Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A grab bag of telco bits

Life in telco land is really interesting of late. We've got discussion ongoing about the future of the 700 MHz spectrum and the 2.5 GHz spectrum, ongoing prognostications about the NBN and some really direct attacks on the politicians.

Let's start with some nice clean technolog talk and 4G wireless. Two consultations are ongoing, the Digital Dividend consultation by DBCDE and the review f the 2.5 Ghz band and the future of ENG conducted by the ACMA. The likely outcome of both is the allocation of 2*50 (or 45) MHz and 2 * 70 MHz of spectrum for IMT/WAS applications.

At this point the conversation gets less clear. Sometimes the discussion is focussed on 4G and sometimes on LTE. At least one player, Optus, uses a slide that clearly claims LTe as 4G. (see the Optus presentation at the 2.5 Ghz spectrum tune-up). In the mix are those that want to argue that 4G can only apply to those services that meet the IMT-Advanced specification, which LTE doesn't reach. Meanwhile LTE Advanced does. This is exactly the same position as WiMAX where 802.16e (the first mobile WiMAX standard) doesn't reach the IMT Advanced speeds, but 802.16m, now promised by Intel for 2012 (see also), does.

Meanwhile we still have some commentators, like this from Malcolm Colless peddling the line that;

As one industry expert predicted last night: "Within 10 years at the latest the use of 4G wireless services will show that Rudd's decision to extend the broadband rollout from the node into the home was just plain stupid."

It is a great pity the un-named expert wasn't named. The view contrasts with the comments of Ryan Stokes, who is after all launching Australia's first 4G network, at a recent conference. He said, in part;

There has been a lot of conjecture about the NBN and about wireless. Commentary has ranged from claiming that we don’t need the speeds the NBN will deliver, that the needs can be all met by wireless, to wireless having no future given the ubiquity of the fixed line service.
As we look to the future it is impossible to see a point at which demand for speed and data will suddenly slow.
There is no doubt in our minds that the growth in demand for bandwidth will continue to accelerate. Mike Quigley used a slide at the Realising our Broadband Future forum that showed the exponential growth that has occurred in access speeds to date. That chart indicates a need for 100 Mbps at about the time the NBN is completed and a need for 1 Gbps within the decade after that. The NBN will be able to be upgraded to meet those needs.
With all the will in the world and the developments that will occur with LTE Advanced and the next cycle of WiMAX in 802.16m, wireless networks for the most part won’t be able to meet these demands. Outside of certain metro and regional fixed wireless applications the core infrastructure we need is fibre based.

The slide he referred to ike Quigley subsequently used at the same conference. It is slide 5, and he goes on to compare the wired and mobile IP trafic on slide 8.

Meanwhile our Parliament has become a place where, quite frankly, not much happens. The Senate reportedly is delaying consideration of the separation Bill because Telstra and the government are close to a deal. It seems an unusual way to communicate market sensitive information, to have a government affairs professional brief a Senator who then briefs the media. But heck, this is the same company where someone made up a story that a part of the NBN Co exposure draft legislation was all about Telstra (it wasn't) and briefed the media with the intention of driving th Telstra share price down. I'd have to assume it wasn't a member of the management team.

Meanwhile we discover that the NBN Select Committee has decided to inquire into an Exposure Draft of legislation. It is clear such enquiry will not, nor can it, reduce requirement of scrutiny of the legislation when it is introduced. This is not only a waste of Parliamentary time, but a monumental waste of industry time. No amount of "regulatory red tape" is as intrusive as the intereference being run by the coalition on behalf of Telstra.

Far worse, this stunt could discourage the Government from further cases of providing exposure drafts of legislation. The contrast to the last telecommunications legislation of the Howard Government is monumental, a Bill introduced on which industry had about two days to prepare for a one day Committee hearing! This Bill hinged on subsequent Ministerial instruments on which a similarly truncated consultation was applied.

Is it any wonder that leading commentators have noted that the opposition communications spokesman was treated with near derision by the industry at the recent ATUG conference. It is not possible to comment further as the shadow has not yet posted his speech on his website.

In one of my less proud moments I attacked Bruce Billson for a similar performance at ATUG two years ago. The portfolio has suffered for far too long with it being treated as a portfolio for political point scoring, rather than reasoned policy debate. Fans of The West Wing would recall the episode where Josh and Toby are discussing Social Security reform, Toby thinks he can solve it and Josh doesn't want him to because it is too useful a campaign issue.

Meanwhile important things happen in the real world. One of the world's first 700 MHz LTE networks has been built by the Navajo Nation. When we get around to NBN Co discussions and Digital Dividend it might be worthwhile asking whether the Digital Dividend spectrum should be auctioned in the ordinary way, or whether NBN Co should be charged with building a wholesale only LTE network in regional Australia as a monopoly infrastructure provider. That was part of the DBCDE discussion paper. It will be interesting to see what responses were received.

On a final note in debate on the competition and consumer bill Senator Boyce highlighted that labor went to the last election saying "Labor will ensure that Telstra’s wholesale and retail functions are clearly distinct within the company." In case Senator Boyce hasn't noticed that is what the Bill before the Parliament does. It actually provides for full functional separation, but gives Telstra the opportunity to avoid that by chosing to structurally separate, and the latter they can do prospectively as the NBN is built. Is this the first time a Government has been criticised for introducing a Bill that fulfills an election commitment?

That said, the Bill would always have been better presented by putting the functional separation requirement first and then the structural separation alternative second.

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