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  • Blog, Telecommunications - Written by on Thursday, November 29, 2012 10:35 - 49 Comments

    FTTN “viable”, says Mike Quigley

    blog Those who have been following the National Broadband Network debate this week will recall that the ABC’s Technology & Games site has been questioning whether the fibre to the node technology being proposed by the Coalition as an alternative to Labor’s fibre to the home-based rollout could actually be deployed in Australia, given claimed fault rates and degradation on Telstra’s copper network. Well, he was pretty sparse on the details, but now we have an updated comment from NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley himself noting that such a deployment would indeed be possible in Australia. The Australian Financial Review reports this morning (we recommend you click here for the full article) from an event in Perth:

    “Mr Quigley conceded the “fibre to the node” method being championed by Mr Turnbull was a “viable technology” but questioned the ability to achieve major cost savings by scaling back the rollout.”

    Now, obviously this isn’t the silver bullet that justifies the Coalition’s approach to this issue; and as we’ve mentioned many times, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull continues to decline to answer fundamental questions about the Coalition’s rival NBN policy. Personally, I still remain staunchly of the opinion that Labor’s FTTH vision is the far better policy for Australia’s future telecommunications needs. But Quigley’s may inject some rationality into a debate which has at times seemed a little irrational this week. As many cool heads have been saying for some time, a FTTN rollout in Australia is indeed “viable”.

    And after all, Quigley has many reasons to have detailed knowledge about the potential rollout of fibre to the node technology in Australia, ranging from his current position as the leader of NBN Co, to his previous position at Alcatel-Lucent, which saw the company win a major FTTN contract with Telstra during his tenure (obviously Telstra eventually cancelled the deal as its FTTN plans were put on ice). Back in 2006 I attended a lunch briefing held by consulting firm KPMG in Sydney, where Quigley, at that stage an Alcatel-Lucent executive was seen as advocating a deal between Telstra and the Government which would have seen Telstra upgrade its copper network to FTTN (and Alcatel-Lucent keep its Telstra contract). How things have changed.

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    1. Murdoch
      Posted 29/11/2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink |

      I’d agree that it is viable. But is it the best long term solution for Australia? I’m pretty sure most people that examine this past the casual interest stage would agree that a FTTH policy penetrating as far as possible into Australian households is far more scalable in terms of speed and reliability than a FTTN, no matter how short the cable lengths are.

      I think it’s funny that the article reckons that Quigley “conceded” that FTTN was viable. I don’t think he’s ever said that it wasn’t, although I may have missed a quote by him. Anyone else know?

    2. Hubert Cumberdale
      Posted 29/11/2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink |

      FTTN “at this stage what is the point?”, says Hubert Cumberdale

    3. Zok
      Posted 29/11/2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink |

      Newsflash: dirt roads are viable thoroughfares, suitable for vehicles! :D

      • Posted 29/11/2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink |

        Indeed! and Bicycle couriers are also viable!
        Why is it so hard for people to understand that different technologies have their bounds of usefulness??

      • Sydney
        Posted 29/11/2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink |

        Not to mention that unsealed roads are FAR CHEAPER for the taxpayer than sealed roads. Far, far cheaper on a national basis.

        • Tinman_au
          Posted 29/11/2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink |

          And quicker to make to boot!!

          • Bpat
            Posted 29/11/2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink |

            But they require more maintenance. Grading, dust management etc.

            • Haderak
              Posted 29/11/2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink |

              Obviously a compromise solution is required. I propose ‘Tarmac To The Node’, rather than the more expensive ‘Tarmac To The Home’ solution.

              • Posted 29/11/2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink |

                Having grown up in a rural area, I’d say that is an accurate description of the current implementation of the National Road Network.

                • Zok
                  Posted 29/11/2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink |

                  Rural roads should not be cross-subsidised by urban road users… instead, there should be a transparent budgetary subsidy from the Commonwealth, allowing for maximum road-surfacing competition in areas where that is viable. :D

                  • Ninja
                    Posted 29/11/2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink |

                    Absolutely, let’s subsidise what private enterprise won’t build. We won’t get our money back (tax dollars) and we will give companies that have a history of doing poorly with rural communications, but still it’s Lib policy so fiscally it must make sense.

                    • The Brutally Handsome
                      Posted 03/12/2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink |

                      I believe the FTTN and FTTP are both Alcatel ISAMs. Quigley just covering his bases in case Labor loses next election, he can sell Malcolm the same ISAM solution by Alcatel.

              • NBNAlex
                Posted 29/11/2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink |

                +1 Haderak.

                You demonstrate the folly of FttN in that succinct comment… kudos.

                • NBNAlex
                  Posted 29/11/2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink |

                  I’ve said all along FttN is akin to constructing multiple 10 mile (yes mile) highways, with 9 mile of asphalt and the last mile (pun intended) the old used, worn, current dirt.

                  But even worse, that last mile of inferior, worn and constricting (yes it will slow everything) dirt, is privately owned and the owner will use their minority position to hold the other 9 miles to ransom…

                  Yes… very smart considering this has all been overcome :/

                  • midspace
                    Posted 29/11/2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink |

                    Whichever it is, that last mile is still crap whenever it rains.
                    Too many people trying to use it after 5PM too.

      • RocK_M
        Posted 29/11/2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink |

        Did you also know that carrier pigeon was a very viable form of long distance of communication!

        Honestly why did we ever invest in copper/telephoney when we had perfectly working pigeons has been a long standing mystery =P

        • Zok
          Posted 29/11/2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink |

          Is that pigeon-to-the-roof, or pigeon-to-the-local-aviary, though? :D

    4. NBNAccuracy
      Posted 29/11/2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink |

      I don’t think this is anything new. I think the question is if there is a long term saving involved or will it just end up costing more to get where we would be if the fibre continued to roll out. Maybe it can cost a little more if the FTTN arrived say 5 years earlier than FTTH would have, but a completed FTTN rollout by 2015-2016. Turnbull won’t give a cost, won’t answer coverage questions, but will he give a date for rollout completion? I doubt it, it will be just “It will be quicker”

    5. Tinman_au
      Posted 29/11/2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink |

      Oh, it’s viable alright (Adjective: Viable: Capable of being done with means at hand and circumstances as they are). With enough money anyone could do it too.

      Unless it’s Telstra that actually does it though, it’s not practical for anyone else to try it (Adjective: Practical : Concerned with actual use or practice). If the duct rental alone cost $11 Billion dollars, any saving Malcolm thinks he might make from “reusing” the copper system will be totally wiped out by what Telstra would want for the actual “nuts and bolts” of the POTS system.

      Every other FttN in the world is being built on top of infrastructure already owned by the very same company that’s rolling out the FttN (hence why it’s cheaper for them to do than replace the whole system with fibre). For MT’s NBN to be practical, it would need to be Telstra doing the roll-out using their own copper, Telstra isn’t about to gift it to the Australian people. Telstra wont do this unless they get a good sized slice of the pie, and on similar terms to their original FttN plan (where they controlled the system in the same way they did with the POTS, that’s why the original Telstra FttN fell though).

      We’d effectively be rolling back the communications landscape back to the John Howard era if it went that way (and we all know how well that worked for consumers and the rest of the industry).

      • bern
        Posted 29/11/2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink |

        That’s exactly it.

        In the name of political expediency, the Coalition are willing to re-establish the Telstra monopoly on communications in Australia, and lock in monopoly profits for decades to come, to the cost of every Australian.

        But, hey, it’ll look good, won’t it, when they “complete the NBN faster”, and “boost Telstra shareholder value” at the same time.

        Shame about the rest of the country, though…

        • Tinman_au
          Posted 29/11/2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink |

          “But, hey, it’ll look good, won’t it, when they “complete the NBN faster”, and “boost Telstra shareholder value” at the same time.”

          But that fits in line exactly with Liberal ideology (in other word, it’s what the Liberals actually exist for, to promote a better society though “free enterprise”). People look at Liberal and Labor as just being two separate teams doing basically the same thing. They. Are. Not. Their basic motivations are totally different (or at least they were, since both have slide further to the right, Labor has drifted off some of it’s core values, hence it’s current stand on refugees, but that’s a totally different debate).

          I don’t care too much if the Liberals win the election of not, I just don’t want to see them wreck what is actually very good policy for Australians and the Australian Telecommunications industry as a whole.

      • The Brutally Handsome
        Posted 03/12/2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink |

        Tinman = correct.

        Rare to find someone here who actually knows what they are talking about ie. isnt a whirlpool.net.au stooge.

    6. Posted 29/11/2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink |

      “Viable” and “sensible” are different words for a reason…

      • GongGav
        Posted 29/11/2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink |

        One of those reasons is that they use different letters… :p

        We all (well… mostly) know that this is a matter of semantics. Labor wins next year, nothing changes. Liberals win, FttN appears to be the future.

        Could this simply be Mike Quigleys opening stance to keep a job in a Liberal govt world?

        Just remember that sensible rarely seems to be a key factor in Liberal policy. Short term gains, to hell with the long term.

        • Murdoch
          Posted 29/11/2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink |

          “Could this simply be Mike Quigleys opening stance to keep a job in a Liberal govt world?”

          Possibly. I guess it depends on where his priorities lie. Does he value a need to leave as good a legacy as possible for Australian telecommunications over deploying the technically better solution that the current plan offers?

          Only he would know

          I would say that professionally myself, I wouldn’t feel comfortable working with a person (i.e. Malcolm Turnbull) that publicly attempted, several times, to call my professional credibility into question simply for their own ends. Whether Quigley chooses to swallow that pill as well is entirely up to him.

          Note: Those priority choices mentioned above may not be the only parameters going through his head either, that statement wasn’t meant to be all inclusive.

          • GongGav
            Posted 29/11/2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink |

            Fair point, but Quigleys been in the business long enough to know that most of the time those sorts of statements arent personal, but political in nature. Comments designed to undermine, and not be personal. If they come out that way, then thats sucky, but he would have gone up against similar comments while at Alcatel.

            Besides, I cant see the man being one who would burn a bridge over petty disagreements.

        • Gwyntaglaw
          Posted 30/11/2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink |

          If the Coalition is elected, I’m 99% certain that Mike Quigley would offer to step down within months, and I’m also 99% certain that Malcolm Turnbull would accept his resignation.

          There’s just too much bad blood between them, and Quigley has no reason to stay on, and many reasons to leave.

      • Captain Australia
        Posted 29/11/2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink |

        Lol, Abbott is in handcuffs like so totally like!!

    7. Karl
      Posted 29/11/2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink |

      I’d be interested to see the full original statement from Mike Quigley and not the version chopped up by AFR. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t trust the AFR given their track record on the subject. No wait, no, I don’t trust them.

      Point is, there’s a subtle difference between “viable technology” and “viable for Australia.”

      • socrates
        Posted 29/11/2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink |

        True, and there’s a much less subtle difference between viable and suitable.

        • GongGav
          Posted 29/11/2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink |

          Horse and buggy are still viable, but that doesnt mean they are suitable.

        • Abel Adamski
          Posted 29/11/2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink |

          I am sure you could use a 4WD turbo Diesel Toyota Hilux to plow your fields, strangely the smart farmer uses a tractor.
          The Hilux is still viable for the task

      • NBNAlex
        Posted 29/11/2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink |

        Agreed Karl…

        Also, Renai touched upon the way things have changed with Telstra, AL and Quigley re: FttN.

        I know too, a lot of the usual suspect NBN detractors have also said, well if Quigley is so sure of FttP why did he push FttN to Telstra back when.

        Seriously… Telstra wanted a partner to roll out FttN (not FTTP) and dangled $’s for FttN (not FTTP), which Quigley (as he had to) wanted to grab for his company. Enter common sense.

        If Telstra was going to pay big $’s for FttN, does anyone actually think any potential partner in that sector (Quigley or otherwise) would say, no we can’t accept your $b’s for FttN, because we recommend FttP?

        I’d say they’d be laughing all the way to the bank, knowing they could grab the FttN cash immediately and the subsequent d’oh, we should have done it properly in the first place, FttP later!

    8. djos
      Posted 29/11/2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink |

      Of course FTTN is viable, it’s a mature technology that is already being retired by Telco’s around the world …. and that’s kinda the point really!

      FTTN is an obsolete technology and a waste of money, FTTH isnt!

    9. Posted 29/11/2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink |

      I don’t believe anywhere in Nick’s article did he say FTTN was NOT viable. Simply that the information provided by the source he was speaking to “put the implementation of FTTN into doubt”. He never stated it wasn’t viable. Simply that it may very well be ALOT more complex than initially thought.

      I feel you’re overdoing the “competition” aspect here of Nick’s article VS FTTN “viability” or “validity” Renai. Nick was simply giving an insiders view on the complexities an FTTN network may entail. Not saying it couldn’t be done.

    10. Stephen
      Posted 29/11/2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink |

      Surely the question should be asked as to whether it’s optimal, not viable.

    11. Tinman_au
      Posted 29/11/2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink |

      Steve Jenkin has an article up on Technology Spectator that explains why Malcolm’s NBN is a lemon…


    12. Greg
      Posted 29/11/2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink |

      Well all you lemonists are unreal. Many of us have a type of FTTN already. All Telstra’s RIMS are effectively that solution albeit with older technology that is capacity limited. Higher capacity modern day FTTN units ie as Transact deployed, would certainly do the job for most. However they would have to run adequate fibre to enable its future extension when FTTH is needed.

      • Posted 29/11/2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink |


        Do you get 24Mbps on your RIM? No. 2 Reasons:

        1- As you say, the ISAMs aren’t VDSL capable. but
        2- And most importantly, the RIM capacity in backhaul and ports is not high enough. ALL those RIMs would have to be upgraded and many tens of thousands more put in.

        And, as you say, if we EVER want to upgrade to FTTH, ALL the fibre running to the RIMs would have to be massively increased.

        Or, we could just do it once and do it properly and not have to worry about it for 40 years….

      • Tinman_au
        Posted 29/11/2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink |

        “Many of us have a type of FTTN already.”

        And that worked so well that both the government and the opposition had to step in with, you know, something that will actually work…

      • NBNAlex
        Posted 29/11/2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink |

        Greg, so rather than provision now, for FttP, you believe we should wait until it is actually needed and then build it… so we’ll get it years after it’s actually needed (if at all)?


      • RocK_M
        Posted 30/11/2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink |

        Oh Greg… your comment and the absurdity of your RIM statement is so tragic one can only laugh.

        Truly my friend you have made my day! If you have ever lived in a whats colorfully called a “RIM-Hell” estate you would know fully well how rubbish your suggestion is.

    13. Harimau
      Posted 30/11/2012 at 2:19 am | Permalink |

      “viable”, haha. This reminds me of “adequate”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdbIwFVIIYk (Peter Ferris on FTTN).

    14. Harimau
      Posted 30/11/2012 at 2:46 am | Permalink |

      Hang on, why have you quoted a single sentence out of an entire article entitled “NBN chief defends network rollout”? In fact, by doing so, you misrepresent the meat of the article. Maybe you can get away with it since this isn’t labelled “news”, but instead “blog”, but I do think it’s a little disingenuous, especially while you champion “rationality of debate”.

      I’m sure you have some legal limit that you’re allowed to quote from someone else’s article, but I’m sure you can get around it without directly quoting, allowing you to report other key statements, such as:
      > “You’ll probably save some money. I can assure you it won’t be a quarter of the cost of doing fibre to the prem[ises]” he said.
      > “I won’t try and guess what it will save in terms of capex other than to say that if we’re putting 70 to 80,000 of these cabinets out around the country it won’t be cheap,” Mr Quigley said.

      Rationality, i.e. reason, tells us that going FTTH directly (especially as the roll-out’s already approaching full-steam) is an objectively better option than going FTTN first. Yes, FTTN is a “viable” technology (it can be done), it is an “adequate” technology (it’s passable); but through logical reasoning, FTTH is clearly the better option: it can ALSO be done, it has cheaper operating and maintenance costs, it is more durable, more stable, it is faster, it has less latency, it does not allow the owner of the last mile to hold it ransom, it is the new standard, and it is a long-term solution. There is no more “debate”, there’s just a vocal minority holding onto their discredited arguments, and everyone proceeding in circles, repeating and repeating and repeating the same things to discredit these so-often-repeated arguments. The “debate” is over – it is irrational to continue the “debate”. What you are actually referring to is not a debate, it’s an “argument” – in the school playground sense.

      • nonny-moose
        Posted 30/11/2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink |

        In fact if you quote more there would probably be a quite different tone to the story……lol

        “You’ll probably save some money. I can assure you it won’t be a quarter of the cost of doing fibre to the prem[ises]” he said.

        its ‘viable’ but it won’t be able to fulfil the Coalitions promises, IOW.

      • Zok
        Posted 30/11/2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink |

        There is no more “debate”, there’s just a vocal minority holding onto their discredited arguments, and everyone proceeding in circles, repeating and repeating and repeating the same things to discredit these so-often-repeated arguments. The “debate” is over – it is irrational to continue the “debate”. What you are actually referring to is not a debate, it’s an “argument” – in the school playground sense.

        Well written. And yet — we will keep going in circles, having same “arguments” raised by the usual suspects, having those “arguments” quoted, re-quoted and re-re-re-quoted ad infinitum by our media (newspapers, TV panels, blogs…) As long as there are significant political/commercial/media interests in perpetuating this false and empty “debate”, we are going to keep facing the same irrational, already-debunked and contradicted points of view.

    15. Brendan
      Posted 30/11/2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink |

      FTTN is quite viable. It’s also viable to build roads using dirt, houses with clay and straw.

      Is each the best solution? Depends. On any number of factors. Which is exactly what Mr Quigley is stating.

      It’s only cheaper if you scale back the premises count, don’t pay Telstra to become retail only (i.e. to sell the networks division outright) and ignore the built in obsolescence that will eventually require a build out of FTTH.

      If people think the cost to gain shared access to Telstra ducts and infrastructure was expensive, how much do you think they’ll ask for the “going concern” that is the networks division? Is Mr Turnbull going to pay for that.

      Is it cheaper? Can it be done faster?

      Computer says.. No.

    16. Trevor
      Posted 01/12/2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink |

      A friend of mine made the point the other day, just as they did with Telstra, if the LNP get into power in 4 years’ time they will just sell the NBN off and then do a hyper-inflated share release to get the Australian public to pay a private company to own (and charge them for) infrastructure that used to be a public asset. Unless there ia binding legislation that prohibiys future governments from

    17. Trevor
      Posted 01/12/2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink |

      A friend of mine made the point the other day, just as they did with Telstra, if the LNP get into power in 4 years’ time they will just sell the NBN off and then do a hyper-inflated share release to get the Australian public to pay a private company to own (and charge them for) infrastructure that used to be a public asset. Unless there is binding legislation that prohibits future governments from selling off state assets like this, that does lead one to the conclusion that a Liberal government can never be trusted to return to power at any time in the future…

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