We need to talk about UFB: Is it afraid, hungry and old before it’s time?

digitaldivide3Ultra Fast Broadband was sold as the next great thing when it came to broadband in New Zealand. The government has poured nearly a billion dollars into it, Telecom has seen a massive structural separation, the debate continues to rage around regulation, and the roll out is unbearably slow. While Chorus wallows like a hippopotamus fighting its way through a small forest of red tape, technologies are rapidly overtaking fibre for cost, speed, and ease of installation. What on earth is going on?

Chorus was created as part of a Telecom demerger. Telecom kept retail, and Chorus kept infrastructure. The first project for Chorus was the UFB, a piece of work that kicked off in 2009. The project is designed to deliver 100Mbit connections to 70% of New Zealand by 2019. By my estimate, the latest report on the progress of the UFB rollout puts them completing somewhere beyond the year 2200 at current pace. I live within two suburbs of Wellington CBD and there is no known date for my installation.

Worse, a contract wrangle has been going on for some time over who pays for the connection from the roadside fibre, to the household. While some money has been provisioned to cover this its a band aid measure. Consumers who try to uptake the UFB service where it does run past their gate talk of a disorganised and slow service.

But not all is lost. I recently had 100Mbit installed at my place. It took less than a week, had no installation cost, costs $99.95 per month, gives me 150GB, and well, just works. It’s cable, delivered by Vodafone (Telstraclear). It’s not the only service that’s available around the traps either, cable is getting a new lease of life and the speeds are decent.

I hear the fibre pundits out there giving me the “Yes, but” argument followed by “Fibre will be quicker and better and is more shiny in the end.” Well, maybe. Or maybe not…

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts demonstrated this week that they can get 3 Gigabits out of cable. That’s right. 3. Gigabits.

But wait, there’s more.

Enter DOCSIS 3.1, the next generation of the cable access technologies. The new standard will allow cable firms deploying D3.1 equipment to deliver up to 10 gigabits per second down and 1 gigabit up. The technology uses OFDM technologies familiar to the wireless industry to cram more bits into a single megahertz of available spectrum used in the cable plants (it’s 11 bits per hertz if you care). Thus, cable providers can then deliver more bandwidth using their existing radio frequencies. – Gigaom

10. Gigabits.

What on earth will we use that kind of speed for you say? Well, just around the corner are 4K and 8k movies and television. Super-high definition video that is huge in size. A standard 4K movie weighs in at around 100GB. Your standard HD movies today are minnows at 6 – 8GB.

Where is UFB in all of this? Still digging holes, crunching through council red tape, and delivering 100Mb broadband to 70% of New Zealand within the next six years. Hopefully. Work has been very slow and they need to spin up a lot more resource to meet their dates.

Meanwhile, over in the wireless space speeds are also rapidly rising.

WiMAX was running 1Gbit in 2011. It is used for the last mile connection from a hub to a residence or business. So that already trumps the fibre in certain circumstances.

In Australia, CSIRO is prototyping longer haul wifi at 5Gbps.

CSIRO has signed a multimillion-dollar contract to develop a prototype system based on its long-running Ngara project, which would allow for data to be transmitted wirelessly at up to five gigabits per second – five times the speed available using similar technologies – over several kilometres – Australian Financial Review

How fast can wireless go? We’re not really sure, but last month it hit 40Gb per second.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany have successfully transmitted 40 gigabits per second over a one-kilometer (0.62 miles) wireless link — a new world record. The technology, dubbed Millilink, is the same speed as the fastest commercial fiber optic links, and could represent a major breakthrough for carrier backbones, broadband internet access in rural areas, and ultra-fast last mile access for customers who haven’t had fiber rolled out in their area. – Extremetech

Here’s the real problem with UFB.

We are putting a lot of our eggs into that single 100Mbit basket and its not going to be enough.

Home users are doubling their bandwidth each year and companies will increase their bandwidth by twelvefold in the next two years. 4K movies, those 100GB monstrosities, will be available in New Zealand by Christmas courtesy of the Playstation Four. Cloud Computing currently represents only 2% of global Internet traffic but will increase several times in the next three years to be a monstrous $260B USD industry.

We don’t need a monthly cap of 100Gb and download speeds of 100mb, we need download speeds of 1Gb, and a monthly cap of two terabytes. Probably within the next 18 months.

We have a desperate need for bandwidth and the current roll out plans and speeds from Chorus are going to leave New Zealand as a technical cul-de sac unless we treat the issue as one of national, critical infrastructure that needs private public investment across a whole range of technologies, not just fibre, starting now.

This messing around with regulation is very 1990. Creating an environment where business can innovate, flourish, and keep pace with the rest of the world is what the 21st century demands.

We are applying some 1990 business models with government version 1.0 thinking to an industry that has self-mutating business models in an overseas regulatory environment that could be described as lean and fast.

We cannot afford to keep doing that.

One comment

  1. I realise this was posted well over a year ago now but the more I think about it I’m impressed by the foresight of the Govt to kick off the UFB project when they did. Sure it is taking longer than we all hope (even though it is on schedule), but once it is done we are going to end up with far better internet connectivity here than in Australia, and certainly better than the US. It is simple to ramp up the bandwidth of GPON as demand increases, but it would be far more beneficial to raise the CIR than the connection speed.. (no point in having a gigabit slow to 2.5Mbps at peak hours).

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