NBN: LTE-A is a friend, not a foe

There’s a lot being written right now about Telstra’s announcements that it’s hit 300Mbps with trials of LTE-A. It’s great from a mobile broadband perspective, but once again, hardly a death knell for fixed line broadband.
Image: Gavin St. Ours
Telstra’s Mike Wright penned a piece on Telstra’s exchange blog where he details using LTE-A Carrier Aggregation to achieve download speeds of up to 300Mbps in a trial environment. You can read the whole piece here.
It feels rather inevitable to me that somebody — I’m thinking radio talkback shock jocks, but it’ll no doubt spread further than their particular pulpits — will once again bring out the “well, wireless is so good, why are we wasting money on an NBN?” argument.
This ignores all sorts of practical realities, some of which I’ve written about before in relation to Samsung’s “5G” trials. I’ll run them down for you in handy point form.

  • The tests were within a “trial environment”. Trials are just that; controlled tests where you eliminate as many wild variables as possible. This isn’t a live product yet.
  • Even Telstra doesn’t think you’ll actually hit 300Mbps in the real world. Wright himself notes that “we expect that actual typical customer speeds on commercial services will be lower.”

    Not convinced? Grab a 4G device, if you’ve got one. If it’s CAT3 (most of them) it’s theoretically capable of 100Mbps download. If it’s CAT4, 150Mbps is within the specification. Now, run a simple speed test. The odds are high — phenomenally so — that you didn’t scratch close to 100Mbps in either case, and that’s ignoring upload and ping issues.

    Even, for the sake of argument, if you did (and I suspect you’re fibbing), hitting that 100Mbps across the entire 4G coverage zone of any telco is just never going to happen. Period.

  • Wireless spectrum is still shared. That’s physical reality, and Telstra’s own blog post notes that “these trials are important for another reason as they build on our earlier LTE-Advanced work and set us up to continue to deliver a reliable network experience and more reliable speeds into the future.” Marketing speak no doubt, but the key phrase there is to do with reliability, and that’s to overcome the issues of mobile congestion as much as (if not moreso than) speed issues.
  • Wireless is, and remains, a complimentary service to fixed line broadband. For a start, something has to actually provide the back-end broadband to all those mobile services. Equally, mobile has its place in an ecosystem, and frankly, anything that improves mobile experiences is of benefit to everybody, because it builds a faster overall ecosystem whether you’re on a fixed connection or a mobile one.

      That final point is the key one, and it’s also why I’ve been so passionate about fixed fibre rather than a mixed FTTN/FTTP system. The faster the system is for everybody, the faster it is for everybody.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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