Editor Chris Keall's been talking to Stephen Crombie at Telecom and it's interesting to note that despite all the promises of playing fair, openness and going along with the new reality, our beloved incumbent still tries to confuse and obfuscate.
The Commerce Commission-enforced Max experience was never going to be good for everybody, Crombie said (contrary to expectations raised by the "Xtraordinaries"), because essentially the Max plans mean switching off the network management controls that evened out everybody's bandwidth. Now, those who live further from exchanges will suffer more.
Let's debunk that "Commerce Commission-enforced Max experience" item first: Telecom didn't have to provide unconstrained commercial service to its retail customers. In fact, it was only required to provide regulated UBS to Callplus and Ihug - and that particular service is only unconstrained on the downlink. The upstream is still only 128kbit/s, as per the Telco Act.
The Commerce Commission never told Telecom to take off the rate-limiting on its commercial retail and wholesale DSL.
It would be interesting to know what "network management controls" Crombie's referring to. Telecom never bothered to put in an interference management plan when it rolled out its DSL network, so it can't be that. If it's just the rate-limiting, then we're getting closer to the root cause of the performance issues: namely that Telecom's network doesn't have the capacity to handle a still small, but growing number of broadband customers.
The issue about customers living further away from exchanges having to suffer because Telecom is now offering DSL without rate-limiting, something other telcos around the world manage to do without problems, was dealt with by Paul Brooks of Layer 10 (link goes to PDF file with report).
Brooks' earlier report to the Commission found that:
... ”bit-rate limited„ ADSL1 services would provide little benefit over unconstrained services in terms of their impairment of surrounding ADSL services, particularly in the scenarios under debate at the time. In particular, there was no additional risk to marginal services on very long lines from unconstrained services - additional unconstrained services would provide no more degradation than constrained services, and any detrimental impact would be due to the increased numbers of services of any form, not whether they were constrained or otherwise.
Telecom released a report by its network manager Alcatel that predicted dire consequences if "unleashing" took place - and you'd have to wonder why then if Telecom isn't mandated to provided unconstrained broadband, and if it is so detrimental to DSL reach and service quality, it would even think about providing "Max" plans? Could it be that the report's conclusions were bogus?
This is what Brooks says about it:
In summary, while the observations certainly seem to indicate that increasing numbers and speeds of ADSL services (of any variety) do cause increasing levels of interference, there seems to be no evidence that unconstrained services are likely to cause any more impact than similar quantities of constrained services (constrained either by bit-rate limiting or reduced transmission power). That increasing numbers of ADSL services can cause degradation of adjacent services is well understood and accepted. Telecom and Alcatel must, however, show that unconstrained services will cause significantly more degradation than the same number of constrained services - and this is not a conclusion that can be drawn from the analysis presented.
Well, yes, it really does seem that Telecom's claims are rubbish. How would Telecom deploy ADSL2+, with its far higher bitrates (24Mbit/s down, 3.5Mbit/s up with the latest Annex) over such a network?
If Telecom was really concerned about customers living a long way from the exchanges, it would deploy ADSL2 Reach Extended for them. This would be quite cheap to do as well.
The only services at risk from increased interference due to greater customer numbers over the copper network are the high-value business G.SHDSL ones - and that's because Telecom doesn't have an interference management plan.
All in all, it's wrong to blame the Commission for Telecom's blatant underinvestment in network capacity. Without regulatory action, you'd still be on 128kbit/s Jetstart, with "innovative new surf your inbox products" like the 64kbit/s plan Xtra mooted a few years ago. That one didn't have any data cap, only 20¢ per MB charging. Ideal for people just wanting read their email and do a bit of web browsing apparently.