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Tuesday, 06 April 2010 14:37

Renewed calls for NBN's FTTH to carry RF channel for TV

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NZ company Optical Network Engineering, in a submission to the Senate NBN enquiry, says the 100Mbps of the NBN's FTTH network won't be enough to satisfy future demand for 3D and HD video, and an RF channel should be added to the fibre.

In its submission, ONE says. "All existing and even future SD, HD, 3D et al transmission can easily be accommodated on this [RF overlay] wavelength, thus totally offloading the very important data channel'¦taking all the present and future free to air and cable and satellite television channels off the data channel equates to a saving of 7 or 8Gbps of bandwidth which will pay huge benefits as the overall demand for bandwidth inevitably increases."

Others, in particular Alcatel-Lucent, have made the same argument. However in its response to industry submissions on its wholesale product consultation paper, NBN Co came out against providing an RF channel and relying instead  on IP multicast to deliver 'broadcast' type video traffic.

With an RF overlay an additional wavelength would be 'lit' on the passive optical network and used to 'broadcast' the same collection of video programmes to all premises on that segment of the network. Its inclusion would not compromise the 100Mbps per home capacity of the network to carry packet data and could, its proponents argue, free up both this capacity of individual services and, in the long term valuable broadcast spectrum to meet an expected explosion of demand for mobile services

While the inclusion or otherwise of RF channel might be a commercial decision for NBN Co, Optical Network Engineering has chosen to make its case not in a response the NBN Co consultation paper but in a submission to the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network.

This enquiry was initiated in June 2008 to look into plans for NBN mark 1 and three reports later is still going.
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ONE argues that with different members of a household watching different channels and as broadcast and pay TV moves to HD and 3D, this traffic, if carried as IPTV has the potential with a few years to take up most of the available 100Mbps of bandwidth. (However the expectation is that within a few years to 100Mbps per household of the initial NBN rollout will be upgraded to 1Gbps as this recently standardised technology becomes commercialised.)

ONE says that deliver of broadcast content over the RF channel would not require any national distribution system: signals could be injected into the fibre at each GPON optical terminator using convention TV antennas, satellite dishes and associated receiving equipment.

ONE adds, however, that the decision to include RF channel on the NBN's FTTH network does not have to be all-or nothing: it could be used in limited areas such as housing estates where current planning rules prohibit the installation of TV antennas.

In the consultation paper, NBN Co outlined its intention to deliver only an IP multicast capability and its quotes from industry submissions on the paper reflected little support for an RF channel, with only Telstra cited as being in favour.

Telstra said: "Telstra believes both the RF overlay and IP multicast approaches should be supported for pay TV purposes. The emerging global trend towards IP multicast is considered to deliver better integration with other services and the home environment in general. However, the seamless integration of RF overlay with the existing large installed base of Australian pay TV infrastructure in many Australian homes makes it attractive in the short to medium term."

Telstra is already using RF overlay in its greenfield FTTH deployments. However RF overlay was not supported by Telstra's 50 percent owned pay TV provider Foxtel, which argued that an RF overlay "would duplicate services already provided by companies such as TXA Australia, Broadcast Australia, Telstra (on its HFC network) and Optus (over its satellite networks)."

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Foxtel said: "It is difficult to see the economic justification for using public money to 'crowd out' private sector investment in broadcast transmission," and "the incremental cost of adding an RF overlay is likely to be high (Broadcast Australia estimates it is likely to cost between $900m and $1.1 billion)."

Foxtel argued also that it was "likely to be inconsistent with the key principles set down by the Government."

NBN Co's response also quoted Optus and Motorola opposing RF overlay. Motorola said: "RF Overlay will suffer from inherent disadvantages when very large number of video channels is to be carried in the network. This is particularly the case when demand for HDTV content grows and / or the number of video service providers expands."

However this is precisely the reason why others argue for an inclusion of an RF overlay. Alcatel-Lucent's director, marketing - Asia Pacific, Geof Heydon argued the case for an RF overlay passionately to iTWire last year but this view does not appear to have been reflected in Alcatel's submission (not made public) to the NBN Co consultation paper.

In its response to submissions, NBN Co did not cite Alcatel-Lucent as a supporter of RF channel and Heydon told iTWire "This wasn't something I think we made a big deal of in our submission."

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