Turnbull’s Low Definition Broadband Crystal Ball

Malcolm Turnbull is at it again, criticising just about anything published by anyone that is in any way supportive of the National Broadband Network (NBN).

This is despite ample evidence provided by anyone who challenges his alternative plan, and people actually building the NBN that he is completely missing the point.

His plan calls for “up to 80Mbps” through an FTTN/VDSL network, though the actual viability of such speeds depends on a number of factors, including the quality of the existing copper network, which has been barely maintained for years:

“Other infrastructure leaders subsequently concurred and pointed out that maintenance to Australia’s copper networks (both PSTN and HFC) has practically collapsed over the past three years because there has been little reason for commercial companies to spend money on maintaining networks that are scheduled to be ripped out of the ground.”

Only the people closest to the FTTN cabinets would get this target speed.

Indeed, you would see people living next door to each other getting different maximum possible speeds, which creates the ridiculous situation where services one home will be able to get, might not be available to the home across the road.

The FTTP NBN is designed for speeds of 100Mbps and beyond. Malcolm often asks what applications will need 100Mbps.

Well, here’s one for you now.

There are currently two forms of Ultra-High-Definition Television (UHDTV) in the pipeline – known as “4K” and “8K”.

“4K” has a resolution of 3840 × 2160 (8.3 megapixels, approximately four times the resolution of current HDTV), and “8K” has a resolution of 7680 × 4320 (33.2 megapixels, approximately sixteen times the bandwidth of current HDTV).

That’s a lot of pixels.

With respect to current HDTV technologies, according to Motorola at least 6Mbps of bandwidth is required for streaming HD content:

“Recent tests show excellent picture quality at 7.5 Mbps, so ADSL connections that support 6 – 8 Mbps may be able to carry HDTV to consumers.”

LG has already announced plans for a 4K television to be made available in Australia, to compete with an existing Sony 4K product:

“The 84-inch TV, which was launched in Korea late last month [August 2012], will be competing against Sony’s similarly specced Bravia 4K, which will be available “before Christmas”. Both TVs have 3840×2160 resolution, or quad full HD, which is one of the many standards currently being bundled under the banner of 4K.”

If at least 6Mbps is required for current HDTV, based on current compression technologies, at least around 24Mbps will be required for a single 4K UHDTV stream, and at least around 96Mbps would be required for a single 8K UHDTV stream.

These numbers are likely to drop with improvements to compression, but the bottom line is the future of television, as it is already mapped out, will see a huge increase in the required bandwidth.

Given Turnbull is “promising” around 80Mbps – (though many experts agree that number will be extremely difficult to attain under his FTTN plan) – a single 8K UHDTV stream should be enough to completely saturate one of his connections.

How many televisions are there in your house? More than one? Do the maths.

Do the maths for 4K UHDTV as well, and see how many televisions, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones will be able to be watching video content at the same time under Turnbull’s plan.

How soon will we see these next generation televisions? Well, we’ve already seen that 4K is more or less available now.

Sharp demonstrated 8K televisions at CES2012 in January:

“Sharp indicated that they, and NHK, were shooting for the year 2020 for 8K actually come online on the consumer level as a lot of factors, such as broadband infrastructure and movie studio and TV broadcasting support needs to ironed out.”

Sorting out the broadband infrastructure? By around 2020?

That’s about the time the NBN build should be nearing completion – and we’ll be ready to go.

But not if we listen to Turnbull, who expressed an opinion in a recent Lateline interview that not only should we implement his inferior FTTN plan, but that should be enough for around 20 years:

“Now, you may say in 20 years time things will be different. Well, if they’re different in 20 years time, we’ll make some further investments in 20 years time.”

Emma Alberici asked in the same Lateline interview:

“What is wrong with having the highest possible ambition for Australia for broadband? What’s wrong with leading the world and having the highest possible speeds?”

Indeed. What is wrong with that?

You could argue economics as Turnbull usually does, but as we’ve seen, the technology requiring speeds beyond what his plan will offer is here now.

Turnbull went on to say:

“Now what we can do – particularly in the areas where we can do fibre to the node – we can bring people up to very high speeds that are more than adequate for all of the applications that are available now or foreseeably available, and we can do that very quickly.”

Well, 4K is almost upon us, and 8K is apparently foreseeable by 2020 according to the manufacturers.

We’ve already seen that 80Mbps won’t be enough. It is apparently “foreseeably available”, despite Turnbull’s belief that nothing will require the speeds the NBN will offer and that he can’t even foresee the need for such speeds.

Malcolm is quite right in saying:

“We don’t know what will be available in 10 years time.”

But he is ignoring what we already know is coming in television technology, and his 80Mbps network won’t cut it.

If we wait the 20 years he suggests before we make “some further investments”, UHDTV will have been with us for around 15 years, and we won’t have the bandwidth to cope.

At that point, it would take almost a decade – (as long as the NBN is slated to take now) – to rollout the network he would deny us NOW, and some people will be 25 years behind the times when it is finally completed.

His interim investment in FTTN would also largely be wasted, because so little of what he would build would carry over to a full FTTP network.

We already know that a full FTTP network will be cheaper to maintain than the existing copper network – the same existing copper network his plan relies on.

More and more it becomes apparent that his objection to the fibre NBN is nothing more than politics, because clearly the technical facts have defeated his lack of technical understanding and foresight.

In August, Turnbull said that he had a fully costed alternative policy document ready to go with respect to his FTTN plan.

A few short weeks later he back-flipped, saying that it was "difficult to provide a fully-costed alternative".

He won’t even release his detailed plan – (costed or otherwise) – for scrutiny.

It surely isn’t reasonable to relentlessly spout his plan as the better alternative to the NBN, and attack the NBN mercilessly, when there is nothing officially available to be able compare the two plans on an equal footing.

Despite repeated requests from all sections of the media to release his plan, Turnbull refuses. A cynic might say he has something to hide.

Hopefully someone will come up with a 4K crystal ball for Malcolm really soon.

His current crystal ball clearly isn’t providing a very clear picture.

UPDATE 21/11/2012 15:21: Apparently, NHK may even be implementing 8K UHDTV at 500Mbps compressed. Time to seriously revisit your thinking on bandwidth requirements, Mr Turnbull.