Wireless vs Fibre debate: a personal experience

Fibre in a Telstra pit. It can’t come quickly enough says the author………..(photo by Bidgee).

Much of the criticism of the NBN is incredibly ill-informed.  I’m talking about visiting search engine execs and mining magnates declaring that NBN shouldn’t be built because the future is wireless. Well unlike these “experts” I have practical experience with this. Up until recently I ran a freelance writing business from an area where wireless broadband or satellite was the only way of accessing the Internet. I plumped for wireless via a network gateway connected to a Yagi and my experience over those 18 months or so convinced me wireless broadband will never be anything but an adjunct to a wired connection for the majority of people for a while yet.

Broadband is popular is because it’s faster than dialup – lots lots lots faster. Jeremy Clarkson explains better than I do why we’re addicted to speed but the reality is that most of us crave ever faster broadband speeds – as long as we don’t have to pay extra of course.

And this is where wireless falls down big time. Although wireless broadband can run at about the same nominal speed as the current generation of ADSL2+ i.e. Telstra Next-G bursts up to a nominal 20 Mbps in the real world it’s only about as fast as an ADSL 1.5Mbps connection on a good day.

And not only was wireless broadband slow it’s also unreliable. Some days I’d have to reboot the network gateway and my PC a dozen times for no apparent reason and a lot of moisture in the air would slow it down and really heavy rain would slow it down so much it wasn’t much faster than dialup.

Wireless broadband also lacks bandwidth. Minutes after 3:30 download speeds would fall off a cliff as the local high school finished for the day and the kids jumped on their smartphones. This experience will be familiar to any broadband black hole suburb denizen that lacks ADSL and has to rely on a WiMax or 3G broadband service.

Don’t get me wrong wireless broadband has its place. I have ADSL again after moving house but I’ve got my BlackBerry and a wireless card for when I’m travelling. Wireless broadband is also the best/only option for people living in ADSL black holes in share accommodation or who just move around a lot. Just don’t try and tell me most wouldn’t prefer a nice stable and fast wired connection.

The bottom line is that atmosphere really isn’t that great a medium for transmitting radio waves – certainly not compared to optical fibre. Once the fibre is in the ground the rest of the network can be relatively easily upgraded to go even faster – and even next generation switches aren’t within a bull’s roar of reaching the maximum capacities fibre offers.

Bell Labs set an optical transmission record in 2009 that could result in speeds of more than 100 Petabits per second.kilometre.  This translates to the equivalent of about 100 million Gigabits per second.kilometre or sending about 400 DVDs per second over 7000 kilometres.

People have worked from home for thousands of years it’s this new-fangled habit of hopping on a train or bus and commuting to work that’s strange. With the sort of speed and bandwidth we’ll be able to access with a fibre to the home network we can truly have interconnected workplaces full-on telecommuting with video voice and data which promises an end to the commuter grind and change society.