At last weekend’s opening keynote of the 2012 KickStart Forum, liberal politician Paul Fletcher argued that there were no defined uses for the NBN to justify its cost. With the current political landscape, we may very well end up with a change of government next year. So Mr Fletcher and colleagues, here is a list of potential uses for the higher capacity fibre-based connections.
Before I begin this list, it’s important to understand there’s an inherent danger in creating a potential list of uses for the infrastructure. That risk is in having people consider the listed items as applications that directly apply to them. If that answer is no, then its easy to arrive at the decision we don’t need the FTTH NBN. In reality, whether these listed items directly affect you or not, if they affect a large number of Australians then they are important.
There’s plenty of Australian infrastructure that I’ve contributed tax dollars too, but never personally used, but know millions do, so its a good investment. Whether its roads, rail, power or networks, the approach is the same, so please keep that in mind.
1. IP-delivered TV
Currently we have around 16 channels of over-the-air television in most parts of Australia. The majority of these channels are not delivered in HD, part of the reason behind this is the spectrum limitations on which OTA broadcasts over. With consumers spending big on large screen high definition televisions, they really deserve better in 2012.
By shifting the distribution of digital television from broadcast OTA to IP-delivered will require massive amounts of bandwidth. Add in to the mix the fact you may want to record multiple channels to a IP-enabled DVRI, and the bitrate required to feed the television of tomorrow starts to become clear.
This problem is compounded when you understand that an average household today has between 2 and 3 televisions. Then we add in connected devices like computers, tablets and smartphones and the number bandwidth required to support IP-delivered content grows exponentially. Also don’t forget that a 3D broadcast can take up to twice the bitrate of standard HD video.
If you think IP-delivered TV is a distant future technology, think again. At CES in January this year, TV’s were demonstrated with this capability, designed to ship internationally later this year – it’s coming.
2. HD video calls
Video continues to increase in quality, think of YouTube’s postage-stamp sized, poor quality video back in 2005. Fast forward 7 years and they now offer high quality 1080p that looks great at full screen. The same evolution is happening in web cams on computers and laptops, and will soon be integrated into TVs.
Skype and others are now building webcams into TVs, making it easier than ever for everyday consumers to make video calls to family, friends and even the office. With most home connections having less than 1Mbps up, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where the father’s important business meeting is interrupted by their kids downloading. When you all share a relatively narrow pipe, one side affects the other.
With a FTTH NBN, working from home becomes a viable proposition. Can you imagine both parents working from home and communicating to their remote HQ using video calls or screen sharing – I can.
3. Online backup
While cloud-based backup systems exist today, there are severe limitations. One of the largest barriers preventing home users from utilizing services like Carbonite, is the initial data upload issues. With an ADSL2+ connection the best upstream connection available is around 1Mbps. With today’s homes containing multiple computers, each with hard drives of up to multiple gigabytes that need to be backed up, backing up online quickly becomes unfeasible.
After discussing the possibility of moving my backups online, I was told the only way to achieve it would be to ship the hard drive in the mail for them to connect it directly to their servers. May I remind you its 2012 and we’re still sneaker-net is still the best method of transferring data, sorry but that’s unacceptable.
4. Entertainment subscription services
Streaming gaming service OnLive is currently only available in select areas of the US. This dramatic new business model for gaming could potentially disrupt a billion dollar industry. This service currently demands low-ping times, so availability is connected to users distance away from the server.
One of the great things about a FTTH NBN is its low-latency connections. This means if OnLive placed a server in Sydney, someone in Perth would still have latency low enough to meet the required response times.
Video subscription services like Hulu and Netflix undoubtedly have rights issues to work through with copyright holders. That said, if they knew the connectivity and data cap issues are solved, it would go a long way to getting international services to eye Australia as a desired market.
This is my list, but there are surely dozens if not hundreds of other reasons why we need the NBN and why regardless of which political party is in power, the NBN project should continue. If there are ways to find efficiencies without sacrificing the outcomes, then we should absolutely implement them, but don’t cut corners and let future applications be limited by the technology.