Screenshot of the final layout of myNBN.info before it becomes part of finder.com.au

An announcement

Today, I have some very exciting news to share. First, that myNBN.info is now part of the finder.com.au family. And with that, I also step into the role of Publisher for Broadband and Internet TV at finder.com.au.

When I created myNBN almost three years ago now, my objective was to help Australians track the National Broadband Network rollout in their area by making a website that was accessible and easy to understand. Amazingly, over 800,000 Australians have done exactly that using the website.

That’s why I’m very excited about this next phase for myNBN. As many of you may know, last year was a very busy year for me. Not only did I have a full load at university, I also had various websites to manage, freelance jobs to complete, and a part-time job at finder.com.au. Oh, and I possibly also have a personal life 🙂

By moving the site to finder.com.au, I hope to streamline my own workload, and also allow the site improve, expand and grow by leveraging the skills and expertise of the team at finder.com.au.

I will still continue to be intimately involved with the site as the Publisher for Broadband and Internet TV at finder.com.au. We’ve already planned user experience improvements, while also maintaining the detailed information that myNBN is known for.

There are also plenty more exciting projects ahead in the roadmap to look forward to!

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me on this adventure thus far, especially those who have donated in the website’s early days. It’s been a real pleasure working with everyone!

Kenneth Tsang
(jxeeno)

myNBN is now located at finder.com.au/nbn-tracker

LTSS Base Station: Sunset

Detailed analysis: How will Qantas’ on-board Wi-Fi impact NBN satellites?

Geospatial analysis of the daily Qantas flight paths and NBN satellite beam coverage shows how NBN’s satellite network could be affected.

Writer’s note: Qantas is a customer of ViaSat, not NBN Co. ViaSat intends to trial on-board internet using NBN Co’s satellites — however, they have indicated they intend to launch their own satellites (ViaSat-3) to deliver a long-term solution for on-board Wi-Fi globally. This Qantas-ViaSat-NBN Co deal is dependent on industry consultation being completed in June 2016.

Qantas has recently announced that it plans to offer a Wi-Fi service on board its A330 and Boeing 737 fleet from early 2017 by utilising capacity on NBN’s recently launched Sky Muster satellite.  However, many Australians living in rural and regional Australia have raised concerns that the Qantas service will cause further congestion on an already limited service.

The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, nbn, had completed a review of satellite capacity in its Fixed Wireless and Satellite review where it identified 31 beams around Australia that would be oversubscribed or severely oversubscribed once a take-up rate of 65% is reached.  As a result, the company will introduce strict Fair Use policies to significantly limit the amount of data to 150 GB (priced at a premium) that can be used by each customer on a 4-week rolling average basis.

Consequently, the Qantas announcement has infuriated many who are within the satellite footprint.  Analysis of flight paths taken by Qantas’ domestic flights using their A330-200, A330-300 and Boeing 737-800 fleets show that all planes fly through at least one congested or severely congested satellite beam.

Key findings:

  • 334 Qantas domestic flights utilise the A330-200, A330-300 and Boeing 737-800 fleet on the day analysed.
  • Every flight flew under at least one oversubscribed or severely oversubscribed beam.
  • 58% of oversubscribed or severely oversubscribed beams will have minimal impact, with at most 2 planes flying under the beam at any given time.
  • The Sydney-Brisbane and Sydney-Gold Coast routes travel entirely within severely oversubscribed NBN Satellite beams (34, 29, 25, 20).
  • The Sydney-Melbourne, Melbourne-Canberra, Sydney-Canberra and Townsville-Brisbane routes travel entirely within oversubscribed OR severely oversubscribed NBN Satellite beams.

Analysis: by congested beams

Over half (58%) of congested beams are not affected or are minimally affected by Qantas planes.  Of the 31 beams considered oversubscribed or severely oversubscribed, 5 of them do not cover any current eligible Qantas flight paths.  7 beams will have at least one flight under the path at some point, and 6 beams will have up to 2 flights under it at the same time (within a 10 minute time frame).

Unsurprisingly however, the beams covering areas immediately surrounding capital cities will have the greatest number of flights under it at any given time:

  • Beam 42 (Sydney Beam) is the worst affected, with up to 7 Qantas flights within a 10 minute time frame travelling under it.
  • Beams 47 (Melbourne Beam) and 20 (Brisbane Beam) come in second, with up to 6 Qantas flights within a 10 minute time frame travelling directly under each of them.
  • Beam 37 (Adelaide Beam) comes in third, with up to 5 Qantas flights within a 10 minute time frame travelling directly under each of them.

It should be noted though, that for the day analysed — the Sydney and Brisbane beams only had the greatest number of flights under it for a single 10 minute time frame (between 8:50am – 9:00am and 7:30pm – 7:40pm respectively).

Finally, by considering the average number of Qantas planes under a beam over a 24 hour period — we see that Beam 47 (Melbourne) tops out at 1.94 planes with Beam 42 (Sydney), Beam 20 (Brisbane) and Beam 41 (Canberra) following closely behind at 1.52, 1.45 and 1.22 planes respectively.

Beam* Max concurrent
flights under beam
(over 10 min period)
%age of time with
at max plane
under beam
%age of time with
at least one plane
under beam
Avg. number of
planes under beam
over 24 hrs
47 (Melbourne) 6 2% 67% 1.94
42 (Sydney) 7 1% 63% 1.52
20 (Brisbane) 6 1% 63% 1.45
41 (Canberra) 4 5% 58% 1.22
37 (Adelaide) 5 1% 49% 0.86
24 (Armidale) 5 1% 53% 0.83
48 (Omeo) 4 1% 51% 0.76
66 (Perth) 3 1% 51% 0.63
34 (Newcastle) 3 3% 40% 0.57
33 (Bathurst) 4 1% 33% 0.48
25 (Grafton) 2 3% 33% 0.37
46 (Ararat) 3 1% 28% 0.36
3 (Townsville) 2 3% 28% 0.31
15 (Wondai) 3 1% 24% 0.30
29 (Port Macquarie) 2 1% 26% 0.27
36 (Yorketown) 3 1% 22% 0.26
35 (Port Lincoln) 2 2% 22% 0.24
7 (Mackay) 2 3% 19% 0.22
11 (Rockhampton) 2 2% 20% 0.22
31 (Whyalla) 1 15% 15% 0.15
44 (Kangaroo Island) 1 8% 8% 0.08
63 (Guilderton) 1 8% 8% 0.08
16 (Maryborough) 1 6% 6% 0.06
2 (Charters Towers) 1 3% 3% 0.03
1 (Cairns) 1 3% 3% 0.03
51 (Geelong) 1 2% 2% 0.02
49 (Bega) 0 0% 0% 0.00
52 (Inverloch) 0 0% 0% 0.00
54 (Burnie) 0 0% 0% 0.00
56 (Hobart) 0 0% 0% 0.00
68 (Bridgetown) 0 0% 0% 0.00

* Beam name is based on a suburb/town/city directly under the beam and may not be the official name used by nbn

Analysis: by flight

Each flight and its flight path were analysed to see which NBN Satellite beam it flies under. The results shows that every single Domestic Qantas A330 and B737 flight flies under at least one oversubscribed or severely oversubscribed satellite beam.

The most prominent are the Sydney-Brisbane and Sydney-Gold Coast routes, which flies entirely within severely oversubscribed beams (that’s beams 34, 29, 25, 20).  Sydney-Melbourne, Melbourne-Canberra, Sydney-Canberra and Townsville-Brisbane routes fly entirely through oversubscribed or severely oversubscribed beams.

For the full analysis output, click here!

Concluding thoughts…

I find the results of this analysis somewhat inconclusive. Firstly, unlike domestic US services — the number of Qantas flights expected to get the Wi-Fi service is quite small.

With under 350 flights spread out geographically and over a 24 hour period, I doubt the planes would have a material effect on congestion. Currently, the worst case scenario seems to be up 6-7 planes flying under a single beam at any given time. However, in the case of the 7-plane statistic, it happens only once in a 24 hour period. The speed at which planes travel also mean that they will typically fly in and out of narrow beams within 10-15 minutes, meaning any impact should be distributed across multiple beams as the plane flies through the airspace.

On the other hand, the bulk of the flights will fly under already oversubscribed areas. This is especially true for the beams serving the areas immediately surrounding the capital cities, which are all severely oversubscribed (bar-Darwin). These areas also have the greatest number of concurrent flights, represented by the “average number of planes over 24 hours” statistic.

So, no. I don’t think there’s an immediate threat to congestion. However, it does set a precedent. If more carriers get on board… and if international flights get added to the pool as well — things could well change in the future.

NBN Long Term Satellite beams
Diagram showing NBN Co satellite beams and risk of congestion as determined in the Fixed Wireless/Satellite Strategic Review (FWSat SR).

Assumptions made in this analysis:

  • The flight data analysed was from Wednesday, 23rd Feb 2016.
  • Qantas will only install the Satellite-powered Wi-Fi solution on their A330-200, A330-300 and Boeing 737-800 fleet.
  • In all cases where the plane transverses an area with both a wide and narrow beam, the congested, narrow beam is selected.
  • Plane locations are calculated in 10 minute intervals.
  • Congestion (oversubscribed beams) are based on results in the NBN Fixed Wireless and Satellite Review.
nbn™ logo (large)

Analysis: Is privatising the Multi-Technology Mix the best way forward?

With almost no competition to incentivise an upgrade to its network, can NBN’s monopoly Multi-Technology Mix keep up with user demands or will it become Telstra 2.0?

Infrastructure Australia released it’s “Australian Infrastructure Plan” report today. It’s contents are not exclusively about the National Broadband Network, however, it made a number of recommendations to the Government suggesting that the NBN should be privatised in the medium term.

A bit of background: the fibre monopoly

Since the conception of the National Broadband Network, there had always been a plan and provision to sell company once the rollout is complete. With the original “full fibre” plan envisaged by the then-Labor Government, selling or not selling the fibre network at completion wouldn’t materially affect competition.

Fibre at the premises level is a natural infrastructure monopoly. Much like how water supply companies do not build competing sets of pipes for competition, fibre is effectively a pipe with limitless upgrade opportunities by simply “swapping out the equipment at each end”. It is vastly inefficient to duplicate networks for the sake of competition, and the Optus and Telstra HFC “war” in the 90s was an excellent example of how broadband infrastructure competition can fail.

There is a case for small amounts of network duplication in inner metropolitan areas. However, it becomes hard to compete (at least within the fixed-line space) with a network that’s already built to the scale that NBN would have.

Selling, or even long term (99 year) leases of the fibre network based on geographical areas would have made sense. Like water companies, telco infrastructure entities wouldn’t spend too much time duplicating each other’s network. Upgrading networks to user demands would incur minimal capital expenditure, as it’s a matter of swapping equipment at two ends. Competition will continue to exist, but only in the retail/service delivery component of the network by Internet Service Providers.

The Multi-Technology Mix

But things changed. If you haven’t noticed, the NBN is no longer rolling out fibre to the majority of premises. The Coalition Government’s policy of a Multi-Technology Mix fixed-line network creates new challenges policy makers in the future will need to deliberate carefully before pressing sell in parliament.

On the upside, a Multi-Technology Mix is an effective way to drive infrastructure competition. However, it doesn’t work when it’s being built by a single entity — especially not a Government-owned enterprise.

No incentive to upgrade, unless split up and privatised

As a monopoly, investing large sums of money on upgrading technologies like VDSL2 over copper where upgrade paths is not as simple as “swapping out equipment” presents an ongoing burden for the NBN company. As user bandwidth demand grows, many telecommunications companies would upgrade and extend their networks to meet user demand. Or else, they would risk a competitor coming in to take over their market share. That’s what happens in areas with healthy infrastructure competition — such as Hong Kong.

But like Telstra before it, NBN wouldn’t have a business case to upgrade its networks — even if user demands skyrocket. The company would stand to lose money (at least in the short-term) by investing to upgrade its network, while it would keep a steady revenue if it just maintained the network as it is and not upgrading at all! Civil costs to push fibre out further into the field to meet user demand isn’t cheap, especially when it’s done in successive truck rolls (which is what the current policy is).

We can say that the current NBN policy focuses on short-term policy objectives — lowering the short-term capital expenditure costs, while risking medium to long-term operation costs — in other words, leaving it for policymakers of the future to deal with.

Privatising the Multi-Technology Mix by its technologies would make sense — provided the necessary regulatory instruments were put in place. Consider privatisation by splitting the NBN into a FTTx, HFC and Wireless/Terrestrial entities. These three entities could lend themselves to infrastructure competition in areas where there is sufficient network overlap. In metro areas for example, failure to upgrade the copper-based VDSL2 solution used by the FTTx entity would see the threat of an adjacent HFC footprint grow to meet user demand (and vice versa).

In regional and rural areas, the viability of infrastructure competition is not immediately obvious. Improvements in fixed wireless technologies could threaten the market share of the FTTx entity, but the fixed wireless network would need to grow substantially to be of real competition. In addition, wireless and terrestrial (satellite) solutions tend to be more expensive. So is it possible to create healthy competition, or would those areas have to rely on Government subsidies to promote upgrades?

Even if competitors are identified, each of these entity would need to have equal opportunity to grow its footprint into their competitor’s existing footprint. Having equal access to things like duct and pipe, Tier 1 and Tier 2 facilities, power and potentially many more aspects is crucial before any privatisation goes ahead.

Then there’s the issue of vertical integration

Looking at the current telco market in Australia, obvious candidates with enough capital for purchasing parts of a privatised NBN would be Telstra, Optus, the TPG Group and the M2 Group. Companies like Nextgen or Vodafone could still take a share.

But all these companies I’ve listed, bar Nextgen, already hold a retail front: Telstra, Optus, TPG and Vodafone are obvious by name. M2 owns Dodo and iPrimus.

Currently, the unique nature of NBN is that it is entirely wholesale only with no vertical integration, driving substantial retail competition in the service provider front. In my opinion, this needs to stay as is. Infrastructure companies should stay structurally separated from its retail front to ensure innovation within the “service” sector and ensures equal pricing regardless of who owns the network.


Conclusion

In a privatised world without a ubiquitous network of natural monopoly (like fibre), the only way networks will meet user demand is by infrastructure competition. Infrastructure competition requires network duplication (or at least the threat of) to stimulate investment to upgrade. So the question is: do we want this duplication? Isn’t it blindingly inefficient to have networks that do the same thing being built two or three times over just to keep with user demand?

I think we’ve put ourselves in another telecommunications policy nightmare in Australia. Time and time again, successive Governments — in their short sightedness — have failed to realise the consequences of their policy decisions. The NBN was meant to solve the issue of a lack of infrastructure investment that resulted from the privatisation of Telstra. It still could, but potentially at the cost of inefficient network duplication.

Yes, I’d still argue that a Fibre to the Premises model would have been the ideal model. It would have made privatisation easier, it would have been far more elegant. But what’s done is done.

Some would argue it’s a good thing. Infrastructure competition could work well for companies who have substantial capital while also owning large amounts of existing network assets.

Currently, TPG is the disrupter in the market. The rollout of inner-city Fibre to the Basement network is a good example of what healthy infrastructure competition could look like.

So yes, in conclusion, if done correctly — splitting and selling the NBN is probably the best way forward for Australia. But as Malcolm would say, “it’s not the way we would have done it”.

What do you think?

nbn™ logo (large)

NBN: no power resiliency policy for HFC Network

Unlike FTTP, FTTN and FTTB, homes and businesses in NBN’s HFC network will not be provided a power resiliency policy to deal with power outages on NBN equipment

The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, nbn, has revealed that it will not be providing a power resiliency policy to the NBN HFC network — expected to be launched in the second quarter of this year.

In its draft Wholesale Broadband Agreement, released to Access Seekers for HFC Business Readiness Testing (BRT) today, the company states that it has “made the decision that a general power resiliency policy […] will not be implemented for the NBN Co HFC Network” as the “NBN Co HFC Network architecture is different to that of the FTTB/N Networks”.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 11.24.17 am

NBN’s FTTN and FTTB network benefit from having backup batteries installed within the node enclosures, enabling a certain degree of power backup for the active equipment located on the field. NBN’s Fibre to the Premises network is entirely passive in the field — meaning it is not impacted by on-field power outages.

The HFC network, which NBN will acquire from Telstra and Optus, will replace the majority of existing copper phone and ADSL/ADSL2+ services delivered over the copper network. This means that during a power disruption on NBN’s HFC equipment, homes and businesses could be disconnected any fixed-line phone or Internet connection until NBN and its power supplier resolves the issue.

This could be a significant concern for owners of security alarms, medical alarms and lift emergency phones which depend on a resilient phone connection — especially during emergencies.

I’ve written in some more detail in a previous post on the impact of power outages on nbn’s Multi-Technology Mix technologies.  You can read more about it here.

[Source: Draft Wholesale Broadband Agreement – Product Description (HFC BRT)]

NBN Fibre to the Node Trial at Umina Beach

nbn’s right: users probably not affected by node congestion

nbn has strongly refuted suggestions that their node’s backhaul link is already hitting capacity, and figures seem to match their assertion.

(analysis) The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, nbn, has refuted claims that backhaul congestion is the primary cause of slow speeds experienced by users on its recently-launched Fibre to the Node network. As a matter of distinction, this is separate from the blog post I wrote 7 months ago about long-term capacity challenges faced by nbn.  In this post, we are discussing congestion issues faced by current customers.

If we examine the figures closely, there simply isn’t enough customers on each node (yet) to need to worry about backhaul congestion yet.  In raw numbers, the lucky chaps in Belmont North connected to node 10 in Belmont 7 (2BLT-07-10) had just a smidgen under 100 premises connected at the start of this month.  This is followed closely by node 5 in Belmont 5 and node 2 in Belmont 1 in the raw take-up of high 80s.

Node (ADA) ID Node premises count Currently active premises
2BLT-07-10 233 93
2BLT-05-05 247 88
2BLT-01-02 226 84
2GRK-02-11 273 83
2BLT-10-08 246 82
2BLT-07-07 210 81
2BLT-07-17 233 80

If we consider the FTTN AVC profile revealed in estimates (13% on 12/1 Mbps, 50% on 25/5 Mbps, 25% on 50/20 Mbps and 12% on 100/40 Mbps), we can consider an aggregate average downlink AVC of roughly 39 Mbps per FTTN user.  At roughly 100 per node sharing 1GE uplink fibre, even during full saturation — each user would get on average an uncontended 10 Mbps link.  That’s better than a 1:4 contention ratio — well above most, if not all, residential-grade services.

Of course, I’m not privy to NBN’s network utilisation graphs.  But I’m fairly confident that they will show in each node, there is currently plenty of buffer space.

As I’ve said in an earlier blog post, node-based congestion can really only be expected during peak times on a fully loaded node.  Without wider saturation of 4K TVs at this point in time, the entire neighborhood of 100 premises must stream at least 2 HD Netflix or YouTube video simultaneously before there starts to be congestion issues — a virtually impossible scenario.

We don’t know what may happen in the future. Perhaps when 4K becomes more mainstream, it will become an issue.  The scenario I posed was 25% of customers simultaneously streaming 4K is all it would take to congest a full loaded node.  But at least for now, it’s pretty safe to say that this particular factor is not major concern.

So if it’s not node backhaul, what is it?

It must suck to be in this situation currently.  When you have end users posting speed tests well below 10 Mbps download “consistently”, you know there is an issue somewhere. Whether it’s a sync speed issue, CVC underprovisioning, packets being dropped by nbn somewhere within the network or something else altogether — testimony given by CEO Bill Morrow at the recent Senate Estimates suggests that nbn and service providers are working through it bit by bit to diagnose.  One thing’s for sure, it’s most probably nothing to do with node backhaul congestion yet.

NBN Fixed Wireless Antenna (close up)

Unlicensed: nbn forgets to renew its radio assignments for over half a year

Assignments at almost a thousand fixed wireless sites have disappeared after 2.3 GHz licence renewal in July last year.

The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, nbn, has apparently failed to renew its radio assignments for the majority of existing fixed wireless towers.

Despite having around 1,200 fixed wireless towers active around Australia, the company’s radio assignment records contains only around 200 radio sites with the 2.3 GHz radio frequency assigned.

nbn uses the 2.3 GHz radio frequency to service areas in outer metropolitan fringes using TD-LTE 4G technology. However, since its licence renewal in July last year, the radio assignments in the majority of its existing fixed wireless towers have disappeared from the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA’s) Register of Radiocommunications Licences.

Contacting ACMA about this issue, the authority revealed that “it appears [nbn’s] devices on this site have not been renewed” after July and that they were “checking with NBN to find out what has happened”.

More to come.

LTSS Base Station: Sunset

First tranche of nbn satellite premises: see the list

Almost half of the 400 thousand homes and businesses expected to be serviced by NBN’s Sky Muster satellite have been listed in the first tranche of addresses

The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, nbn, has updated its rollout map to include around 160,000 premises which are expected to be assigned to the Sky Muster satellite service launching in this half of the year.

The satellite footprint will ultimately cover more than 400,000 premises, however, nbn has yet to complete detailed design in some areas to finalise the boundaries of the three main technology groups: satellite, fixed wireless and fixed-line.  More addresses are expected to be added to the satellite list over the coming months.

The company also expects the boundary between the technology groups to continually change as the other technologies continue to roll out nationwide.

These initial 160,000 premises includes addresses from all states and territories including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island. A detailed breakdown of number of premises by suburb can be found at the bottom of this page.

By state

State Premises in 1st tranche
ACT 27
NSW 49,727
NT 3,641
QLD 42,086
SA 18,211
TAS 3,585
VIC 18,156
WA 20,999
Christmas Island 963
Home Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands 146
Norfolk Island 1,385
West Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands 43

By suburb

This list shows the number of premises within a suburb that has been included in the first tranche of addresses. Even if your suburb is listed, it does not necessarily mean that all premises in that suburb will be serviced by satellite. Check the nbn rollout map to check for a particular address.

LTSS Base Station: Sunset

Here’s a SkyMuster Speed Test

The Australian’s technology reporter, David Swan, has just posted a speed test over the new NBN Sky Muster satellite expected to be launched later this year.

The speed test shows that real world speeds are close to the Layer 2 link speed provided by NBN (25/5 Mbps) — around 23.33/4.26 Mbps with a round trip latency of around 599ms.