Australia’s National Broadband Project is ramping up its efforts and is starting to show solid results with tens of thousands of properties being connected to the blazingly fast new system and talk of big things to come.
What is the National Broadband Network?
The National Broadband Network (NBN) is a government program launched in 2011 aimed at getting more than 93 per cent of Australian homes connected to ultra-fast internet access by mid-2021.
The goal is to create a system with download speeds in excess of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) by 2016, and 50 to 100 Mbps by 2019. This is not some minor side-project; the Australian Government plans to stump up $29.5 billion over the project’s lifetime.
Such speeds may become necessary if the amount of data being downloaded continues to rise. In the past five years the amount of data Australians use has risen tenfold, and the total has increased from 657,262 terrabytes to 996,000 from June 2013 to the same time next year. To put that in perspective, that’s just over 217 million DVDs.
It’s a project that is expected to employ tens of thousands of Australians over its run time and require local workers to up-skill intensively to take part in the infrastructure construction project aimed at integrating fibre-optic, fixed wireless and satellite technology across Australia.
Once complete it is also expected that many of those workers will be retained at the end of the project to repair, maintain, update and expand the infrastructure they built.
The NBN is different to the mobile wireless services, where download and upload speeds can be affected by the number of users in the area and how much activity is going on. The NBN network is designed to provide consistent and reliable service for a specific number of premises in an area.
Why does Australia need it?
According to a report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were nearly 12.5 million internet subscribers in Australia by the close of June this year, with over 98 per cent of Australian connections being broadband and the number of dial-up connections continuing to dwindle. This represents a huge shift from 2006 when roughly 47 per cent of connections were dial-up.
Fibre has been the fastest growing internet connection type in recent years, increasing by 76 per cent since June 2013 and reaching 203,000 connections as of June this year. The data makes it clear that Australians are opting, where possible, for ever-faster internet connections, and expanded capacity is crucial to providing this for both commercial and residential connections.
Of the total Australian market, just over 2 million subscribers had internet speeds of 24Mbps or greater, with the greatest number (6.2 million) having speeds between 8 and 24Mbps, 3.7 million had speeds between 1.5 and 8Mbps, and 256,000 people had speeds ranging between 256 kilobits per second and 1.5 Mbps, while 186 thousand were stuck on dial-up.
“Fast broadband helps give residents access to e-health services, distance education and entertainment on demand and we have seen examples of businesses demonstrating an increase in productivity, reduction of costs and access new markets,” NBN co-spokesperson Justin Jarvis said.
What’s happening now?
The National Broadband Network has reported a series of solid achievements in recent weeks, with technological advancements, end users growing 27 per cent over the last quarter to 267,000, and revenue up 32 per cent to $29 million.
“These results reflect the improvements we are making in construction, product development and the end user experience. They represent solid progress towards our FY15 targets of 1 million serviceable homes and 480,000 end users,” NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow said.
Workmen are labouring across Australia to make it happen, and work is proceeding ahead of schedule in some locations, like Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, which are getting bumped ahead on the list and are expected to be up and running by the end of 2015.
The region is crucial to the roll out in the New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland regions, NBN told ABC News, with the implementation of fibre-to-the-node (FttN) infrastructure planned for more than 200,000 premises across 140 NSW and Queensland suburbs in the near future.
Fibre-to-the-node is a slight step down from having fibre-optic cables run directly to a premises, but NBN’s Darren Rudd told ABC news that it is a faster way to get the infrastructure laid down. The decision to ramp up the FttN method comes after a 50 house trial in Umina NSW that found FttN houses managed download speeds of 97Mbps and upload speeds of 33Mbps, while running fibre directly to the property only increased this to 100/40.
“There’s less complexity, less cost and we can get people on the network, in those numbers, in those suburbs this time next year,” Mr Rudd said. “Essentially what we’re going to do is roll through the city and build this network … They’re like a mini exchange in the street, we run fibre from the exchange to them and then we push more of the data through from that little node into the house or apartment.”
Safety requirements for getting involved
The National Broadband Network, like any infrastructure project that involves working with electrical systems, carries with it a set of risks to workers’ health.
As a result NBN Co has a comprehensive mandatory safety program in place, which can be accessed either through the internet or in person. The program must be completed if an employee is to take part in the installation, connection and maintenance of network assets, shifting fibre optic cables, boring and excavation. Those in charge of sites where NBN work is underway must also access the safety program.
The training focuses on spotting and controlling for both industrial and environmental dangers, and helps employees to understand the scope of their role within the wider project. AlertForce is presently the only training provider registered to conduct the online training program. People who do the online safety program also need to undertake an accredited and instructor-led CPR course.