Home Telecoms & NBN Networking expert explains why NBN Co stuck in slow lane

Networking expert explains why NBN Co stuck in slow lane

The NBN Co's obsession with rollout costs and time-to-market, irrespective of operational and maintenance costs, have led to the company using obsolete copper-based technologies, a senior network expert claims.

Analysing a post by NBN Co's chief networking officer Peter Ryan, RMIT network engineering professor Mark Gregory (below, right) compared the rollout in Australia to that which is taking place in New Zealand, observing that the smaller country had taken "a straightforward and typically Kiwi approach to broadband renewal that has left Australia as the butt of their broadband jokes".

Ryan's blog post, which claimed that Australia had no choice but to accept high costs for deploying fibre-to-the-premise, came in for criticism from Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne and a member of Labor's Expert Panel that advised on the NBN.

Gregory said in an article that the New Zealand Government had realised that the best way to roll out FttP — after an FttN rollout had been completed between 2009 and 2012 — was to split the existing telco, Telecom New Zealand, into retail (Spark) and wholesale (Chorus) arms.

Chorus was now handling about 70% of the premises in the FttP rollout, Gregory wrote, and because it owned and operated the existing FttN network, it continued to make a profit. He added that the head of Chorus, was an Australian: former Telstra senior executive Kate McKenzie.

mark gregory vertGregory said that while Ryan had identified three component costs for rolling out FttP, which added up to $4400, but these were the same as were in the initial plan that was in operation years before the existing multi-technology mix was adopted.

Pointing out that the cost of the FttP rollout had fallen by about 40% in New Zealand, Gregory said that NBN Co had not taken a flexible approach as Chorus had done and adopted "cheaper and improved optical technologies available in the past five years": this was the reason why the costs were still sitting at $4400 per premise for FttP.

Ryan had pointed out that with the new armoured fibre cables, it could be installed aerially, around fence lines, in ducts or by using micro-trenching, depending on the premise in question.

"Mr Ryan would have us believe that the FttP rollout approach adopted by Chorus is somehow second-rate. It is not. There have been quite a few FTTP-related technology and infrastructure improvements over the past five years, so why is NBN Co continuing to ignore progress?" Gregory questioned.

He said Ryan had also not mentioned that many of the improvements in rolling out FttP were tested in New Zealand before the September 2013 election in Australia. Another important fact not mentioned by Ryan was that data from Point Topic had found that, worldwide, nearly 80% of the fixed broadband being rolled out was FttP.

"Why? Because FttP is the most cost effective fixed access technology available today," Gregory said.

One of the issues that NBN Co faced was paying Telstra for leasing ducts; this was an outcome of the government's refusal to countenance splitting Telstra into wholesale and retail divisions.

But, Gregory, said, even so, the NBN Co management should have advised the government that a shift from FttP to FttN would make access and usage-based business model untenable, "as it relied on FttP facilitating consumers moving to much higher connection speed plans than what is provided by FttN".

He said Chorus had adopted a simplified business model based on access charges and no data usage charges; this allowed retail service providers to offer unlimited data as a standard part of any plan.

"In Australia, there is an ever-growing number of people reporting NBN speeds of less than 5% of their broadband plan speed during peak hours. No wonder the Kiwis are laughing at us," Gregory said.

"NBN Co is now proceeding to build the NBN with obsolete technology, a failed business model, an increasing number of premises being put in the too-hard basket, daily congestion and as a result criticism of this national infrastructure project is reaching a crescendo."


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.