Thursday, 28 February 2013

NBN: Who does the Coalition represent? It's not small business anymore.

Why did Labor put "affordable, universal high-speed Internet access" on the Political Agenda?
To both create jobs and provide a long-term foundation for business remaining globally competitive.
Most of the NBN debate has focussed on Residential access, but that is only a "nice to have", a side issue, and based solely on that, the Coalition can justifiably question the usefulness of the NBN and demand their "Cost Benefit Analysis".

The real driver, improving business opportunities, effectiveness and productivity, has been lost in the debate. It's time to put that back on the agenda and have the Coalition explain who it represents.

The Coalition has two sides: the Nationals with a base in the broadband-dessert of "the Country" and the Liberals, notionally the party of Business, and once of small business.

The Productivity Commission has already reported that MFP (Multi Factor Productivity) growth in the 1990's was an all-time high 2.5%/year, but has collapsed over the last 10-15 years to zero or negative, while Labour Productivity growth has continued. This coincides with lowered investment in IT and high-speed Internet adoption constrained by price and availability.

Ask Retailers and Print Media, like Fairfax, if "The Internet Changes Everything". Their business may have taken 15 years to see significant impact, and now they have no way back. With the collapse of revenues, they can't fund the major new investment necessary to catch-up, they've lost "brand awareness" and marketshare. They seem to have no way back.

I find it an incredible irony that Turnbull-Fletcher are arguing strongly against supporting and equipment Small Business, who account for 50% of the workforce, with 21st Century tools and access.

The whole PC revolution has been moving access to compute power & networking down the ladder to smaller and smaller enterprises. 15 years ago, you could buy 10-100Mbps fibre connections from Telstra or Optus, ONLY if you were a bank, large multinational or Government body because of the considerable price.

Now that same speed is accessible to the retail market AND more importantly the low-end of business employing half our workers: micro-businesses, SOHO and SME's.

The chief driver of the NBN is improving Australia's Productivity: increasing Output with fewer Inputs or "Doing More with Less".

The whole point of the NBN is removing structural inefficiencies & constraints that will erode our global competitiveness over the next decades. The 1990's saw historic highs of productivity here, coupled with high investment in I.T. and networking, and now we've seen that crash.

The situation is not sustainable. Australia is already seen as "an expensive place to do business", we don't want it to also be "inefficient and difficult".

The Coalition, the champions of Small Business, are curiously silent on this matter. How will they be improving the effectiveness, productivity and profitability of Small Business? They have issued no policy or plans on this and only have grudgingly embraced the merest version of the NBN, not gone flat out to support all business, their apparent core constituency.

They seem to hope "The Market" to come and fix things for them, somehow, magically.
This hasn't worked in 25 years of Telecommunications deregulation.

Why hasn't small business and their Associations been vocal in their disappointment in the lack of foresight and understanding evidenced by the Coalition?

The party that Malcolm Fraser led would've responded to the Labor NBN with a program that focussed on business, especially support small businesses. It would seem to me that investing heavily in business-enabling infrastructure to improve competitiveness and productivity was both wise and exactly in-line with Liberal and National Party principles and core values.

Who does the Coalition represent now, if Labor is intent on outspending them on essential infrastructure in both their heartlands? This is the debate we need to be hearing.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

NBN: A major election issue or not?

Messers Turnbull and Fletcher have to answer a simple question well before the 2012 Election or face a massive backlash in every "Country" and fringe-Metro electorate, turning this election into a referendum on the Labor NBN:
Will the Coalition commit to ensuring there is an affordable, universal Fibre-to-the-Premises network in the near- or mid-term future? 
If so, when? What timeframe will they commit to?
Within 10, 15 or 25 years?
Weasel words, evasive or generic answers, or the old chestnut "the Market Will Provide" will be taken as a non-answer, an emphatic, NEVER!

We know that Telcos almost entirely replaced their internal and overseas networks with Fibre Optic during the decade of the 1990's, because it Faster, Cheaper and Higher Quality/more Reliable, can be upgraded in place and the OpEx is infinitesimal compared to previous technologies, like wireless bearers, satellite and coax cable. All the technologies now being promoted as fit for the NBN.

But they never started upgrading the Customer Access Network from Copper to Fibre, it didn't even get into planning. The Telcos have had 20+years to show "the Market Will Provide" and the answer is a definitive: they won't!

 Baby Boomers and some of Gen-X, now mid-40's, don't care especially about the consequential question, "What about our Children's future?" because they aren't raising young kids:
If Australia doesn't keep up with Asia and the USA in Internet access speeds and pricing, especially outside the core Metro areas, won't that destroy my children's future, both during education and then finding globally competitive businesses to work for?
We know that the Electorate has a long memory from the demise, over the GST, of the Australian Democrats in the Senate, and we know from "Kevin '07" that they are concerned about the future of the Nation, can process complex issues and are willing to back those issues.

Australia won't die in a ditch tomorrow if the NBN Co full-fibre rollout is halted or limited.

Australians already sense that "The Internet changes Everything", especially breaking down geographical barriers, letting previously natural monopolies like retail, be fully exposed to global competitive markets: the rise and rise of On-line (overseas) Retailing.

We've already seen the collapse of Fairfax's print revenue, from fabled "rivers of gold" to nothing...
What next?

Changes in the competitiveness of the whole Australian Economy is of enough concern, that the Productivity Commission published a major report dedicated to explaining why since 2000, Labour Productivity grew or held, while total Productivity (MFP) slumped from a high of 2.5%/year in the 1990's to zero or negative in the next decade. If the trend continues, Australia will quickly become globally uncompetitive, with the situation compounding as we lose more jobs overseas, increasing unemployment, decreasing Income Tax revenue while increasing Centrelnk payments.

Their own 2004 report, ICT Use and Productivity: A Synthesis from Studies of Australian Firms, is referenced, but little is made of its findings: ICT use improves both Labour and total (MFP) Productivity [p64]. Elsewhere I've seen asserted that ICT, including Internet use, is the single most important factor driving productivity. This corresponds with the 1990's peak in productivity as PC's and internet connectivity were taken up by business, with Australia notably amongst the global leaders in Internet adoption. This work neatly address Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow's 1987 observation: "You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics."

A: PC's are only truly productive when networked.

We have yet to find out if the slump is in total (MFP), not labour, productivity related to post-2000/"dot bust" underinvestment in ICT, or that Australia dropped its relative position in Internet adoption into "the rest of the pack".

The sense that ordinary people have as they integrate All Things Internet/Web into their lives and increasingly pickup smartphones & mobile devices, is: these things change the game.

Leading to the inevitable linking of worsening global competitiveness with stories of Australia falling behind in personal and business Internet availability and use.

Or, more simply, "My Kids future will depend on affordable real high-speed Internet, the kind that only Fibre provides".
Wireless is nice on the road, but there's nothing like Fibre to the Premises, be it Home or Business.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

NBN + National Security: Turnbull, Mandiant and Huawei

In the "fifth dimension" of Warfare, Cyberspace (after land, sea, air & space), all Security is National Security. When Defence and Government and their contractors/suppliers are all connected to the wider Internet and all use the same platforms with the same weaknesses subject to the same exploits by the same group, the distinctions between Public vs Private, Defence vs Civilian and Commercial vs National Security espionage evaporate... On the Internet, it's all National Security.

When one of the premier Cybersecurity companies, founded by an ex-USAF expert takes the unprecedented step of breaking the cardinal rule of INFOSEC dating back to Churchill and Enigma, "Don't reveal your sources & capability", you know that something profound is up.

Mandiant recently released a detailed report of 6 years of study of "APT 1" [of 75 they track] with very precise evidence backing their claims, first with the New York Times and later by the BBC etc.

Not only did Mandiant name China and Chinese nationals as the attackers, they named the building they'd traced as the epicentre of the attacks and the PLA Unit that operates there. (Notably without saying the PLA Unit launched the attacks, a more subtle point).

You can be sure that the Pentagon, State Department and US President along with the NSA and other Intelligence Agencies/"Cyber Commands" were party to this decision.

The Military are very, very protective of their Intelligence, especially their techniques and capabilities. After 70 years, the work my father and his unit did in WWII, "Ultra", is not declassified. I doubt it will ever be fully released: the Military are that obsessive and protective.

So what has the very top echelons of the US Intelligence and Cybersecurity communities so spooked that they are prepared to break one of their most important basic Security Principles?

We know they are giving us "old and incomplete" information, presumably already known by all "opposition" agencies, not just those named, the Chinese.

What they've told us is simple: these are not "for-profit" hackers, but highly-resourced, skilled and persistent experts after highly specific information who prize stealth and misdirection over everything,

What are the tools and techniques they've started directing at new targets over the last 12 months?
It has to be massive and concerning to "break cover" so blatantly.

I suspect it is not unrelated to the banning of Huawei as a network provider to the US Military and Government and with the Australian Government following Intelligence advice and banning Huawei from the NBN.

Mark Gregory in The Conversation reminds us, via Josh Taylor of ZDnet, that Mr Turnbull in Aug-2012 spoke on NBN issues and in the Q&A session, very particularly says they'll "reconsider" the Huawei decision when they gain power. This was never a well-considered statement, at best disingenuous, at worst amazingly naive and ignorant of National Security. Which you can't accuse Mr Turnbull of... He broke the UK "Official Secrets" provisions with "The Spycatcher" case. The start of his answer:
Right, well I think dealing with Huawei firstly and you know you’re really asking us what do I think about the decision not to allow Huawei not to provide equipment to the NBN.
The difficulty we have there is that we are not privy to the advice that the Government has had from the intelligence services.
So that was a very very big decision to make and I’m very conscious of the fact that the British Government has taken a very different approach to Huawei and the Britons’ security concerns you would think would be just as intense as ours.
So all I can say in that we will look at that matter when we get in to government, if we get in to government, in the light of the advice.
In light of the Mandiant report, I'd have expected a comment from Mr Turnbull, even something low-key.

The Opposition can never support countering the Intelligence recommendation against Huawei, and after the Mandiant report, even less so.

Mr Turnbull knew, of should've known, all this when he spoke Aug-2012.
So why did he speak such rubbish when he clearly knows much, much better?
Who was his audience for his remarks?
Not the people in the room of the "American Chamber of Commerce", so who?

Critical now, post Mandiant, to the Coalition's credibility on National Security, Cybersecurity and Internet/NBN is Turnbull-Fletcher and perhaps Abbott restate their position. It appears to me that the current modus operandi of the Opposition is to say anything, because we'll do something completely different when in power.

That's a very scary strategy and one, if exposed, that will lead to a massive electoral backlash.
Not unlike post-1993 and John Hewson's "Fight Back" policy release. A few thousand pages of detailed policy sounded to the academic Hewson like a great way to start an informed policy debate. Instead it turned out to be "the world's longest (political) suicide note".

Every leader of every Australian political party in every campaign since has been painfully aware of the  implications and downside of being too specific and open with Policy. The upshot is that elections now are essentially "policy free zones", meaning all debates come down to rhetoric, promises/pork-barreling, personal attack and denigration/criticism.

"It's a far, far better thing to have done nothing, than to have done anything, because it can be criticised."

NBN: This is our ONE shot at universal Fibre-to-the-Premises

Nick Ross of the ABC has written a detailed description of the differences between the current NBN and the Coalition's Plans: Part 1, Part 2.

Highlighting the fact that this is primarily a Political contest, not a debate, are the many comments calling the article "biased" and trotting out many objections - straight out of the Coalition Speakers Notes of July 2012, published by Crikey [pp46-52].

Turnbull was first charged by Mr Abbott to "destroy the NBN": I contend this is still required. The Coalition will not, and cannot, allow any of the major Rudd/Gillard programs/initiatives to succeed.

Abbott has irretrievably bound the Coalition for the next decade to the rhetoric: "the worst Government ever". This has radical policy implications for Australia.

The 2012 Federal election will be a referendum on this assertion, one of the inevitable consequences of which will be: any network but the ALP NBN.

If the Coalition assumes power at the next election, there will NEVER be universal Optical Fibre to the Premises. To maintain their partisan position, they have to "save" Australia from all that "Waste", "Inefficiency" and all those "Great Big New Taxes". Stopping the NBN Co deployment must be very high on their priority list, because of the "$50-$100 Billion" price-tag, not the $15B its actually budgeted to cost for the fibre Customer Access Network.

The recent exposure of the lack of a tender process for the JSF, the 60% blow-out in development already, its poor performance and project delays/cost-overruns point to how the Coalition really make decisions and how they actually regard budgets.

Committing $35-50B to high-risk, questionable outcome project without even a working prototype or finalised design doesn't need a "Cost Benefit Analysis", nor even an Expert Technical Analysis. This isn't theoretical, this is a firm, practical demonstration of the Coalition "process" in action. How the Coalition can criticise the NBN project and decision process with a straight face is a magnificent example of Political Double-Speak. From the 4-Corners report:
Air defence is Australia's number one priority. The JSF is the biggest weapons purchase in our history and tax payers might well end up paying $35 billion for a fleet of these so-called "stealth" fighters.
This is the option voters have in September:
Stop the NBN Co full-fibre rollout NOW, embrace some cheap & expedient "interim" solutions and never, ever finish "Fibre to all Premises".
Is this too radical a view, too cynical, even biased?  I don't think so. I think the evidence that "The Political trumps the Technical", especially in Australian Government, is overwhelming and undeniable.

Does Sydney have its "second airport?" or a good "second Harbour crossing" or the "Parramatta to North Shore rail link" or ... ? Every state has its own list of "perennial projects" - useful large infrastructure that the public (voters) want that never gets built, despite many political promises over decades and decades.

We might have legislation that all new railways must be standard gauge, but only New South Wales will ever have a standard gauge network. No other State will ever be able to afford, or justify, throwing away all its rolling stock, ripping up all its track and remodelling all stations, road crossing and infrastructure all at once and while replacing it, not having a working rail system.

If Australian voters throw out the ALP in the 2012 election, then the NBN Co rollout stops and all momentum for change is lost. The ALP won't be able to revisit the idea for decades (think GST!) and the Coalition, as "prudent" financial managers, will never justify that it has called "a colossal waste of money". All the arguments put forward now about "we could upgrade to full Fibre later" are technically true, but will never be done due to Politicking.

The Coalition argument of "the market will provide" is fatuous and wrong: if the Telcos were ever going to rollout Fibre to the Premises, they would started it in the last 25 years.

Whatever network we have on 1-Jan-2014, we are stuck with for the next 50-100 years.
I hope the electorate is fully cognisant of the choice they're making in the 2012 election and the consequences.

There is a major Productivity Commission report out examining why for the first decade of the 2000's the Australian economy has swapped from ~4%/yr "Productivity" improvement to nearly 0.5% decrease. This is a systemic, economy-wide problem - that is NO "temporary glitch", but long-term.

Contrast this with an earlier Productivity Commission report that says 60% of Productivity increase is driven by Information Technology. Without a good Customer Network, Australian Productivity will be hobbled for decades and longer. Once we lock into below-average growth, how do we get out? We'll be struggling economically and there'll be no money available for "new projects", no matter how desperately they're needed.

Sydney's second airport is still the pipe dream it was 35 years ago, while the cost and disruption of building it increase every year it is delayed. This is our future of Networking if the Coalition is elected in 2012.

Friday, 22 February 2013

NBN: MDU's, HFC and The Turnbull Plan

In the early 1980's I worked for a thoughtful, insightful Telecomms Engineer in O.T.C. Operations Branch, Brian C.

Brian made the heretical and, to me, counter-intuitive statement nearly 10 years prior to the first Analogue Mobile Phone service:
TV should be delivered over fixed-line and phones delivered over wireless with numbers assigned to people not places.
That's why today we have more mobile phone services than people in Australia and fixed-line telephone services have been in decline for 5 years or more.

We never got a universal Cable TV service, even in Metro areas, because of the Telstra/Optus dynamic, but we have had the Government shutdown analogue Free-to-Air TV to free up spectrum for better uses, like 4G phone and IP.

Thirty years ago Brian wasn't just right, he nailed it perfectly. So why weren't his insights accepted and acted upon by senior Telco management, even a decade or two later? If they had listened to these and other insights, their businesses, and profits, would've grown prodigiously, Australia would have world-leading Internet and mobile service and Telstra would also be a force in overseas markets.

The best technical & marketing insights were ignored because Telco's aren't managed to maximise profit to shareholders, utility to consumers or even implement Government Policy and National Priorities.

They are (solely?) managed to Maintain Our Birthright (read as Keep Our Monopoly at any cost) and Kill the Opposition!
Remind you of Microsoft, now in serious economic trouble and the opposite of the "way cool" it was in 2000?? Strikes me that way.

Prior to the NBN, the objective for Telstra was maintaining its (monopoly) copper Customer Access Network (CAN) as the only viable CAN. It had the economic size and market power to throw away a "few billion here, a few billion there" and to aggressively price products to force new entrants or existing competitors either out of business, or more usefully, just survive but not to thrive. That way Telstra maintains their effective monopoly and market/pricing power while technically not a monopoly or drawing the ire of the ACCC who can force some change, like ADSL1 pricing.

Brian's insight was based on two fundamentals:
  • Broadcast TV is unpersonalised, unidirectional, very wide bandwidth & to fixed destinations, and
  • voice calls are always person-to-person, bidirectional, low-bandwidth and "mobile" not fixed.
Radio, as a signal-superimposed-onto-a-carrier for free-air transmission, as opposed to baseband modulation carried on isolated/dedicated transmission media (cable), is perfect for many communications networks, public or private. AM & FM radio broadcasts cover large slabs of country cheaply and effectively, so car radios are now universal and ubiquitous.

Broadcast TV demands bandwidth, the more the better for extra content and services. Because everyone get the same service at the same time (the definition of 'broadcast') and TV sets have been large and fixed, fixed "pipes" have been a perfect match until now. With the advent of "small screens in every pocket", smartphones & tablets, fixed TV sets are now not so much of a given.

Broadcast radio, audio-only, is different in nature to broadcast TV and data (we could have Google, Murdoch & Fairfax broadcast Internet News), because you can listen and work/drive/walk, but anything that requires you to use your eyes must be exclusive. (SMS-while-you-drive is very dangerous).

The HFC network, remember we got only half a network each from the two Telcos, was built and provisioned for unidirectional broadcast: one signal to everyone. The definition of "broadcast"... It's a single shared "pipe" meant to provide identical streams to all customers.

BUT, the marketers prevailed and the engineers installed a low-bandwidth back-channel.
What were once very simple receive-only customer units, suddenly had to become much more complex and expensive transceivers, each capable of listening out for each other and not stepping on one anothers' toes. Plus, the essential internal network elements, uni-directional repeaters, had to be re-engineered to be bi-directional, more than doubling their complexity and radically increasing maintenance & troubleshooting problems. There is much worse also when you add the requirement "only registered devices can use the network".

Suddenly, engineers and network designers had to make another design decision and trade-off: where to allocate the available bandwidth? The downstream broadcast side versus the bi-directional data path?

Where did the revenue come from? Content Providers, at least customers tuning in to their broadcast TV services.
So that's where the engineers allocated the majority of the available bandwidth.
The Data Path, especially the shared upstream connection, started as a "whopping" 10Mbps. If you're the only kid on the block using it, latency and throughput are respectable, even now.

Because we have remarkably synchronised lives in the Western/industrialised world, all public Comms services have "Busy Hour", or times of Peak Demand (e.g. 6PM-10PM), that the network must be dimensioned for... The Peak Demand can be easily 10 times more than average daytime demand, and overnight it shrinks to "nearly nothing" as we all sleep.

The User Experience is what users see during Peak Demand periods (latency and throughput), not the nominal connection or single-user speed, nor the attainable rate aggregated over 24 hours.
The ACCC might well insert itself into this arena if HFC services are advertised as "high-speed". That could be a major problem for the Turnbull-Fletcher-Abbott NBN.

HFC network owners know all this. Why don't they just redistribute the available bandwidth, cut back on TV channels and dedicated them to Data Paths?
Because every single active device, and many/all passive filters, would have to be replaced or upgraded. This "visit every device" scenario is around the same cost as installing a new network, much more if done in a piecemeal/ad-hoc fashion.

AND, like the cutover to Digital TV, it's a step-change. Existing services stop dead...
Plus, you get very limited extra capacity for your money. For the price of a full-fibre upgrade, you get one tenth the Data Path capacity to sell.

Any sane HFC network owner presented with this economic proposition will do exactly what Optus and Telstra have done: Milk the Cash Cow for as long as it can with minimal maintenance, and wait till someone provides them with a free upgrade to full-fibre...

The arguments against basing a fast broadband service on HFC infrastructure are:
  • Coaxial Cable is a shared infrastructure, it doesn't scale past a handful of subscribers.
    • Internet traffic is bidirectional, point-to-point.
    • HFC networks are designed for unidirectional broadcast. It's the worst fit possible.
  • The Shared Everything model is the worst of all worlds.
    • complex protocols with really poor error recovery
    • congestion or fault equipment can lead to zero throughput.
    • maximum speeds are limited and then shared.
  • Coaxial Cable, set-top boxes and transceivers are "so 80's" technology:
    • expensive
    • low-volume production runs and very old technology components/designs.
    • power-hungry
    • low-bandwidth compared to Fibre
    • End of Life/Fully Mature:
      • no expansion/upgrades possible
  • Shared Bus network are terrible in operation.
    • Single equipment failures take out the whole network and like wired-in-series Christmas lights are painfully slow (expensive) to diagnose.
    • Long-distance telecomms ditched coax cable on land and undersea in the 1980's in favour of fibre: faster, cheaper, upgradeable and high quality over longer distance.
    • Ethernet only took off when 10-base-T, with switches and dedicated twisted-pairs per device, not shared coax and bridges, came along.
    • The initial LAN competitor to Ethernet, IBM's Token Ring, also failed because of limited throughput due to single shared resources.
    • The original Ethernet, the "Aloha" radio network around the Hawaiian Islands failed due to signal-noise, congestion and faulty transceiver blocking everyone.
  • Even in the most favourable market, Internet-over-Cable hasn't dominated.  In the highly competitive and relatively unregulated US market which has multiple successful, large Cable TV companies, Cable/HFC hasn't taken over. If it really had potential, it would be "King" somewhere, but it isn't.
Compared to nothing, Cable-Internet is terrific.
At scale, it's complex, expensive, slow, failure-prone and power-hungry compared even to ADSL1.

Recent NBN/HFC stories, including mention of Multi-Dwelling Unit (MDU) problems.

David Braue confirms that HFC-Data has highly variable performance, depending on demand, often becoming unusable in regular periods of Peak Demand.

Why does wiring-up subscribers, for either NBN-fibre or HFC, in apartments blocks or town-houses (MDU's) present any problem in Australia?

We know it does because even after nearly 20 years of HFC networks in Australia, MDU's are still not connected.
Contrast this with Transact's VDSL1-FTTN installed a decade ago including into MDU's. Running "cat-5" cable alongside phone lines into buildings and up the internal risers was simple and cheap - and like phones, just one cable could be economically run into a building and not require any special "Body Corporate" access, costs or permissions.

Renai LeMay addresses exactly this issue:
The HFC cables of both Telstra and Optus runs right down this street; right past my apartment. However, for the past decade that I have lived here, I have been completely unable to get this infrastructure connected to the two apartments in which I have lived, because to start with, the apartment owner of the entire block won’t get it connected to every apartment as both telcos require, and so I can’t get it connected to my individual apartment. I’ve asked several times.
For both HFC-cable and NBN-fibre, there are more complex installation requirements and importantly, common-infrastructure required in Body Corporate locations, the costs to be shared by all owners, connected or not.
For an individual occupier to get connected from the common-infrastructure, someone has to pay for the install. In rented properties, owners aren't interested in paying for something they'll not get utility from or increased rent, and renters, often the majority of occupants are disinclined to pay non-refundable install fees.

The short answer to the question, "Why in Australia are MDU installations of Cable and Fibre so rare?", because you have to get a whole bunch of people to agree, and in every building.

If you've gone to any Body Corporate meetings, even of small buildings, getting anything done is a nightmare, let alone getting something through that under half the residents will use.

Unless the install is free and can't be easily refused, most Body Corporates won't spend the money.

How did this get overcome in the USA?
I presume different laws for real-estate and Telecomms.