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Thursday, 15 October 2009 13:34

Comms Alliance reveals its NBN architecture options

Communications Alliance has released a discussion paper setting out a draft of its vision of the NBN network architecture: a vision that it says would be required to deliver a broad range of network, application and content services to end users.

The document has been developed by Comms Alliance's NBN Reference Model working group and defines the end-to-end broadband network architecture framework, a range of potential passive and active NBN wholesale interconnect scenarios; and the relationship between the customer equipment and retail and wholesale service providers.

It envisages a very wide range of both wholesale and retail services provider roles, not mutually exclusive - the same organisation could fulfil both wholesale and retail roles. Significantly it envisages a role for a 'broadband access provider' who would own and operate both the exchange optical equipment, the optical line terminations (OLTs) in an exchange (or multiple exchanges) and the optical network terminations (ONT) - the CPE of the FTTH network and would use this infrastructure to provide layer 2 ethernet services. These would be made available to retail and other wholesale network service providers to deliver higher level services to end users and to retail application and content service providers to deliver applications and content to end users.

In the draft this 'broadband access provider role' is decoupled from the role of 'passive fibre infrastructure provider' - the organisation that provides the optical fibre infrastructure (fibres, splitters optical distribution frames, and point-to-point and passive optical networks linking each user to a fibre concentration point.

Other than to observe that "Within the context of the end-to-end Broadband Network Reference Architecture...there is scope for a number of different industry roles to exist," the draft makes no comment as to whether the NBN Co should be both the infrastructure provider and broadband access provider. However, if this model were to be adopted it would create the potential for the owner and operator of the active components of the NBN to be an an organisation other than NBN Co, ie it could hived off to multiple regional operators and along with it a large portion of the projected $43b cost of the NBN.

The draft cautions: "While the scenarios presented in this paper are technically feasible, any agreed set of scenarios will require tradeoffs between technical and operational complexity versus requirements for maximum flexibility in support of functional and service requirements." It says these issues will be further analysed as part of more detailed Communications Alliance NBN activities.

Communications Alliance CEO, Anne Hurley, said the NBN reference architecture paper was intended to inform discussion and decision making on network architecture issues. "This paper is the first of many outcomes from our NBN Project. We hope it will inspire further discussion and debate about the optimal NBN architecture framework before critical decisions are made. We expect it will also provide a starting point for further engagement with a wide range of stakeholders."

The draft is open for discussion until 6 November and submissions to it will be published on the Comms Alliance web site. In November Comms Alliance's Wholesale Services working group will release a discussion paper focused primarily on the layer 2 ethernet wholesale service definition.

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