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Getting Alan Jones up to speed on the NBN

Is the NBN a “perfect answer” to Australia’s broadband needs? Mozzer502/Flickr

A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Radio 2GB commentator Alan Jones demonstrated this adage last week when commentating on a recent technology breakthrough by a group of international researchers at a laboratory in Germany.

The researchers demonstrated the transmission of data using a laser beam on a single optical fibre at a speed of more than 20 terabits per second. This is approximately 200,000 times faster than the 100 megabits per second that the National Broadband Network (NBN) will initially be capable of providing to Australian homes.

Jones claimed that because this speed exceeds the capabilities of the NBN, the researchers’ announcement was proof that the NBN would be outdated by the time it is completed before the end of the decade.

Jones did not seem to realise that the announcement demonstrated the exact opposite.

The new world record from Germany confirms that the Federal Government’s decision to build an NBN based on fibre-to-the-premises technology was correct.

The fibre-based network is the very best option for broadband in Australia. The new world record in data transmission over optical fibre verifies that a fibre-based NBN is brilliantly future-proof, because the capacity of fibre is enormous.

The NBN will begin by delivering up to 100 megabits per second through a fibre to every connected home. The German group has shown us that there is virtually no limit to the speed that a fibre-based NBN can deliver, and that 100 megabits per second is only the start.

As new applications and services come online, the NBN will be able to easily cope with these new demands on the network. The NBN is a perfect answer to Australia’s future broadband needs.

Imagine what it would be like if we could build a national highway network just once, without the need for costly earthworks to add extra lanes at a later date when the volume of traffic has increased. The economic advantages of such an infinitely-expandable highway network would be profound.

Unfortunately, this can’t be done with roads, but it definitely can be done with broadband, using optical fibre’s capacity to handle the ever-increasing internet traffic volume. As the NBN is upgraded in the future to handle higher data rates, no new construction work is required in the fibre-to-the-premises network.

Straightforward upgrading of equipment at each end of the fibre is all that is needed.

The technology used by the German researchers (for the technically-minded it is called “Orthogonal Optical Frequency Division Multiplexing”) was pioneered some years ago at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering by Associate Professor Bill Shieh.

Competition among researchers globally is fierce and the world record for the data rate using this technology passes from research team to research team a couple of times each year as different teams make advances on the basic technology.

In 2009 the world record, then 1 terabit per second, was held by Bill Shieh’s group in Melbourne and by Bell Labs researchers. Just like the German group this month, in 2009 the Melbourne group demonstrated that fibre is the right choice of technology for the NBN.

The NBN will transform the delivery of health care and support the aged as they remain at home longer. It will enhance education by providing opportunities for those in rural and remote regions and will reduce business travel alleviating pressures on public transport.

The NBN will help to ameliorate social isolation and will provide Australian entrepreneurs with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leap-frog the rest of the world, creating new online business opportunities that are limited only by imagination.

It is time that we move on from baseless negativism, and start focusing on the real benefits that the NBN will bring to Australian society.

Do you see the NBN as a positive, a negative or something in between? Leave your comments below.

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