Monday, 01 December 2014 07:23

NBN’s new construction plan bypasses cities Featured

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NBN Co has published a new rollout plan showing the next 400 locations to be connected. But the lack of HFC agreements with Optus and Telstra mean most metro areas miss out.

NBN Co has published its most detailed construction plan to date, incorporating for the first time the locations to be connected by fibre to the node (FTTN), which it insists on calling 'multi-technology mix'. It also shows locations to receive fibre to the premises (FTTP), and  wireless.

None of the locations named will receive NBN via HFC (hybrid fibre coax) cable. NBN Co intends to take over the Optus and Telstra cables, but because those deals have not yet been signed, most premises in Australia’s largest cities miss out in these latest NBN plans.

In the ‘Greater Sydney’ part of the schedule, for example, just 148,500 premises are includes – only around 10% of the total number of households in Australia’s largest city. They are in Appin, Avalon Beach, Berowra, Blacktown, Campsie, Campbelltown, Homebush, Kellyville, Katoomba, Liverpool, Mulgoa, Blackheath, Elderslie, Narellan, The Oaks, Penrith, Richmond, Rouse Hill, and Tahmoor – all places where there is no HFC.

The same is true of Melbourne, where just 105,900 premises are included, all of them in fringe metro locations where Optus and Telstra HFC cables were never laid. Brisbane (95,000 premises), Perth (132,300 premises) and Adelaide (84,500 premises) do a little better per capita, but they too are also mostly in outer suburbs where there is no HFC.

But NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow, announcing the new schedule, did not mention this. “The expansion of the rollout across every state and territory is the first to reflect the company's new, flexible multi-technology approach and is an important step toward reaching its goal of 8 million connections to the NBN by 2020,” he said.

“The plan provides an indicative view of scheduled construction work up to June 2016. It will be updated each successive quarter with further detail to reflect ongoing variations brought about by process and technology improvement.” Perhaps that will include all the city locations that are waiting on the HFC deals.

“This greater transparency will give individuals, communities and the telecommunications industry the most accurate short-term view of construction progress while at the same time acknowledging the flexible nature of the rollout,” said Morrow.

“We’re committed to bringing fast broadband to all Australians as quickly as possible. The new multi-technology approach enables us to do just that.” That was indeed what Malcolm Turnbull said. But well over a year after his Government was elected on the promise of a less expensive and more quickly implemented network, the great majority of Australia’s city dwellers have been informed they must wait.

“Over the past year, we have carried out successful trials of a range of new technologies, revised our build processes and are renegotiating our partner agreements. As a result of this work, we are able to provide forecasts that reflect the next phase of our network build.

“It is these forecasts that will enable our customers, the telephone and Internet service providers to be able to start planning the delivery of services over the NBN to these communities,” said Morrow. “Of course, the longer the forecast, the greater the likelihood that changes will occur. That’s only to be expected in a project of this magnitude.

“Naturally some people will be disappointed that they are not included in today’s schedule but ultimately no-one misses out as the NBN will be made available to every Australian family and business by 2020.”

Indeed they will be disappointed. Morrow says NBN Co intends to update the plan every three months to “provide further clarity on the detail of its construction schedule ahead of the rollout activity set to occur in the upcoming quarter.”

He said that NBN Co is planning a “wide-scale commercial rollout of multiple technologies using existing networks in 2015,” no doubt a reference to HFC, though “this is subject to reaching agreement with Telstra and Optus on changes to the definitive agreements.”

“The technology deployed in these communities may also change depending on a number of factors once the construction planning stage has been finalised. The exact number of premises as well as the regions covered in the rollout plan may vary once NBN Co has finalised its construction planning.”

The announcement said that NBN Co's ‘Integrated Product Roadmap’ indicates FTTN services are currently planned to be made available to ISPs by the third quarter of 2015 and fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB) by the first quarter of 2015.

One other thing – connection speed. The announcement came with the following caveat: “Your experience including the speeds actually achieved over the NBN depends on the technology over which services are delivered and other factors such as your equipment quality, software, broadband plans and how your ISP designs its network.” Of course.

The new construction schedule is detailed at www.nbnco.com.au/rolloutplan


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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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