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ACCC decides NBN needs to cater beyond its layer 2 remit

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Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet

When it comes to artificial constructs, the combination of the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and National Broadband Network (NBN) is an absolute world-beater.

At the heart of NBN is the loathed connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) pricing structure, which telcos have bashed since its inception.

Thanks to one of the original sins of NBN, that it needed to provide a return to government to keep it off the Budget papers, the per Mbps charge was created. From a user standpoint, this has been a handbrake on the network ever since.

When NBN laid out its plans for speed tiers in 2013, former Telstra chief economist John de Ridder went full Nostradamus.

“There is a very real danger that billions of dollars could be spent providing capacity that is neither adopted nor used,” de Ridder said in January 2013. “This will be the case if premiums are charged for higher speeds, because consumers are not prepared to pay for speed.”

Nevertheless, in its wisdom, the ACCC ticked off on the CVC and its pricing.

Where the CVC gets real prickly for telcos is that NBN sells and allots it on each point of interconnect (POI) on its network. For this reason, it is possible that a retailer in one Sydney suburb might be clogged because it has not purchased enough capacity, while users in a suburb or two over on a different POI are fine.

In the ancient NBN past of 2010, the government-owned wholesaler wanted 14 points of interconnect around the nation. However the ACCC wanted far more than that, and that is why today the network has 121 POIs across Australia.

Prior to his stint on the NBN board, Internode founder Simon Hackett said in 2010 having that many points of interconnect would raise costs and reduce competition.

“In particular, 120 POIs will generate higher setup and running costs for all industry players — except Telstra, of course, as it looks like these points will all be Telstra exchanges,” Hackett said.

See also: NBN rejects speed test reality for one of its own

“At a deep level, it seems like the 120 POIs model is a bit of an artificial construct, keeping an existing backhaul market supported, to an extent, in the new world order.

“This large number of POIs will drive the industry toward having a smaller number of bigger players, rather than a larger number of smaller players, as the overheads of operating and ramping up in 120 POIs will be too much for very small players to afford.”

From the perspective of 2019, Hackett has also gained a high number of Nostradamus points, and the ACCC is zero from two on artificial constructs.

In recent years, it looked like the ACCC was onto a winner with its speed tests of the nation’s NBN providers. Now broadband consumers can find out which retailers were skimping on CVC, and which ISPs could claim to be truly the fastest.

Last week though, the ACCC made an interesting addition to its latest speed report when it said users would never be able to “make full use of their plan speed”.

“This is because headers, or tags, are added to consumers’ communications when they are sent over a network, to ensure the communications are sent to the right network addresses,” the ACCC said.

“The current capacity does not appear to allow for this extra data, preventing the communications from being sent at the maximum plan speed.

“NBN Co could resolve this if it allowed services to run 5% faster before enforcing speed limits.”

The key thing to realise in what the ACCC is saying here is that NBN is meant to be constrained to being a layer 2 provider that just moves bits in Ethernet frames around — anything above that is the purview of retailers.

The one exception being earlier this year when NBN announced it was trying to loosen the restraints and move into layer 3 on satellite services to allow it to exempt certain traffic from its satellite data quotas.

Other than that, NBN is an Ethernet Bitstream company, and that’s that.

History: Telstra must take part of the blame for NBN creation: Chair

But the ACCC has other ideas, and it appears based on the layer that the regulator is conducting its speed tests at.

“All of our measurements are carried out at layer 7, which is the same as the majority of other consumer-based speed tests on the market,” the ACCC told ZDNet.

A passing knowledge of networking protocols would say that if you have speeds set by a layer 2 provider, the moment you slap on some TCP/IP headers, the maximum available speed at those higher layers would not match that at the lower layers.

Perhaps most head-scratching is that the ACCC said it wanted to educate users.

“RSPs tend to advertise products based upon NBN wholesale products (e.g. NBN25, NBN50), which operate at layer 2, the wholesale speed is what we dub ‘maximum plan speed’ in the report,” it said.

“But for a NBN100 based product, the highest speed a user’s application (L7) will ever be able to achieve is ~95Mbps. So whilst the user is actually transferring data at 100Mbps, for all intents and purposes, only ~95Mbps of that is actually useful to them.”

Just to repeat, a service is transferring data at 100Mbps, but because the ACCC is comparing apples and oranges with its layer 7 test, it isn’t happy about the 5% overhead of TCP/IP headers.

To add to the craziness, NBN is thinking about over-dimensioning the downstream speeds of its 50/20, 100/20, 110/40, and 250/25 products.

“NBN continues to consult with RSPs and is working through the technical aspects required to sufficiently over-dimension key product tiers to compensate for protocol overhead so that more customers may receive faster download speeds,” NBN told ZDNet last week.

“The company will announce the final outcomes of its four-month consultation process towards the end of this month.”

If the NBN wasn’t convoluted enough already, the current reality of layer 2 speed tiers is about to go out the window.

It’s possible that in 2020, if you order an NBN100 service, it is provisioned to provide something like 107Mbps, so that users can hit 100Mbps on the ACCC speed tests.

The simple solution would be to actually test NBN’s speed at passing bits down at layer 2 like it was designed to, but alas, the ACCC is setting the terms for NBN once again.

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Fisker and Foxconn team on new EV with outsized ambitions

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Fisker and Foxconn are teaming up on an an electric vehicle, with the EV-company and the manufacturing heavyweight aiming for go far beyond the niche production in the automaker’s past. Codenamed Project PEAR – or “Personal Electric Automotive Revolution” – the goal is to make a more affordable EV that can hit the sort of sales numbers more commonplace among mainstream gas models.

Fisker is probably best known for its role in the style-forward Karma hybrid sedan, a project now being run independently by Karma Automotive. Plans rebooted, Fisker first unveiled the EMotion EV back in 2018, a striking luxury electric sedan with double-gullwing doors.

Production for that, though, was put on the back-burner, as Fisker turned instead to more affordable, mainstream fare. The Fisker Ocean is promised to be a sub-$40k electric SUV, with the car company inking a deal with auto parts behemoth Magna to build the plug-in. Manufacturing is expected to begin in Q4 2022, and even without a production-ready prototype shown – something Fisker says will happen later this year – there are apparently upwards of 12k paid reservations for the car.

One vehicle does not an automaker make, though, and so Fisker is looking to its next model. That’ll be jointly developed by it and Foxconn, sold under the Fisker brand, and included as part of Fisker’s Flexee Lease program. Foxconn will be responsible for manufacturing, bringing the same heft that powers iPhone production to automotive.

Project PEAR – details on which are scant, currently – will be “destined for multiple global markets” Fisker said today. Production is currently earmarked for Q4 2023, and it’ll be the second EV in Fisker’s range.

Fisker’s ambitions aren’t exactly low. The expectation is that it’ll take just 24 months to develop the car, including research and development, and becoming production-ready. That’s about half the time most automakers would expect to take. Foxconn hasn’t been shy about its EV hopes in the past, either, already cutting deals with Byton and Fiat Chrysler in the past on electric vehicle technology.

“The key success elements of electric vehicle development include the electric motor, electric control module and battery,” Young-way Liu, Foxconn Technology Group Chairman, said today in a statement. “We have two major advantages in this regard, with an exceptional vertically integrated global supply chain and the best supply chain management team in our industry.”

Discussions are underway between the firms, with a formal partnership expected to be signed in Q2 2021. The two firms are aiming high, too, with projected 250,000 annual volume of the vehicle. Exactly what it will look like, cost, how much range it might pack, where it will launch, and other details are still in short supply: Fisker’s design inspiration sketch would seem to imply a crossover of some sort, a sensible choice given the skew of sales right now toward that category.

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2021 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has more range, more power, and a lower base price

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That’s right. Mitsubishi will continue selling the 2021 Outlander PHEV alongside the all-new, Rogue-based 2022 Outlander. The Japanese carmaker is burning the midnight oil in conceptualizing a new plug-in hybrid (PHEV) based on the new model, but Mitsubishi is not leaving anything to chance.

The carmaker is making sure it has a crossover PHEV in its lineup for customers, and is the reason why you’ll find the 2021 Outlander PHEV together with the new 2022 Outlander in Mitsubishi showrooms.

Nevertheless, Mitsubishi’s making sure you get the most bang for your buck in the 2021 Outlander PHEV. It starts with a more robust and fuel-efficient 2.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine producing 126 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Next, the previous 60 kW rear-mounted electric motor makes way for a more potent 70 kW unit.

As expected, the power figures are quite generous for a midsize crossover. The 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV’s advanced hybrid powertrain pumps out 221 horsepower, 31 more horses than the outgoing model. It also has a more significant 13.8 kWh battery pack (the old model had a 12.0 kWh battery), boosting the all-electric range from 22 to 24 miles.

Admittedly, the 2-miles range boost is small by modern EV standards. But for most people, it’s enough to cover a trip to a grocery or convenience store without burning a drop of fuel. And since the new Outlander PHEV has a better range, it now qualifies for larger tax incentives depending on where you live.

Sold in three trim models, the base 2021 Outlander PHEV SEL-AWC starts at $37,490 (including $1,195 destination fees). It now qualifies for up to $6,587 in federal incentives, increasing around $750 over the old model, further lowering the MSRP.

Meanwhile, the Outlander PHEV LE S-AWC has base prices starting at $39,190, while the range-topping GT S-AWC model starts at $43,190 before federal and state credits. The former adds a blacked-out grille, a sunroof, bespoke 18-inch alloy wheels, and blacked-out bumpers. The good news? Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV is available to order now.

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Oshkosh Defense wins USPS contract to modernize postal delivery vehicle fleet

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The United States Postal Service has announced that it has awarded a contract to Oshkosh Defense worth multiple billions of dollars to modernize the postal delivery vehicle fleet. We’ve all seen the vehicles that the USPS uses currently as they deliver mail around cities all over the country. Under the contract award, Oshkosh Defense will finalize the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) design.

The U.S. Postal Service announced this week that it had awarded the 10-year contract to Oshkosh Defense, marking a move to make the most dramatic modernization of the USPS fleet in over 30 years. The massive investment in new vehicles is part of a new plan the Postal Service has developed to transform its financial performance and customer service over the next decade. In addition to massive investments in vehicles, the plan also includes investments in people, technology, and infrastructure.

Oshkosh Defense will see an initial $482 million investment to finalize the production design of the NGDV, which is a purpose-built right-hand-driving vehicle for mail and package delivery. Oshkosh Defense will build between 50,000 and 165,000 vehicles over the next decade. All vehicles will feature either a fuel-efficient internal combustion engine or battery-electric powertrain.

In models that use a battery-electric powertrain, they will be able to be retrofitted to keep pace with advances in electric vehicle technology. That means the vehicles can be upgraded as technology improves rather than replaced. Money from the initial investment is allotted for plant tooling and build-out for the US manufacturing facility where final vehicle assembly will happen.

Currently, the Postal Service fleet has more than 230,000 vehicles in every class, including purpose-build and commercial-off-the-shelf vehicles. About 190,000 of those vehicles deliver mail between six and seven days per week in every US community around the country. Many of the vehicles in the USPS fleet have been in service for 30 years. The Postal Service expects the first NGDV vehicles to appear on routes in 2023.

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