Optus executive: Broadband industry has "collective amnesia"

Optus director of government and corporate affairs Maha Krishnapillai has attacked the Australian broadband industry for participating in uneducated discussion about fibre optic and mobile wireless infrastructure options for Australia’s broadband future.

Criticising both politicians and leaders of the telecommunications industry, the Optus executive said everyone had "collective amnesia", failing to remember Australia’s past issues with infrastructure and retail.

At the CommsDay Summit Krishnapillai aimed his controversial words at critics of the National Broadband Network (NBN), who he says have not learnt from past mistakes, and whose current debates are taken from ignorant perspectives on the matter.

Mr Krishnapillai said, "The elephant in the room isn't the NBN; in fact, it's the outbreak of collective amnesia that has gripped our industry over the past couple of years.

"Let's at least try and establish the facts... rather than putting speculation and a lot of ill-informed debate from people who, frankly, should know a hell of a lot better in terms of what's happened in our sector in the last few years."

Mr Krishnapillai's attack was aimed at the Alliance for Affordable Broadband, whose spokespeople plan to take the stage at the summit later today. The Alliance has proposed an "infrastructure-based competition”, as opposed to the NBN’s planned retail-based competition, which would sit on a monopoly style infrastructure.

The Alliance advocates a combination of mobile wireless and backhaul broadband operators to create the backbone of a national network. The Optus director believes this perspective ignores previous history in the Australian telecommunications field.

Krishnapillai said, "People talk about letting infrastructure competition work. Maybe you should learn a lesson from history.

"We have empirical evidence of what happened in the late nineties where Optus rolled out a pay TV network down streets in suburban Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

"Telstra went down the same streets, carpet-bombed the business case and effectively Optus and Telstra wrote off over $1 billion through that period. We were losing $300 million a year through that period at Optus.

"So for those that are very brave to ask - and this is always interesting when people tell other people how to spend their money - for those who are very brave to say we should let infrastructure competition continue, throw money into it.

"We've certainly seen empirical evidence that that will not work and that's one of the main reasons we support the NBN."

The Optus director also assaulted the idea proposed by the Coalition government that mobile wireless broadband technologies could compete with a fibre optic connection.

"I hear lots of things from companies that don't even own wireless networks, let alone have spectrum, and other companies who are clearly lobbying very hard to get government subsidies for rolling out those wireless networks, that wireless is in fact the way forward,”

“Optus has a very great faith in the future of wireless and in its ability to offer greater broadband capability and, in particular, mobility attached to that capability. But it will always be a complementary service for fixed broadband.

"There are a range of shared network issues, spectrum et cetera that will make it a complementary service. It'll lag fibre in technical capability over time, and it's unlikely to be suited to many future applications requiring dedicated and symmetric high capacity access to multiple end users."

Mr Krishnapillai told companies who "don't actually own wireless networks ... to think about the reality of 93 percent-plus access to high speed broadband and what that might look like environmentally."

This comment relates to the amount of mobile phone towers necessary to provide fast mobile wireless broadband to as many locations as would be covered by the NBN’s fibre-to-the-home service.

Presumably, a high-density number of towers would be needed, which would have numerous compounding effects for the environment (in their construction and potential radiation), as well as impeding views in scenic locations.

The Optus director also refuted critics who have said the fibre optic network wouldn’t have a long lifespan.

"There are still some people querying that there's going to be some new technology that's going to replace fibre and as recently as yesterday people saying that fibre is no longer the technology of the future,” Mr Krishnapillai said.

"I'm not exactly sure what parallel universe people live on but fibre will be the way of the future."

Check out fibre optic plans from iiNet, ExetelInternode and iPrimus. Find out here if the NBN is coming to your area next.