Friday Tech Roundup (09 May 2014): NBN Co. discusses dropping free NBN installs

Optic Fibre NBN

By on May 9, 2014 at 11:55 am

Welcome to the Friday Tech Roundup! Contained herein is your weekly dose of some of the best tech news from across the Internet, rounded up for your edification and entertainment. Read on for all the details of NBN Co. discussing dropping free NBN installations, the real-world Escape Room, and brain-mimicking circuit boards.

The days of free NBN installations may be numbered

NBN Co. CEO Bill Morrow has pledged to stop excessive spending, and according to a discussion paper witnessed by the Australian Financial Review, NBN Co. would like to release itself from the end-user installation process. This would mean that if you want to get access to the NBN, you would have to pay for the install yourself. According to the AFR article, responsibility for the installations would be given to the connecting ISPs, meaning that it’s likely that fees similar to those in place now for ADSL connections would be put in place for NBN connections. NBN Co. would also stop offering back-up batteries to homes for free as part of this plan, a service that was mandated by the previous Labour government for the uninterrupted maintenance of voice and medical services. This too would be provided for a fee via ISPs.

Please note that this is a discussion paper only, and doesn’t represent formal plans in place at NBN Co.

AMD unveils upcoming interchangeable x86 and ARM processor platforms

AMD’s plans for 2015 and into the future are underpinned by their plans to increase production and development of ARM-based architectures. In 2015 and 2016, AMD plans to develop and release consumer-oriented ARM chipsets, alongside x86 offerings. “Project Skybridge” intends to pair x86 and ARM chips with some common features, such as a unified memory pool for the CPU and GPU, GPUs based on the Graphics Core Next architecture, and a 20nm manufacturing process. One of the more interesting common features mentioned was the fact that the ARM and x86 chips will be pin-compatible, meaning that it should be possible for designers to swap an x86 chip in a Windows 8.1 tablet for an ARM chip, and release an Android version of the tablet without changing the rest of the design.

Escape Room is not a videogame, puts puzzle between you and real physical freedom

Should you lay down the $28 required to enter Escape Room, you will find yourself in a dark room, lined with shelves of leather-bound books, detailed illustrations on the wall, and a wealth of antique props and furniture, all designed to sell you on the story. Your uncle, a scientist, has been kidnapped by an unknown assailant hoping to steal his latest discovery – a new chemical element. It is up to you to solve the mysteries of the Escape Room, and uncover the details of your uncle’s discovery. The Escape Room contains dozens of puzzles to solve that range from mindbenders to tactile tasks like opening combination locks, and takes place over the course of 60-90 minutes. For more details, check out this Broadsheet article.

New brain-mimicking circuit board 9000 times faster than a typical PC

Bioengineers at Stanford University have developed a new circuit board modelled on the human brain, which could have startling consequences for the future of computing, especially in the field of prosthetics. “From a pure energy perspective, the brain is hard to match,” says Kwabena Boahne, associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford, in an article detailing how “neuromorphic” researchers in the US and Europe are developing systems that mimic neurons and synapses. According to the article, even the brain of a mouse greatly outstrips current personal computers, “operating 9,000 times faster than a personal computer simulation of its functions,” The PC also requires “40,000 times more power to run.” Boahen’s team has developed Neurogrid, a circuit board containing 16 “Newurocore” chips, which can simulate “orders of magnitude more neurons and synapses than other brain mimics on the power it takes to run a tablet computer.”

(Thanks Damien!)

UPS delivers a USD$400,000 drone to a civilian by mistake

According to a series of photos posted to Reddit, user Seventy_Seven has mistakenly received a US federally-owned drone that should have been destined for NOAA Aircraft Operations Center in Tampa, Florida. As with all news stories based solely on social media, the details should be taken with a grain of salt, but if Reddit user ArrigJyde is to be believed, it is a section of a PUMA UAV, designed for aerial reconnaissance and surveillance. While the UAV is thankfully unarmed, any UAV can be dangerous to both the operator, and anyone unlucky enough to be caught in path of an untrained operator. Given the fact that the package is federally owned and incomplete, the recipient plans to contact the NOAA to organise its safe return.

26 comments (Leave your own)

Escape Room sounds interesting.

 

Escape Room sounds awfully similar to The Dark Room.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvkjP6dqpfY

 
 

James Pinnell,

Thus the note at the bottom of that story, linking to a piece over at The Register reporting the same :) It’s a discussion paper only! Thanks for the heads-up though.

 
James Pinnell

Jason Imms,

Ack! I missed that! I blame utterly insane tiredness. :)

 

James Pinnell:
I think NBN Co./Government already ruled out the charge for installs.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/latest/homeowners-wont-be-slugged-for-nbn-equipment-nbn-co/story-e6frg90f-1226905788712

That’s an interesting article, in that the contents of it does not back up the title. I’ve re-read it three times now and I see nowhere where NBN Co. stated that they wouldn’t consider charging customers.

Allowing the ISPs to select there own end point devices makes MUCH more sense than having one standard box that is deployed by a government owned company to every home in Australia. I heard that Alcatel Lucent was charging LARGE and unbugeted sums of money to NBN Co. for customisation of the firmware that was required. Unfortunately, I heard this from someone involved and can’t quote any media source.

Parts of the old design really were a gold plated solution, so this change makes a fair bit of sense. For example, why does every premises in the country require battery backup device? I certainly don’t need it. If the power goes out, so does virtually every electronic device in my home. If I have an emergency, I’m happy to use my mobile. Certainly, there will be some medical devices etc that really will require this backup, but they can easily be subsidised and delivered where needed. And don’t forget that the battery backup only maintains the (outdated) RJ12 “voice ports”, not your high speed internet connection anyway.

Most of the above is based on listening to an Alcatel GPON engineer and to Simon Hackett’s excellent presentation from a few years back – Fibre on a Copper Budget – Well worth having a listen to if this sort of thing floats your boat. He throws up a number of interesting cost saving measures and points out some of the waste and over-engineering of the NBN design. Nothing to do with the actual deployment or roll-out btw – he’s simply talking about the technical, apolitical design aspects of the network. The idea of simply running a fibre port to the home and then handing off to the ISP to allow them to drop their own equipment as seems to be the case here was one of his from this talk. And it makes a lot of sense. I don’t expect the government to buy me an ADSL router, so why the hell should tax payer money be buying me a GPON router?

Check it out here – http://simonhackett.com/2013/07/17/nbn-fibre-on-a-copper-budget/

 

James Pinnell,

All is forgiven, my friend ;)

 

c0mc0,

maybe we actually do want a “gold plated” solution…and yes having backup power for Voice ports is actually important. alot of people including the elderly do not have mobile phones and they certainly need to the port for medical/emergency devices – thats why it was included in the original design.

 

lexxbomb:
c0mc0,

maybe we actually do want a “gold plated” solution…and yes having backup power for Voice ports is actually important. alot of people including the elderly do not have mobile phones and they certainly need to the port for medical/emergency devices – thats why it was included in the original design.

Not sure you fully understand the term “gold plated” as it applies in this case, “gold plated” is a slang term in the industrial sphere to describe things that are of a tiny benefit but a massive cost. To say gold plating is wanted or needed is literally a contradiction in terms.

 

lexxbomb:
c0mc0,

maybe we actually do want a “gold plated” solution…and yes having backup power for Voice ports is actually important. alot of people including the elderly do not have mobile phones and they certainly need to the port for medical/emergency devices – thats why it was included in the original design.

Seriously dude, PSTN ports being supplied in the first place to every termination of the NBN is dubious at best. Then requiring battery backup to every premises is just wasteful. Stop getting all up in arms about the politics of this and have a think about the logic. How many new devices requiring PSTN do you think will be around in 5 years? Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a dying technology? If you absolutely must provide this for emergencies, they could simply make this an “opt in” element of the design or supply them to card holding pensioners for free or whatever. It is simply a couple of hundred dollars per household that absolutely did not need to be spent. And better yet, it will cost ~$150 million a year just to keep the batteries current (pardon the pun. ;)). http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/nbn-batteries-to-cost-150m-a-year/story-e6frg6nf-1225944418464. Not to mention the toxic waste generated from these batteries being disposed of every 3-5 years.

It’s pretty simple – if you have a genuine reason to need batter backup and PSTN, the government will supply it to you. If you don’t, then you don’t get it. It’s a waste of money, it’s bad for the environment and it is additional drain on the nation’s power infrastructure that isn’t required.

BTW – Battery backup actually wasn’t included in the initial design.

Its own technical documents state that NBN Co would not supply, install or maintain a back-up battery, and that the power supply unit could be ordered as an optional component.

However, the government recently instructed NBN Co to make back-ups mandatory, after industry concerns over the ability to place emergency calls on the NBN during a power outage.

 

I for one believe that out National Infrastructure should be the best possible version… That goes for roads and railways and communications…

Not all powercells are toxic and some could be designed that use solar generation to maintain required charge.

5 years isn’t a long time in regards to phasing in or out of medical technology, particualry in regard to emergency equipment for the elderly.

a drain on the nations power infrastructure, please said infrastructure itself needs a massive overhaul… we need to decentralise our power production, bring it closer to our population centres, increase our clean eneregy production and probably invest heavily in nuclear power… and if all of this was done and nationalised it wouldn’t be an issue… yes the privatisation of the utilities is what actually allowed for their degredation.

I have to disagree in reagrd to your thought that having one box install was stupid. sorry as long as said boxes can be made cheaply it is actually better to have one system installed…standards are actually a good thing…having people trying to install 5 or 30 different configs is a big waste of time and money as it slows the process down.

but this is all opinion and not meant to be taken as an attack so please don’t think this is all politics.

 

lexxbomb,

What kind of car do you own?

 

I’m going to be pretty angry (well, more so than normal) if those NBN changes get adopted. I won’t have the option of a non NBN phone come this time next year and I’m already pissy enough that i won’t have more than 4 hours of landline during the inevitable monstrous blackouts we get in nth qld every year.

If they need to save money so badly that they’d cut the free install out then they might as well just stop laying the damn thing… the majority of people aren’t going to pay $2000 to have the NBN installed when they already have ADSL2.

The people in charge of this whole thing are the biggest group of muppets ever.

 

schrapple,

don’t own one at all.

 

nekosan:
the majority of people aren’t going to pay $2000 to have the NBN installed when they already have ADSL2.

The people in charge of this whole thing are the biggest group of muppets ever.

More the case that the vast majority of us cannot afford $2000 upfront payment for the install.
in regard to the people in charge being muppets
They must be these two

 

lexxbomb:
I for one believe that out National Infrastructure should be the best possible version… That goes for roads and railways and communications…

Best possible version doesn’t need to mean waste. We wouldn’t build a 6 lane highway across the Nullarbor as it’s not required. Battery backup and PSTN for every install are simply not required.

lexxbomb:
5 years isn’t a long time in regards to phasing in or out of medical technology, particualry in regard to emergency equipment for the elderly.

But cellular adaptors can be installed right now and would be far cheaper. Either that, or as I said ealier – roll the more expensive devices where they are needed.

lexxbomb:
a drain on the nations power infrastructure, please said infrastructure itself needs a massive overhaul… we need to decentralise our power production, bring it closer to our population centres, increase our clean eneregy production and probably invest heavily in nuclear power… and if all of this was done and nationalised it wouldn’t be an issue… yes the privatisation of the utilities is what actually allowed for their degredation.

While I share your views on the state of power infrastructure in this country and the need for nuclear power, your points are not relevant to this discussion if you want the NBN in the next few years as we can’t solve those problems now and certainly not as part of any NBN project. It’s not the main reason for not installing the batteries, but it’s hard to argue that installing 10-15 million batteries on the national power grid won’t cause a measurable increase in power consumption. Regardless of what should or needs to be done with power infrastructure, the fact is that if it’s not required, the batteries are not only costing additional tax payer money that could be better spent elsewhere, but it’s going to make our power issues worse. That is my only point.

lexxbomb:
I have to disagree in reagrd to your thought that having one box install was stupid. sorry as long as said boxes can be made cheaply it is actually better to have one system installed…standards are actually a good thing…having people trying to install 5 or 30 different configs is a big waste of time and money as it slows the process down.

The problem is, they can’t be made cheaply. We’re customising the crap out of the firmware and we’re rolling four ethernet ports and 2 PSTN ports into every premises where the vast majority of the population will only ever use a single ethernet port. Better yet, if you want your wireless (which is the vast majority of us) the you’ll be running that ethernet port directly into your own router. So you now have – an NBN fibre termination unit, a NBN router, an NBN battery backup device and your router. The alternative suggestion is to tun the NBN termination device, with a fibre optic cable that plugs directly into a router that you either buy yourself or get as part of your internet plan (exactly as it is done today).

On top of that, the idea of going to what is effectively a “bring your own device” model is that it actually speeds up the deployment, not slows it down. It means they can vastly increase the roll out speed as you effectively run the fibre to the house, terminate it and move on. No need for end user setup and testing etc. Let the ISPs do that as they always have. They have the staff and the expertise. Drop the fibre, put a scope on it to make sure it has been terminated correctly and move on. The rollout speeds we’re seeing at the moment (and before the Liberal government took over) are vastly lower than where they need to be. This will help get it out faster and cheaper.

lexxbomb:
but this is all opinion and not meant to be taken as an attack so please don’t think this is all politics.

Not taking it as an attack mate, no worries there. We’re having a good debate about a topic that interests us both.

 

Why can’t the boxes be made cheaply… its a simple issue of economies of scale… please don’t tell me they are making the boxes and then reinstalling a completely new firmware… why can’t they just manufacture said units with the new firmware already installed…if we are ordering lets say 30 million of the boxes (1 for each building in Australia) then the only logical way to manufacture said boxes is to dedicate a factory to the production… this would limit wasted time in flashing them and time not being wasted is profit for companies…

What ever happened to giving a company a contract and forceing said company to be bound by the contract – no over spending…companies would then have to lessen their profits which would be a win for consumers and the Government as they are the customer.

I agree the NBN co should just be rolling the fibre out to each property, installing it and then move on… each house should only need one box/router…
personally the only things that run off wifi at my place are my mobile phones… everything else has a cat6 cable running to it – but then again im an enthusiast – still annoyed im not getting nbn for at least 3 years if ever.

 

c0mc0: but it’s hard to argue that installing 10-15 million batteries on the national power grid won’t cause a measurable increase in power consumption

not hard at all.
all phone lines are already powered all the time, just having those lines electrified drains power.
removing powered phone lines removes that drain and instead it goes into keeping a UPS charged.
the biggest waste of power [ie: of no use at all] is in transmission lines, they use about 6-10% of all electricity just getting power to somewhere else.

but yes the NBN should have been delivered into houses with a single output point that a user device was then plugged into to give enough ports, just like a phone line now.
But they went with the option that was supposed to make adoption by end users as easy as possible, having it work without extra devices needing to be bought or come from an ISP.

the UPS idea is good but its mostly pointless with a 4 hour duration.
Also if they used sealed lead acid batteries then recycling the lead isn’t really a problem and the batteries have a decent life span, just like a car battery.

 

trb: not hard at all.
all phone lines are already powered all the time, just having those lines electrified drains power.
removing powered phone lines removes that drain and instead it goes into keeping a UPS charged.

Hmm…Interesting point. I wonder what the power saving would be – if anything. Don’t forget, you’re still powering a bunch of lasers in place of the copper. My instinct says that charging a battery (then letting it discharge, then charging again ad infinitum) would pull more power than that required to keep all that copper transmitting, but I’m no electrical engineer. I’d be interested to see those numbers.

trb:
the UPS idea is good but its mostly pointless with a 4 hour duration.
Also if they used sealed lead acid batteries then recycling the lead isn’t really a problem and the batteries have a decent life span, just like a car battery.

See my post above where I link to The Australian article. The original cost estimate of $150 million per year is based on “high quality, lead acid batteries”. In terms of economies of scale – “the price [$40 per battery] was based on heavily discounted wholesale rates for lead batteries of between 66 per cent and 79 per cent.”

lexxbomb:
Why can’t the boxes be made cheaply… its a simple issue of economies of scale… please don’t tell me they are making the boxes and then reinstalling a completely new firmware… why can’t they just manufacture said units with the new firmware already installed…if we are ordering lets say 30 million of the boxes (1 for each building in Australia) then the only logical way to manufacture said boxes is to dedicate a factory to the production… this would limit wasted time in flashing them and time not being wasted is profit for companies…

No no, you’re misunderstanding. It’s not paying for reflashing. It’s paying for customised firmware development. When NBN Co. says they want to do specific things that the firmware doesn’t support out of the box (I imagine their 6 virtual channels per termination unit is possibly an example of this), Alcatel Lucent needs to spend time developing completely new custom firmware. The scale argument here is actually a negative – they’re rolling this firmware potentially to every device in the country – it HAS to be PERFECT. That means a lot of development time and cost. And we haven’t even talked about the worst part of this design, that is vendor lock in. If you start relying on custom capabilities from a single manufacturer, you’re essentially at the mercy of that company. Better to stay standardised, with any bring-your-own GPON-capable router doing the trick for you.

And regardless – “why can’t these boxes be made cheaply” isn’t even the point. I’m sure we’re getting them for a decent price compared to what you could buy them for, but it’s not possible that a 6 port NTU can be cheaper than a single port ethernet termination unit. The point is that we’re gold plating with unnecessary hardware. If a good portion of your user base are going to plug another device in next to it anyway, why drop a 6 port, gold plated redundant PSTN carrying, battery backed, NBN Co. owned and supported box at all?

 

lexxbomb:
schrapple,

don’t own one at all.

OK, hypothetically speaking if you had to buy a car which one would you purchase?

 
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