Home Telecoms & NBN Full-fibre NBN will cost about as much as FttDP: experts

Full-fibre NBN will cost about as much as FttDP: experts

Switching the national broadband network to using fibre-to-the-distribution-point technology is an interim solution; the correct solution, which will cost about the same, is to go full fibre.

This is the considered opinion of Mike Quigley, former chief executive of the NBN Co, who was asked by iTWire to offer a view on using FttDP in preference to the fibre-to-the-node technology that the majority of Australians will get under the NBN Co's current network rollout plan. Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne and a member of Labor's Expert Panel that advised on the NBN, was in agreement on this point.

A switch to FttDP has been repeatedly advocated by the head of the non-profit, Internet Australia, Laurie Patton.

Quigley said FttDP was also an interim solution that relied on the copper lead-in and cited a number of negatives for the network operator if this technology was used.

"It is not necessarily an easy technology to deploy and in introducing another technology variant NBN Co’s long-term operating costs will rise yet again," he said. "It also requires the build out of a local fibre network which is a big part of what was required for FttP. But given the unreliability of FttN and the inability to predict or guarantee FttN performance for any particular subscriber it is not surprising that NBN Co is talking up FttDP."

fttn install

Fibre-to-the-node installation in progress. Photo: courtesy NBN Co.

Quigley was categorical that the right answer was to use FttP. "It is clearly now the technology of choice for most telcos worldwide - even BT is talking about using more FttP. The argument that it is much more costly than FttDP has been demonstrated to be false.

"NBN Co is still quoting a cost of $4400 for FttP – the same cost they were quoting back in 2013, but if they just made the decision to use FttP and put some effort into getting the costs down, as Chorus in New Zealand has shown they can do with their 44% cost reduction over a few years, the cost of FttP would be very similar to FttDP. And that is even before you have to start adding in the eventual upgrade costs of FttDP and its impacts on long-term operating costs."

Prof Tucker said: "Surprising as it may seem, this means that if NBN Co wanted to, it could be rolling out FttP at about the same cost as its FttN rollout and its HFC upgrade. It is possible that FttP could even be rolled out at about the same cost as FttDP/C by implementing some of the new lower-cost fibre lead-in techniques being used in countries like New Zealand."

Mark Gregory, associate professor in network engineering at RMIT, was careful to draw a distinction between FttDP and fibre-to-the-curb, which is the terminology used by NBN Co.

"There is a clear distinction between FttDP and FttC and there are significant benefits when FttDP is used, as there is an opportunity for premises to be easily upgraded to all fibre," Gregory told iTWire.

He said many years ago, he had written about how FttDP would be an improvement over FttN "because it would mean that fibre was rolled out to a pit on the boundary of premises, typically within 40 metres, before copper cable is used for the lead-in".

"FttDP would permit fibre self-installation from the pit or service providers could do the fibre installation from the pit for customers that signed up to a 24-month plan similar to how we get mobile handsets on a 24-month plan today."

Gregory said the term FttC had been around for much longer and referred to an FttN variation where the fibre was rolled out to within 300 to 400 metres of premises to either a pit or pole, and copper cables used for the lead-in.

"In Australia, NBN Co adopted this US term and has indicated that it will install fibre to within 150 metres of premises to either a pit or pole and use copper cables for the lead-in," Gregory said.

"The percentage of premises that will not have fibre rolled out to the premises boundary is unknown at this time, but if fibre is rolled out any distance from premises the opportunity for self-installation of fibre into premises or for service providers to install the fibre into premises could be lost."

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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.