Legislation tabled to allow regular letter postage timeframes to be delayed by up to 3 days.
The Federal Government has finally tabled an amendment to Australian Postal Corporation (Performance Standards) Regulations 1998, allowing Australia Post to create two tiers of postage – “priority letters” and “regular letters”.
The changes were long sought after by Australia Post whose letters delivery service was raising to over $300 million dollars per year. Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, confirmed plans to implement the two-tiered postage priority in March this year. The company had indicated in the past that priority mail costs would start at around $1.50 when the service is first introduced, with the option of increasing prices to $2.00 in the future.
Comparing the standards table in the amendment with the current standards table, all delivery times have been shifted by three days in the proposed regular letters standard compared with current timeframes. Current delivery timeframes are maintained if customers choose the priority letter tier.
The company was also seeking to increase regular postage costs from the current 70c to $1. The proposed changes still needs to be passed by both houses of Parliament.
The devil is in the detail – July’s quarterly construction plan shows 83k premises removed from the nbn rollout plan.
Analysis of the 18 month rollout plan released in July by nbn has shown that around 83,500 premises previously listed as being in the 18 month plan had been removed.
The areas removed were slated for a Fibre to the Node rollout to commence during 2016 and include the areas of and surrounding:
New South Wales
Gold Coast/Tweed Heads
(for more information, see full table at the end of the post)
At the start of July, the company responsible for building the National Broadband Network announced in a media release that an additional 200,000 premises were added to the nbn rollout.
From initial calculations, this figure was derived from the total number of premises that were added to the rollout plan and does not take into account the number of premises removed from the plan.
If true, this means that the net increase in number of premises expected to commence construction within 18 months would be around 40% less than announced (from 200,000 to around 120,000 premises) in the July press release.
“With a measly 2Gbps backhaul per node you can forget about 4K Netflix. FTTN is going to be no different to the current Telstra RIMs”
(analysis) Customers on the shiny new NBN FTTN and FTTB networks may find themselves left with slow and congested speeds for decades because of short-sighted network design decisions made by the company.
Analysis of the latest Network Design Rulesfor the NBN, dated 30th June 2015, reveals that customers may only be able to reach a committed information rate (CIR) of roughly 5Mbps on a fully loaded node – far short of the 25 mbps that popular internet streaming service Netflix says is required for 4K video streaming and also falls short of the Vertigan panel’s recommendation that 50% of Australians will only need 15 Mbps by 2023.
nbn™, the company responsible for building the NBN, currently deploys 4 Point-to-Point fibres from the Fibre Access Node (similar to an “exchange”) to the NBN node where the DSLAM equipment is located. However, it also goes on to say that only 2 of the 4 fibres will be used for connectivity, with the other 2 reserved for “future growth or migration activities”.
Each of the fibres will deliver a 1Gbps ethernet connection back to the NBN Access Aggregation Switch (AAS), totaling to an effective 2Gbps ethernet connection between the node and the Fibre Access Node – or 4Gbps if all 4 allocated fibres are used.
Also according to the document, depending on the DSLAM configuration, each of nbn™’s FTTN and FTTB nodes are capable of connecting up to 384 premises.
Taking all of the above into consideration, in a worse case scenario on a fully-loaded node at peak hour, customers may only reach 5 Mbps if all traffic was distributed evenly:
Number of DSLAM ports
Fibres used for uplink
Entire node’s effective uplink (Mbps)
Committed Information Rate (CIR, Mbps)
Network design wreaks havoc for binge watching season
If a mere 21% of all premises connected to a node starts streaming a 4K stream on Netflix, the node will exceed its capacity.
As many saw with the launch of popular internet TV streaming service Netflix in Australia, telecommunications companies failed to predict the demand of the service leading to heavy network congestion across Australia’s major ISPs.
For some of Netflix’s popular productions like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, the company releases all the episodes of in their series at once. This results in a brand new network usage “profile” that Australian ISPs and network providers like NBN have seen little of before… where customers continuously watch (binge) and subsequently stream content for hours on end.
If a mere 21% of all premises connected to a node starts streaming a 4K stream on Netflix (21% of 384 at 25 Mbps), the node will exceed its capacity. This will leave zero bandwidth for the remaining 75% of customers potentially connected to the node.
While it can be expected that NBN’s QoS (quality of service) management will balance the load to prevent a small number of customers hogging the entire link, all customers across the board will suffer from congestion issues because of it.
With the increasing prevalence of Internet TV in Australia, the limited design of the NBN FTTN and FTTB networks will have lasting implications on what Australians will be able to do with their Internet connection.
FTTP upgrade path, uncertain
nbn™ has also indicated that they will only deploy 12 fibres up to an NBN node, making it difficult to upgrade an NBN FTTN or FTTB node area to fibre without significant downtime or extensive civil works.
Assuming a fully loaded 384 port NBN node is to be upgraded from FTTN to FTTP, with 4 fibres already allocated to the FTTN DSLAM for connectivity back to the Fibre Access Node, 8 fibres are remaining to potentially deliver fibre services all the way to the customer’s premises.
However, the 8 fibres will only be capable of delivering GPON services (the FTTP technology that the NBN currently uses) to a maximum of 256 premises (each fibre can be split into 32 premises, 8 × 32 = 256).
Without causing massive disruption to all customers connected to the current node, it may not be possible to transition to FTTP on high-capacity nodes other than by rolling out the network from scratch again.
This means that even if nbn™ decides to upgrade the network, they will likely continue using copper-based technologies for the years ahead to avoid large capital costs again.
Following the adoption of the Multi-Technology Mix, the company responsible for building the network – nbn™, has released an updated version of the Network Design Rules document which dictates how the NBN is designed across all technologies.
In the document, dated 30th June and released today to the public, the company outlines changes to the network planning process for the MTM. Below are some highlights:
NBN removes protected fibre paths
With the implementation of the MTM, the company has done away with the original “ring topology” in the distribution fibre network, which was designed for fault tolerance allowing at least two paths for data to flow to and from the end user in the case of damage to the fibre network.
nbn™ states that a “star DFN topology” will be used instead, citing cost efficiencies in construction:
The Star DFN topology is the default for the Fixed Access build (post-Multi Technology Mix) to achieve cost efficiencies in construction.
In addition to the shift to the star topology, by default, only a 12-fibre core sheath will be used to connect an NBN node in a NBN Copper Access environment. This may limit the company’s ability to swap out copper nodes for a passive fibre rollout in the future.
FTTN and FTTB won’t have an NTD, HFC will
The company’s updated network design rules also provides insights into the CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) for the new technologies being introduced into the network.
For customers on the Fibre to the Node (FTTN) or Fibre to the Basement (FTTB) networks, nbn™ will not provide the VDSL2 modem required to connect to the network:
A VDSL2 modem (provided by the Access Seeker or end user). This is on the customer side of the nbn™ network boundary and is not discussed further in this document.
However, NBN Co will provide an NTD for customers in the HFC footprint.
The HFC NTD terminates the incoming physical coax cable at the end-user premises and provides one User to Network Interface (UNI). The HFC NTD will have the following:
1 x coax interface
1 x UNI-Data interfaces
The HFC NTD has not yet been finalised and will be the subject of an RFP.
Unlike the NBN Fibre, NBN Fixed Wireless and NBN Satellite footprints, the HFC NTD is expected to only feature one data port and no voice ports.
NBN copper nodes to include 48, 192 and 384 variants
nbn™ has listed that DSLAMs with 48, 192 and 384 ports will be used in the FTTN and FTTB network, with “further DSLAM sizes, are currently under investigation”.
The company says they will prioritise interconnecting their network with the existing copper plant “directly into the pillar” where possible, or alternatively, inject the VDSL2 signals into existing or new downstream and upstream joints.
Each DSLAM will also be served by 4 point-to-point fibres, with at least 2 spares for migration and expansion purposes. Each fibre is configured to aggregate 1GE of traffic back to the newly introduced Access Aggregation Switch located at the Fibre Access Node site, typically housed at an existing Telstra exchange.
NBN Co’s updated Network Design Document can be found here.
Standard 12/1 mbps plan could rise to over $150 if pricing model doesn’t drastically change
Despite the debate about technology used, the cost of NBN’s CVC remains the single biggest threat to the NBN’s success.
While the availability of high-speed, unlimited broadband grows in developed nations around the world, the future of “unlimited broadband” in Australia is becoming increasingly bleak. The use of applications requiring greater amounts of bandwidth grow in households is partially to blame, but the country transitions to the NBN – the way nbn designs their pricing structure will also be increasingly important. Currently, the NBN pricing structure is far too cost prohibitive for the amount of traffic the network is designed to carry.
What is this CVC thing?
Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) is a virtual charge imposed by NBN to service providers to offload your traffic from the NBN network into the service provider’s network. After a discount introduced at the start of the year, NBN charges $17.50 per Mbps of traffic shared across the ISP’s customer base. Initially, the cost was $20 per Mbps.
This is in addition to the cost of physical interconnect connection between the provider and NBN (called the Network-Network Interface, NNI) plus the cost that NBN charges for the link between your home and NBN’s point of interconnect (known as the Access Virtual Circuit and User-Network Interface, AVC/UNI).
The Netflix effect
It became pretty obvious after the launch of Netflix in Australia that the current pricing structure is unsustainable. With the high-bandwidth of the NBN, customers expect to stream movies and TV shows with plenty of remaining capacity to do additional work in the background.
To be able to deliver a HD stream, Netflix recommends 5Mbps of bandwidth. To be able to guarantee at least a single stream to every household, ISPs need to purchase 5Mbps of CVC per household:
$17.50 × 5 Mbps = $87.50
This neglects costs like the actual cost of connecting you to the Internet (Backhaul/IX costs) and link between your home and NBN’s point of interconnect – which start at $24 for 12/1 Mbps. Backhaul and IX costs depend on the ISP’s deals with backhaul providers and the volume they have – but consider $10 per mbps a reasonably conservative estimate. So, for a typical 12/1 connection that can consistently deliver at least 5 Mbps:
CVC – 5 Mbps
AVC/UNI – 12/1 Mbps
Backhaul/IX Costs – 5 Mbps
Since a typical 12/1 NBN plan costs far less than the $161.50, you can understand where the compromise lies – CVC, IX and backhaul.
While you wouldn’t necessarily expect that all users will simultaneously watch Netflix at the same time, the number of simultaneous streamers is growing exponentially. ISPs also need to prepare for “extraordinary” events like when Netflix released the entire season of Orange is the New Black – a far greater proportion of users will be watching Netflix at the same time for an extended period of time.
Future of small providers
With the high CVC costs, small providers will find it increasingly hard to compete with larger providers like Telstra, Optus, iiNet and TPG. These providers either have enough traffic volume (or own their own backhaul infrastructure) to lower costs in the backhaul or IX component to offset the high CVC.
Smaller providers still need to “rent” capacity from backhaul infrastructure providers such as Telstra, AAPT, PIPE and Nextgen Networks. With even large providers like iiNet feeling the pinch, it’s no wonder that smaller ISPs are beginning to struggle. Even with the scale of a large customer base, current consumer cost expectations are simply unsustainable.
What’s a solution?
nbn™ could continue dropping the CVC charge as demand increases, however, it faces the risk that service providers will continue to skimp out on CVC – thus lowering revenue.
The good news is the company has also begin conducting a second round of industry consultation to help overcome the problem.
For me, one solution I can see feasible, is to replace the CVC cost with a standard capacity charge (which guarantees a certain ratio of CVC to AVC) comparable to current industry contribution to CVC per user. Then, provide capacity boosts for users and applications that require a greater capacity. This guarantees “minimum” revenue for nbn™ and increases capacity to suitable levels for service providers.
Alternatively, I could see increasing the user-connect costs (AVC/UNI) and drastically cutting CVC costs as a possible solution. This would also guarantee revenue to a certain extent, while retaining the control of contention with service providers.
Whatever happens, the nbn™ pricing model needs to change drastically in order for Australia to remain competitive in the 21st century. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be slowed down by a “virtual” cost-prohibitive charge by our nationwide broadband network.
Just a quick post. Returning to Taree again this week, I notice the signage at the Taree Station has been upgraded from the original CountryLink livery to the bright orange colour scheme used by NSW TrainLink and Sydney Trains.
The upgrade must have happened in the last two weeks, as they were still using CountryLink livery two weeks ago on my return to Sydney.
This coming Tuesday, Telstra will end its free nationwide Wi-Fi trial and launch of their new nationwide Wi-Fi offering “Telstra Air”. The network, which claims to be “Australia’s largest Wi-Fi network”, will allow Telstra broadband customers to use their broadband allowance where there is a Telstra Air hotspot available.
The company has also signed a deal with international Wi-Fi provider Fon to allow Telstra customers to continue using their fixed-line data allowance in overseas destinations including UK, Spain, Brazil, Japan, France and Germany.
Telstra Air will be delivered over three hotspot types:
More than 4,000 hotspots located at Telstra payphone sites
Over 15 million hotspots overseas, via Fon’s network
Secured hotspot over other Telstra Air customers’ home broadband gateway
In order to join Telstra Air, Telstra home broadband customers must be willing to share part of their broadband connection as a Telstra Air hotspot too using a compatible Telstra gateway. Telstra claims that over “a million home broadband customers already have a Telstra Air-ready gateway”. These gateways include the Telstra Gateway Max™, T-Gateway®, and the ADSL Premium Gateway. Once enabled online, activated gateways will also transmit the Telstra Air hotspot signal for use by other Telstra customers.
Telstra has also confirmed that customers who have a slower broadband connection will find that their network performance will be protected: “We know that Wi-Fi speeds are important to our customers so [network settings] are in place to ensure their home network performance is protected. This includes limiting the number of guests per hotspot and switching off hotspot sharing when the line speed into a home drops below a certain level.”
This seems pretty cool. At a local level, imagine rocking up to your friend’s place, and you’re both Telstra broadband customers. Firstly – you won’t need to ask for the Wi-Fi password. Secondly, you won’t have to worry about your friend using up all your data allowance, or them hacking into your network.
Also quite awesome is that by enabling Telstra Air, it unlocks the millions of Fon hotspots around the world. Essentially, Fon’s network works exactly the same as Telstra Air – on a Worldwide scale. Customers purchase Fon-compatible routers from Fon or a partner carrier, and once connected, can have access to other Fon hotspots worldwide. That said, the bad news is that the Fon network is now locked out for all non-Telstra broadband customers in Australia.
To be honest though, I’d be really interested to see how the technology (at the gateway level) works behind the scenes.
The whole TUSMA and payphone situation
One final piece of food for thought – Telstra’s payphones are partially funded by a levy paid for by the Telecommunications Industry as part of a contract deal between TUSMA (now part of the Department of Communications) and Telstra. $44.0 million was paid to Telstra during the 2012-13 financial year for these services.
We know that similar rollouts have been seen worldwide, where telcos take advantage of their existing payphone infrastructure to deliver hotspots. I know that the TUSMA contract does not directly subsidise the rollout of the hotspots for the payphones – but on the surface, there does look like there may be conflict. Is it fair on the wider industry who pays the levy, given that Telstra now gains a competitive advantage on them by rolling out Wi-Fi hotspots on infrastructure they partially funded?
Telstra’s 3G/4G outperforms Optus along NSW’s regional railway route.
Regional train trips used to be occupied by staring out into the vast NSW country side and marveling at the single-rail track first built over a century before. But in this day and age, I try to make good use of the 6 hours I spend on the XPT between Sydney and Taree. After spending a solid week and plus a train ride with the trusty Telstra 4G USB+Wi-Fi Plus dongle and my OnePlus One with a Vaya Mobile sim card running on the Optus network last week, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about my experience on both the Telstra and Optus network.
The train trip
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Optus and Telstra have solid 4G coverage in metropolitan Sydney. In the first half hour as I travelled north through Central, Strathfield, Epping and Hornsby, both networks allowed me to do basic work – access my Google Documents and some development work without issues. But as the train journeyed past Hornsby, towards the Central Coast – the networks began to differentiate themselves.
Optus’ signal began to drop in and out frequently, while for the most part, the network connection on the Telstra network was relatively stable. My phone struggled to get reception until we approached built-up areas along the Central Coast and Newcastle stretch, often defaulting to “Emergency Phone Calls Only”.
Meanwhile, on the Telstra network, things continue to run smoothly. I even received an SMS saying I was passing one of Telstra’s new “4G only areas” where there is data only, and no voice services.
However, once we passed Maitland and headed north-west towards Dungog, both network started to struggle. To put some of this into context, for those unfamiliar with the train journey from Sydney to Taree, the train travels inland a fair bit. It’s no surprise that coverage struggled in some of these areas – not only was there very low population density in some of these areas… but the train tracks were often installed in trenches that were dug out of the rocky and hilly terrain. For a lot of the journey, we would have been below the line of sight of most towers even if there were any.
However, I was not dismayed – I continued my experiment! I found that the Telstra dongle managed to pick up the occasional 3G and even 4G signal as we approached nearby towns or passed a tall mountain in the distance with a reception tower… while the Optus phone: well, let’s just say there wasn’t much to report on. Even as the train was approaching the major settlements of Wingham and Taree, my Optus phone got a bar of “E” at best – just enough to send an SMS. I suspect the trees and foliage had a major factor in dampening the Optus network signals which has relatively lower transmission signal compared with Telstra’s NextG.
But the pleasant surprise awaited me at the station…
4G in Taree, 4GX in Forster-Tuncurry!
Unlike Optus who still hasn’t upgraded their mobile networks around Taree, Telstra has 4G coverage in the majority of the built-up area around Taree. Their 4G coverage even extended further east than what their coverage website indicates. Whereas I’d sometimes struggle to load my emails or even load Google News on my Optus phone in surrounding towns of Taree, I found that I was able to consistently load pages without an issue. It was really nice to see!
The neighbouring towns of Forster and Tuncurry were fortunate enough to have received the 4GX upgrade, and so as you can imagine – a speed test was in order:
Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed with Telstra’s coverage and network speed in and around Taree. If I still lived there, I would be seriously contemplating a switch from Optus to Telstra’s network right about now. It’s something I’m going to consider when I finally decide to get a new phone, for the convenience when I’m back home.
While both Optus and Telstra’s network struggled in parts of the train trip from Sydney to Taree, Telstra’s network was clearly in front in terms of coverage. It had solid coverage between the Central to Newcastle segment, and an admirable effort in the really sparsely populated areas between the settlements of Maitland, Dungog, Gloucester and Wingham. But where I thought Telstra’s network really shone was the coverage as we approached rural towns. Approaching Wingham and Taree, Telstra’s network “just worked” while Optus’ required quite a bit of arm flailing even to get “one bar” of 2G signal.
Optus still has a fair bit to catch up in regional Australia – and with no successful bids in the first iteration of the Federal Government’s Regional Blackspots Program, I see that it will be hard for them to catch up with Telstra.
As for Vodafone? I didn’t get to test them this time around, but I’m definitely planning a future comparison between Telstra and Vodafone for my next train trip.
Also, a review of the Telstra 4G USB+Wi-Fi Plus dongle is coming soon
Note: I am part of Telstra’s Influentials Program. The Telstra 4G USB+Wi-Fi Plus dongle was provided by Telstra, however, it is important to note that Telstra has no control over my editorial content. The experience above is based on my personal experience using the following devices for the respective networks:
Telstra 3G/4G/4GX: Telstra 4G USB+Wi-Fi Plus, using Wi-Fi to my laptop
Optus 3G/4G: OnePlus One, tethering from my phone to my laptop
Bias or truth? nbn™’s official blog just can’t stop attacking the former Government’s Fibre to the Premises policy. Does this fall foul of the GBE guidelines?
Along with last year’s flashy redesign of the then “NBN Co” website, the company introduced a “blog” section to their revamped site. Whether you liked it or not, at that point the NBN rollout had transitioned to the Multi-Technology Mix strategy. However, it became evident quite quickly that this site is being used to trash the former Labor Government’s NBN policy while parading the current Government’s policy of the “Multi-Technology Mix” rollout.
I’ve completed an analysis of all 127 blog articles posted on the nbn™ blog, as at the morning of 24th June 2015. The results are not surprising (see the table at the bottom for my full results):
Clear evidence of bias
Not an FTTN party pooper
For example, nbn™’s blog is all too happy to spruik British Telecom’s (BT) headline up-to speed of 76Mbps download. The figure pops up numerous times in nbn™ blog posts, including here and here. But when it was revealed that 74% of households could not reach the headline 76Mbps speed at all, nbn™ was silent. One might say, it’s bad to push a negative impression of its rollout own rollout strategy to the community. But then, why would nbn™ be more than happy to trash the Fibre to the Premises technology on its blog, given it accounts for almost a quarter of the MTM rollout.
Likewise, even when there’s positive news about a particular FTTP rollout, the company blog always takes a negative spin about the topic on hand. For example, when Singapore announced nationwide 1Gbps speeds over FTTP – nbn™ immediately went on the negative focusing on the issues of the aggressive competition in Singapore. Keep in mind, these issues will never affect Australia as no incumbent telco has the money to roll out such a network across such a vast landmass… which is why the NBN existed in the first place.