EDITORIAL: Alarms and other devices not working with broadband

FROM any angle, Australia’s National Broadband Network is a massive technological and engineering undertaking.

Given the sheer complexity of the task, it is a testament to all involved that things are running as smoothly as they are. While things are not perfect, most of the problems brought to the Newcastle Herald’s attention in recent times have concerned delays to connection, or problems with intermittent or difficult-to-solve faults.

Buta situation brought to light by Eleebana retiree Ida Harris highlights a potentially major problem with the compatibility of equipment. Mrs Harris has a back-to-base alarm fitted with a medical distress button, neither of which have worked since the NBN was connected to her Eleebana house last month.

It has cost Mrs Harris $600 to fix the problem, and she is speaking out not because of the expense,but because she is concerned that other people –especially older people like herself –may have no idea of the problems they are about to encounter when the NBN comes their way.

In its response to the Herald, the NBN says it has been working with the medical alarm industry for six years about “the introduction of new technology which may not be compatible with some of their existing devices”.

Or, to put it more simply, older analogue alarms do not work on a digital broadband system. The fact that a major alarm manufacturer like Chubb is recommending to its customers that they use mobile phone technology –rather than the NBN –in connection with their back-to-base and medical alarms indicates that the problem appears to have been sidestepped rather than solved outright.

The important issue here is not that old devices do not work on new systems: that is hardly a surprise. But all players in this field need to be upfront about the challenges of a technology that is being introduced to the general public as a mandatory improvement.

After all, wireless and satellite solutions were only supposed to be needed in areas where the NBN cables could not be economically rolled out. To find that something as basic as a home alarm or a personal medical alert needs a mobile phone to operate in the middle of a city is not the sort of outcome that most people would expect from an $80 billion broadband network.

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