Just prior to the Coalition’s launch of their broadband policy, Malcolm Turnbull started spruiking VDSL2 with vectoring as a rebuttal to NBN Co’s immediately obvious superiority. For months Turnbull has been allowed to get away with telling half truths & bald faced lies about vectoring, painting it as a magic bullet to solve every failure that has arisen from years of neglect by Telstra. I’ve previously written how terrible a state the copper network is in, so now I’ll look at this “I win button” that Turnbull claims will give us 100Mbps speeds.
For a start, vectoring is going to be expensive, really expensive. The two cases that Turnbull cites as a case for VDSL2 & vectoring are Deutsche Telekom & AT&T. In both cases the network is already established, & both take very different views on vectoring.
First, I’ll Â look at AT&T’s vectoring & what their plan is. AT&T have slated US$3b to upgrade 1 million customers to either pair bonded/vectored services or to FTTH/FTTB. The upgrade is minimal at best, servicing a paltry 1.7% of their customer base, yet the per service cost is around US$3000, not exactly cheap for something they’ve already spent billions on deploying, & will have to spend billions upgrading soon. There’s also the whole bonding with vectoring, something that just wouldn’t be possible with Australia’s copper network: there just aren’t enough high speed data capable pairs for people to run bonded services.
There’s little detail on how many nodes will be upgraded to vectored services or how many of the 1 million customers will receive FTTH or FTTB. Using AT&T as an example is a little silly as they are know for not investing in technology & being named one of the worst companies in the US (making it to the quarter finals in The Consumerist’s Worst Company in America awards). In fact, using any US telco as an example of how to do things right is in poor form, with many making it into the upper echelons of poor service.
When looking at a good example, Deutsche Telekom (DT), we see a stark contrast to the US example. DT jumped on the VDSL2 bandwagon early, & has had a fully functioning VDSL2 network offering up to 50Mbps services to the 10 million premises passed by their FTTN network. Not only are DT investing in vectoring, but in deploying Fibre to the Curb (FTTC), reducing VDSL2 copper runs to a fraction of what they are now. Overall, DT are slated to reinvest US$38b into their copper network, part of a bigger 20-25 year plan to invest $103b in upgrading their network to FTTH.
Looking at the upgrade to FTTC with vectoring that DT are doing, the per premises cost is close to US$3800 per premises passed, & that’s on copper that has already been upgraded/remediated to offer 50Mbps speeds. One thing not to forget in both examples is that both AT&T & DT have established FTTN networks with copper that can already run VDSL2 comfortably, yet the cost per premises is much higher than has been assumed in the coalition’s plan.
Comparing DT & the Coalition’s plan, we can say with assuredness that upgrading to vectoring alone will be in the $20b ballpark, not to dissimilar to upgrading the FTTN network to FTTP (an estimated $21b). All up, the final cost of getting to FTTP by the Coalition’s route is creeping closer to $70b in today’s dollars, if not more when the Telstra deal is taken into account (estimated at $30b). So we could be in for $100b of folly that will negatively shape Australia’s digital future.
Ignoring the costs of vectoring, we can start to look at the drawbacks & limitations of vectoring. The drawbacks with vectoring are many, & I’ve mentioned these repeatedly in previous articles, yet there is still this pervasive lie being spread that VDSL2 fosters competition. The big nail in that coffin is that vectoring does not work when all lines are not vectored by the same provider. There will be little chance of competing with whoever takes over NBN Co if the Coalition gains government & sells it off. It was made clear by Tony Abbott that the first act when the FTTN network is completed will be to sell it off to the highest bidder.
I’ll give you one guess at who would be capable of running a national network. So we’ll be back at square one with Telstra controlling all the copper & having a technical ground to refuse SLU/LLU (Sub-Loop Unbundling/Local Loop Unbundling – how 3rd party providers such as Optus & iiNet get access to the copper now) to any 3rd party. I know that’s a bit crystal bally, but looking at who is capable of servicing such a large copper network, there really is only one choice.
When I see the claims of 90% of Australia receiving a minimum of 50Mbps I remind myself of the reality that there are no VDSL2 providers offering any guarantees like this. In fact, BT has already revised down the “capable” speeds of their VDSL2 services due to consumer backlash over lacklustre speeds. When looking at the DT example, they are well aware the end-game is fibre, and that end-game is near with DT estimating less than 30 years before their copper network will beÂ decommissioned. The AT&T example is, if anything, an example of how to do it wrong. With users being screwed over by US telcos, any use of them as an example of how to do things is beyond stupid.
If the Coalition wanted an FTTN network based on VDSL2 & vectoring, why did they sell off Telstra? Why did they refuse to invest in telecommunications during Howard’s 11 years in power? Simple: the Coalition don’t care about delivering what has now become an essential service.