NBN 101: The case for wireless broadband

This article is part of Computerworld Australia's NBN 101 series, in which we take a look at the arguments surrounding the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network, and dissect them one by one. The articles are meant to be an overview of the debates central to the National Broadband Network (NBN) to give you a grounding as more and more media outlets and commentators speak out on the project. We encourage people to take the discussion further in the comments section.

In our first article we took a look at how Australia’s NBN plan compares to the rest of the world and the statistics and graphs from the OECD, and then we strapped in for a tour of speeds. This time we take a look at wireless technologies versus fibre optic.

The question I'm often asked is: why don't we just do it all with wireless? NBN Co chief executive officer, Mike Quigley

Of the alternatives offered by critics of the National Broadband Network (NBN), one of the more interesting options has been the notion of providing all Australians with wireless of one type or another. NBN Co CEO, Mike Quigley, felt necessary to remark on it recently, and proceeded to defend why the NBN, as it currently stands, will not use the technologies.

The alternative has garnered support from the Computerworld Australia community, as well as analysts. It also underpinned the failed OPEL project, and may form a major part of the Liberals' broadband scheme, if they ever formulate one.

It's fair to say not all are convinced the prescribed technologies are the best fit for the job. Whether it's NBN Mark I (a fibre-to-the-node or VDSL network) using copper for last mile access, or a nationwide wireless network, there are alternatives to the NBN that each have their benefits and disadvantages when compared to fibre. Some even continue to champion ADSL2+ as a future-proof Internet access method - why bother building an entirely new network when current technology is yet to reach 90 per cent market saturation?

To recap, the Federal Government's proposed broadband network would see 90 to 93 per cent of Australians receive committed speeds of 100Mbps over a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network. Of the roughly ten per cent remaining homes, seven per cent would receive wireless access and the remaining three per cent of the population could connect via satellite, both access points meant to be working at speeds of at least 12Mbps.

No matter how the NBN eventuates, then, wireless still plays a vital part; it's necessary to deliver Internet to those homes too rural and too expensive to run fibre to.

Quigley himself confessed he was a "big fan of wireless and mobile" and said that wireless broadband is a big part of Australia's broadband future. But can existing and/or future technologies ultimately replace fixed broadband? Let's have a look at the arguments.

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