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Wednesday, 16 September 2009 13:20

Quigley sets out timetable for NBN Co's first six months

NBN Co executive chairman Mike Quigley has spelt out an ambitious programme for the company's first six months that, if accomplished, would see many details of the NBN emerging. He has also canvassed the possibility of NBN Co building and launching its own satellite.

Quigley told his first press briefing as NBN executive chairman: "Over the next six months we would expect to have largely completed building up the organisation, designing our wholesale product suite and largely designing the network. We will be negotiating with potential partners and we will have a programme plan in place and a programme management office established.

"We would expect to be well on the way, if not to have completed, an understanding with the ACCC on a wholesale product. We would also expect to be well on the way with pricing architecture discussions with customers and well on the way with tender processes, obtaining a carrier licence and, if we believe it is necessary, negotiating spectrum licences and a satellite slot for the 10 percent of folks not covered by fibre.

"We would also be planning our rollout schedule and designing the BSS [business support system] and OSS [operational support system] stacks to manage all this."

This latter decision is likely to be one of the most difficult and important of the whole NBN design process. Not only will this system have to manage the operation, provisioning of services etc on the NBN it will have to provide automated interfacing to the systems of multiple retail service providers enabling them to manage their customers on the NBN and to be billed for the NBN services those customers use.

It is perhaps surprising that Quigley would contemplate the NBN acquiring its own satellite (a slot is an orbital location for a geostationary satellite and these are a limited resource administered by the International Telecommunication Union).
In subsequent questioning Quigley admitted that the NBN Co owning its own satellite was not a decision that would be taken lightly, saying..."There are long lead times and big costs associated with satellite services...Three years lead time and somewhere between half a billion and 800 million [dollars] in terms of putting a platform up."


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He added that the Australian Broadband Guarantee programme was already operating (using the IPStar broadband satellite and others) to provide broadband services in remote areas. "It seems to be a very successful programme. We're looking at that in detail. We're looking at the traffic usage by those customers. We're looking at the analysis. I'm talking to a number of satellite companies at the moment to see what is available, what options are open and bit by bit we're trying to gather together the information to make rational technological and business choices there."

He also flagged another problem that cannot be solved by any of the current satellites used to deliver the broadband guarantee service, or by launching another geostationary satellite, latency. "These satellites are up there at 36,000 kilometres which means it takes light some time to get up there and back."

Should NBN Co determine the need for a dedicated satellite to deliver broadband services to remote Australia it could look to a project that is well underway to shorten those long lead times: that of satellite services provider NewSat.

NewSat announced back in November 2007 plans for its own satellite that it hoped to launch this year. It expected to fund $100m of the estimate cost itself, $100m form potential partners and get Government funding already set aside for telecommunications to provide the rest. The proposed Ka band satellite would be build by Space Systems Loral , launched by Arianespace and would provide coverage of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Timor.

NewSat repeated its offer in July 2008 in a submission to the Expert Group working on the NBN Mark 1 (FTTN version). In that submission NewSat suggested that the use of satellite technology to provide positioning for precision farming could be a key application, in addition to communications.

The project, now going by the name Jabiru, is still very much alive: at its annual results announcement last month, NewSat said it had appointed Lazard as strategic adviser on, amongst other things its plans to launch its own satellite.

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