Home opinion-and-analysis Beer Files 2014 the year of the FTTN NBN

2014 the year of the FTTN NBN

It has now reached the stage where even rusted on ALP supporters have accepted the inevitable demise of the current government and the end of the fibre to the door National Broadband Network. The NBN will continue but from 2014, when the new government gets down to business, its nature will be very different, as will the company overseeing its rollout.

 First off, NBN Co, which has already grown into a sizeable bureaucracy with 2,000 staff, will almost certainly be restructured and its current boss Mike Quigley will probably be terminated.

Some may argue that Mr Quigley is a highly qualified telecommunications executive with extensive experience that will be hard to replace and they would be right.

Unfortunately for Mr Quigley, however, his role became highly politicised when he started touting FTTH as the broadband panacea for Australia and he is viewed by many on the other side of politics to the current Government as an ALP political appointment.

Despite Mr Quigley's recent protestations that the architecture of the NBN is not set in FTTH stone, more than three years have already passed with him willingly presenting himself as a champion of the FTTH cause.

In that time, however, with a rollout behind schedule, relatively few users and predictable cost blowouts, NBN Co has not managed to score any earth shattering successes that would save Mr Quigley's job in the face of stern new masters.

After Mr Quigley resigns and the NBN is thoroughly audited, the new Coalition Government will gleefully make public (as new governments do) any obvious wastage, inefficiencies and (if they exist) corrupt processes it can unearth.

Then a slash and burn razor gang will go through NBN Co like a dose of salts and hundreds of jobs will go.

That said, the course for an NBN has been set and the new Government will be forced to consider how to best implement it at what it considers to be an affordable cost.

Shadow Broadband Minister Malcolm Turnbull has already enunciated his view that Australia's broadband future would be best served by implementing a fibre to the node (FTTN) network, with fibre being terminated in a cabinet in the street of a neighbourhood, and existing copper wire retained from the cabinet to homes and other premises.

According to Mr Turnbull, an FTTN NBN would cost about a quarter of the current FTTH plan, would be rolled out much quicker to more users and would still offer an option for users who wish to pay for that extra bit of fibre to their premises, whether that be a home, an apartment block or a business.

What's more contrary to the contention of many sectors of the media, political organisations and telecommunications community, FTTN can indeed be an interim step to implementing FTTH, especially if the FTTN cabinet is no more than a few hundred metres from users.

FTTN can also use existing HFC cable as well as copper for the "last mile" connections to homes, and therefore is able to make use of existing infrastructure.

What will happen with NBN Co ultimately? This is one thing Mr Turnbull and the Coalition have not yet spelled out in full. "Well, the current Government already stated they intend to privatise it," said Mr Turnbull at a recent conference, suggesting perhaps that the Coalition will follow that course sooner rather than later.

The NBN argument has been highly politicised for the past three and half years. With a change of government that is likely to continue. However, for the next term of government at least, the proponents of implementing an expensive FTTH network are going to have to sit back and take it from the other side.


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.