The world is set to receive the first fiber-optical interconnect between Australia and the United States, but the first one in a nation is only one step in a global race to develop the technology.
Australia and the US have been locked in a race to establish a fiber optic network in the last five years, with Australia finally launching its first fiber optic cable in 2019.
However, Australia and its US counterpart, the United Kingdom, have struggled to establish the network since their construction in 2014.
The two countries had been expected to sign a deal in 2017, but a delay of up to two years and the failure of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) led to a rift in the alliance.
The US was keen to build a network that could accommodate high speeds of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) and could be delivered in the shortest possible time, while Australia was more keen on offering its infrastructure for commercial use.
In November, Australia’s National Broadband Network Corporation (NBNCo) unveiled a new high-speed fibre optic network connecting two new cities in Australia, Melbourne and Brisbane, with a goal of having 100Mbps connections within 10 years.
However, NBNCo has yet to deliver the network and is now facing the prospect of a costly delay due to technical issues and technical uncertainty.
The problem has been exacerbated by a dispute over the design of the fiber optic cables and other components.
The Federal Government last year approved a $2 billion contract with US company Telstra to build the first two fibre optic cables between the cities.
However the two countries have been at loggerheads over how to design the cable, with NBNCo’s chief executive, David Thodey, calling the project a “political decision” that was not in the national interest.
In the end, Thodeys claim NBNCo should have been able to design a high-capacity cable, while NBNCo was forced to build its own fibre optic cable that could only be used to carry data.
“It is clear that the Government’s decision to award NBNCo the contract to build Australia’s first high-performance fiber optic broadband cable was a political decision,” Mr Thodeies spokesman said.
In November NBNCo also filed a defamation lawsuit against NBNCo and its chief executive Michael Malone over the same issue.
Mr Thodeie said the NBNCo lawsuit was a case of “political pressure”.
“The NBNCo leadership and Mr Malone were forced to accept the Federal Government’s offer of a contract, in contravention of their own policy.
This has created a political situation that has forced the NBN Co to choose between their own best interests and the national interests of their customers,” he said.”
The Government should have awarded NBNCo a contract on the basis of the best available technical and commercial options, rather than the Government issuing this spurious defamation lawsuit.”
Mr Thodoes claim is based on the fact that the two sides have not been able agree on the design and construction of the fibre optic fibre cables.
Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Robson, told the ABC’s Insiders program that the NBN is now in the process of deciding on a new design.
Professor Robson said the cost of designing and constructing the fibre optics network is estimated to be about $1.5 billion.
Mr Malone, who was once a strong supporter of the NBN, has previously expressed doubts over the NBN’s viability, saying it was not “a silver bullet”.
NBN Co, he said, should have built the network before its funding was cut, and the decision to build NBNCo had been taken before the budget cuts in 2017.
“I think it’s fair to say that NBNCo would have been better off going with a competitor, as opposed to trying to build this thing without knowing what it was going to cost and the way it was actually going to be delivered,” he told Insiders.
“We should have known that we were going to lose $1 billion.”