobile switching center servers handle VoIP traffic over LTE networks. VoLGA proponents argue that their approach should be used as an interim solution. All three vendors said they do not see a conflict in supporting the different approaches.


For more: See this release – SMS over LTE

See also this related article on UnStrung

Is it just me or when you read “VoLGA” do you think “Vulgar” – I think the ALu acronym police need to get out from behind their desks and make an arrest for that one!

I’ve drawn up a representation of the situation as I see it. NSN going it alone with Fast Track Voice, almost everyone else supporting VoLGA and planning to move to OneVoice.

The thing that I find really interesting is the inference by ALu that they will continue to stand by VoLGA as well as support it as an interim step to OneVoice while NSN seem to be saying that Fast Track Voice is only an interim step on the path to OneVoice. It’s also interesting to note that the VoLGA consortium seems to be mainly Network Equipment Providers (NEPS) while OneVoice is both NEPs and Telcos…. I suppose the most appropriate message is “watch this space”…

PS. On rereading this post, I imaging some of you are going ‘Huh?’ I apologise for the Telco jargon.  Let me take a moment to try and explain some of the terms that appear in this post.

  1. IMS – IP Multimedia Subsystem (not IBM’s mainframe database that helped put man on the moon).  This is a specification controlled by 3GPP (a Telco standards body) to describe a next generation IP based telephony environment.  Most telcos today still run a legacy switched environment based on very specialised protocols such as SS7 and Sigtran. These protocols are not IP based and as such require very specialised (read expensive) skills to work with them.  The other thing is that they are not really standardised – each NEP has their own version of the SS7 protocols.  IMS promises to bring much cheaper skills and shorter development cycles to the Telcos core platform – something they have not had before.  IBM has a number of products that are targeted at telco’s IMS infrastructure (WebSphere IMS Connector, WebSphere Presence Server and WebSphere XML Document Management Server)
  2. LTE – Long Term Evolution is seen by most NEPS as the next logical evolution step for carriers with GSM networks.  That evolutionaty path goes something like this: GSM->GPRS->EDGE->UMTS->HSDP->LTE.  LTE promises to deliver high bandwidth mobile connections.  The main rival to LTE is WiMax which you may have heard of before.
  3. ALu – Alcatel Lucent (a very common abbreviation for the joint company)


This post hasn’t really aged well. I’ve reposted it because it shows a historical perspective of the direction beck in 2009. These days, the acronym of choice is VOLTE – or Voice Over LTE. VOLTE has received a lot of traction in the past ten years with Apple, Google and others building support for VOLTE into their phones for a number of years now.