Lasers and the NBN

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I’ve been generally supportive of the idea of a government push to build a real high speed telecommunications network across Australia. I’m not sure whether they will get there with the social benefits intact but very early on it was clear that the wired versus wireless technology choice was a tricky one. I advocated a market design (yes, a market design) that did not specify technology by benchmarks and rewarded providers for connecting up Australians. The reason for not specifying the technology was because I think it is generally better for the market rather than the government or monopolists to decide these matters.

As a case in point look at this post from Robert Scoble. It discusses lasers, yes lasers, as a potential broadband technology that avoids having to lay down cables. I have no idea if this is feasible but what I do know is that if it is the NBN as it is currently being envisaged is not going to look too great a decade from now.

4 Responses to "Lasers and the NBN"
  1. There’s a problem with specifying benchmarks and letting the best technology emerge from the market: inevitably, the existing market participants will strongly want to use their existing technology, and so they will lobby and complain and consult and game the benchmarks until they match their chosen technology.
    So you end up with “picked winners” anyway – but not even those that were picked on their intrinsic merits, rather “winners” picked on their minimal disruption to existing players’ business models.

  2. On the specifics of this technology, it’s not clear that it will work reliably at all; secondly, it’s not clear whether it’s practical as a last mile technology.
    On your broader point, yes.  We are committing to spend a great deal of money laying fibre-optic cable when a) it is not clear to me that there is huge demand for its capabilities <EM>right now</EM>, and b) there won’t be alternatives come along in the medium term future.

  3. Since the announcement of A$43 Billion I’ve wondered if it would be better value to instead parcel up the money and offer it to the likes of CSIRO and others in a PPP deal for the further development of a viable wireless technology.
    No doubt there’s a risk that nothing would come of the investment but the potential rent rewards from successful commercialisation would be far better than the sunk costs of laying of fibre optic.
    After all CSIRO do have a patent on wireless data transfer technology. I’m sure a couple of billion thrown their way might deliver an alternative.

  4. Laser-through-atmosphere would have the same problem as tower-to-tower microwave: birds and bats.
    It used to be that parts of Arnhemland in the NT would lose all data and phone connectivity for a few minutes, every night, when a giant bat colony between two towers would take flight.
    How’d they fix the problem? They laid a fibre-optic cable.

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