Monday, 24 July 2017 11:55

Going full fibre will mean loss of face for Fifield: academic Featured

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Using fibre-to-the-distribution-point technology for the NBN instead of fibre-to-the-node will enable the Turnbull Government to save face and also provide a better network, a senior academic who was involved with the project at its inception says.

Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne and a member of Labor's Expert Panel that advised on the NBN, told iTWire in response to queries that if NBN Co made a switch from FttN to FttP, then it would reflect badly on Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.

"After all the recent criticism levelled at FttP by Fifield, how could NBN Co be expected to admit that he is wrong and that FttP is now affordable?" he asked.

iTWire sought Prof Tucker's views on the use of FttDP, in the wake of repeated suggestions by Laurie Patton, head of Internet Australia, that the government and opposition should devise a bipartisan policy and switch the remainder of the rollout away from FttN to FttDP.

"The best option has always been FttP - it is reliable and future-proof, and users such as small businesses that need gigabit per second bandwidth can get it now," Prof Tucker said. "But the damage has been done – NBN Co is now well into its rollout of FttN. And FttN is the worst possible option. FttN is slow, and the maximum speed depends on the distance between the node and the customer.

"In addition, there is no easy way to upgrade FttN to FttP or even to FttDP/FttC. An upgrade would involve a rollout of
new fibre to each premises and trashing the expensive nodes dotted around the streets. Because of this, a FttN network will have much lower resale value than a FttP network."

Prof Tucker said Patton was correct in pointing out that FttDP/FttC is a much faster technology than FttN. "And a big advantage of FttDP/FttC is that it brings fibre close to the premises, which means that future upgrades to FttP will be feasible and potentially affordable."

But, he added, there was a downside. "On the other hand, FttDP/FttC will be yet another technology in the multi-technology mix, and every time a new technology is added new network management systems are needed and the operating cost (Opex) of the network increases."

Prof Tucker pointed out that FttDP/FttC used active devices in the distribution point (pit) outside each house and active devices inevitably required more maintenance than passive devices; this would put more upward pressure on the Opex.

But, he said, there was another option which was the best. "In my opinion, NBN Co should drop FttN as soon as possible and move directly to FttP rather than FttDP/C. NBN Co has its head in the sand regarding the costs of FttP. For years, NBN Co has been quoting the cost of FttP as $4405 per premises. This flies in the face of recent reports from around the world showing that FttP rollout costs have dropped by 50%.

"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.

Prof Tucker said in summary, FttDP/FttC would be an enormous improvement over FttN. "But there is really no point in stopping at FttDP/FttC. The best thing for NBN Co to do would be to switch directly to FttP. The cost of a switch from FttN and HFC to FttP would be about half of what NBN Co claims, or about the same as they are spending on FttN."

He added that such a network would have lower operating costs, a higher resale value, and provide Australia with an NBN that was ready for the future.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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