NBN – A 21st century data network with a 1930s telephone system

Jane Jetson in 2064 calling a friend.  But things get tricky if Jane was on a different Service Provider to her friend in an NBN enabled Australia.

Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) is an initiative that everyone should be excited about.   This project represents one of the largest predictable market disruptions in Australian history.

While there is a lot of discussion on the rate of installations and the choice of infrastructure it’s sad that no one is working on upgrading the call control system that links us all together (aka the phone service).

In an IP world like the NBN, open standards such as SIP and H323 supersede PSTN (the standard phone service) and can support a much richer calling experience such as High Quality voice, and High Definition video.  This environment is also future-proofed, allowing next generation services to be added as they become available.  Have a look at this example of a next generation compression standard – higher quality images using less bandwidth

To the layperson, what this means is that if I dial a standard telephone number from my compatible handset and the other end is also compatible, then both the recipient and myself get a much better experience – HQ voice quality, HD video and more.  This is also true if I dial a standard telephone number on my laptop, tablet, smartphone, TV, or any combination of devices, using a suitable application / soft client.

People in my mum’s generation see little tangible benefit from the NBN to their daily lives.  Chances are most people in this segment will likely bypass NBN all together and simply opt for a mobile phone for day to day use.  This is perfectly legitimate.  But I believe that many of my mum’s generation will readily jump at NBN if they can see how a next generation phone works the same as their previous phone, but shows them face to face video with their grand children…

This isn’t a revolutionary idea, business grade IP Telephone services have been available for more than 10 years now. IP Telephony solutions from Cisco, Telstra (aka TIPT) and others allows users on handsets, laptops and smartphones to make and receive calls like any standard PABX environment.  Over the years users could easily upgrade to improved services as they became available, HQ voice and video, while keeping the same phone number.

Same thing on Skype, users started using new services as soon as they were enabled.

Call an older generation client, and the network would drop you back to the lowest common standard; as a minimum PSTN voice.

In an NBN enabled Australia there is no plan to support this between customers on different Service Providers.  The interconnect between Service Providers will be PSTN, not just the lowest common standard, but the highest common standard as well.

What this means is that if you call using HD /Video handset on a Telstra provided network and and ring a compatible HD /Video handset on an Optus, then you get PSTN quality regardless of the intelligence at both ends.

At this point many people will say that everyone should use Skype – or other Internet based services.  That’s a perfectly good answer.  Except not everyone is on Skype.  Nor does Skype easily connect with others – other than PSTN again.

But why not upgrade the network so that everyone everywhere can take advantage of new technology regardless of their service provider, or their service?  Keep the simplicity of PSTN (just dial a number), but with better outcomes for all users.

In July 2012 it was the centenary celebrations of the first automated telephone exchange  introduced into Australia (Geelong) ; read more here.

100 year anniversary of the first automated telephone exchange in Australia

But overseas there are moves beyond PSTN.  In early November 2012 AT&T announced its plans to move beyond PSTN, in a $14B upgrade to its core network:


But in Australia?  NBN is an access network – allowing Australians to have high speed access to their service providers.  Service Providers can gain customers by offering all kinds of value added services and applications.  But there are no plans for Service Providers to make it easy for their customers to connect with customers between Service Providers.

VCXC – Voice Communication Exchange Committee – is a US based nonprofit startup working to speed the transition to all-IP networks and upgrade core voice services like HD. The clock started for a six year all hands on deck transformation of telecom in June 15, 2012.  You can read more about the VCXC initiative at: http://vcxc.org/index.html

But what is going to compel Australian Service Providers to act?

The upgrade of the access network (NBN) only came about as an act of aggressive political differentiation.  Who is going to champion the way we connect?


About Stephen Powell

Stephen's talent is in demonstrating highly sophisticated solutions to complex issues, and breaking them down into a simple approach that anyone can understand and appreciate (even his mum). He believes that creativity is about connecting ideas from different fields and applying them to enrich life - gets very excited in showing this at work and play.
This entry was posted in Collaboration, NBN, Optus, Presence, PSTN, Smartphones, Tablets, TelePresence, Telstra, Uncategorized, Unified Communications, Video Conferencing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to NBN – A 21st century data network with a 1930s telephone system

  1. Pingback: The “virtual expert” – enriched customer experiences, coming to a screen near you | Everything's Connected

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