Telstra starts VDSL vectoring FTTN trial


news The nation’s largest telco Telstra has reportedly kicked off a trial of the Coalition’s preferred fibre to the node, VDSL and vectoring technologies in an effort to show what they are capable of on its copper network, as the Coalition’s plan to dial down Labor’s more ambitious fibre to the premises NBN rollout gets into gear.

The Coalition’s version of the NBN policy will see part of Telstra’s existing copper network maintained, in what is termed a ‘fibre to the node’ deployment. The model has been extensively and successfully deployed in countries such as the UK, but Australian proponents of Labor’s policy have highlighted the fact that it offers limited speed boosts over currently available broadband in Australia (up to 100Mbps as a top-end limit), compared with Labor’s NBN, which will offer enhanced levels of reliability and speeds up to 1Gbps, coupled with significantly enhanced upload speeds.

Telecommunications industry experts have consistently stated that they believe Labor’s NBN policy to be highly technically superior to the Coalition’s more modest vision, and having the potential to deliver Australia superior long-term outcomes in terms of service delivery and boosting Australia’s economy through productivity gains.

In addition, questions have been raised about the extent to whether it’s possible to deploy the FTTN technology the Coalition is focused on in Australia and whether it will perform as the Coalition has claimed. There are also questions as to whether Telstra, which owns the copper network which would need to be used as part of the FTTN rollout, will consent to modify its existing $11 billion arrangement with the Labor Federal Government and NBN Co, along the lines the Coalition plans.

This morning, the Financial Review quoted a Telstra spokesperson as confirming that the telco had kicked off a “VDSL vectoring trial” involving FTTN just after the Federal Election several weeks ago, with its long-term partner Alcatel-Lucent supplying the equipment. We recommend you click here for the full article.

Alcatel-Lucent is also a major partner in deploying the current NBN, under a contract signed in June 2010 which was to see the French networking giant supply up to $1.5 billion worth of optical and ethernet aggregation equipment to NBN Co.

The news comes just days after Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in as Communications Minister to the new Coalition administration led by Tony Abbott, and on the same morning as news has broken that NBN Co’s entire current board has resigned, believing Turnbull does not have any confidence that it can keep NBN Co delivering on the project.

Speculation is also mounting that Turnbull will consider handing a significant tranche of the NBN construction work to Telstra.

During Turnbull’s Google Hangouts session with the Sydney Morning Herald during the election campaign, Informa senior analyst Tony Brown asked Turnbull whether one way of fixing the long-running issues with NBN Co’s contractor workforce would be to bring in the Australian company most qualified to roll out telecommunications infrastructure in the existing copper network — the company that owns it, has all the network information, decades of experience and an existing workforce stretching into the tens of thousands that don’t need: Telstra.

“It is curious that Telstra have not been used as a contractor to build any part of this network,” Turnbull responded at the time. “I’m not aware of a new generation network of this kind … I’m not aware of any new generation network that are not being built by the incumbent. Even in say, Singapore for instance, there is an independent entity, a separate entity that is going to operate the network, [but] they’re still using Singtel to do the construction.”

“I assume Telstra was excluded for political reasons, but Telstra should certainly be a candidate. Obviously there are details of price and matters of that kind, that are pretty relevant, but Telstra does have a huge amount of experience.”

Fascinating to see Telstra kick off this kind of trial. I really hope that the telco makes the results of its trial public, so that we can get some insight into what its copper network is actually technically capable of, when it comes to the FTTN family of technologies. I will be badgering the telco to give us some further insight into the results it’s found here.

As to the issue of whether Telstra should be involved in the construction (but not operation) of the NBN, I have previously laid out my argument that yes, it clearly should. You can read my detailed thoughts on this on Delimiter 2.0 (paywalled), but here’s my intro paragraph:

“A growing body of evidence is mounting that NBN Co should seriously consider contracting the nation’s incumbent telco Telstra to build large sections of the National Broadband Network infrastructure, no matter which major side of politics wins the upcoming election, and no matter whether a fibre to the node or fibre to the premises model is eventually chosen.”

One last thing: Apologies for linking to Delimiter 2.0 several times during this morning’s NBN articles; I know that a lot of people don’t like Delimiter to link to paywalled articles at all. Unfortunately, in this case, it’s useful because I really have gone into these issues in depth on Delimiter 2.0 previously; that’s what Delimiter 2.0 is for, after all — going into depth on important Australian technology issues, and trying to predict a little ahead of time what the future may hold. However, I do apologise to readers who are annoyed by the links.

Image credit: Telstra



      “Telstra will be conducted this trial in a greenfields estate, where the risks to interfering with the services owned existing subscribers are at least risk. As a professional telecommunications organisation, it wouldn’t be a good look to accidentally interrupt people’s service.”

      Seriously though, it’ll have to be done in a new area anyway, because FTTN mean you have to cut the copper anyway. They really aren’t going to going in with a high-risk plan to screw up an existing DA.


      • More likely they will just upgrade RIMs. RIMs still have fairly new copper compared to the rest of the network.

        • Possible, but it would not be a trial of the proposed architecture. Wouldn’t surprise me if they did it, but it’s not going to demonstrate what they want to demonstrate, so it would be largely pointless.

          So Malcolm will probably be all for it.

          • The problem I see with any trial of VDSL is getting enough users. How do they get 70% of an area onto FTTN to see what happens when the crosstalk is where it will be on a full rollout?

  1. Telstra has a government that basically gave an election promise to hand them over several billions to roll out FTTN.

    Why should there be any problems at this point in time? I’m sure this vectoring trial will be an unparalleled success. It will confirm everything Turnbull has said and more. It’ll be the best thing since sliced bread.

    All that needs to be done now is to hand over the money and install Mr. $189/GB, our old CEO, as the new CEO of NBN Co.

  2. ” I really hope that the telco makes the results of its trial public” They will if the test goes well :)

  3. The article clearly states ‘controlled conditions’ on the copper.

    We know what the result will be. Just wait for the first 6 months of rollout. That’s when we’ll really see what the copper can do.

  4. Aren’t their “Top Hats” FTTN? If they are, they could use those for these tests (unless the equipment is not compatible? Are Top Hats Alcatel?)

    • As seven_tech suggested, the RIMs don’t – (generally) – cater for any more than about 50 or so premises. Where they were used in greenfields housing estates, there would be a similar number of premises as in a typical DA – (250 to 300) – which *could* be used for such a trial, and have roughly comparable results to a new FTTN node, in an area with reasonable copper condition.

      The problem is that there are many many areas that are likely to have quite poor copper conditions, where a trial in a RIM’med area isn’t going to demonstrate anything remotely analogous to each other.

      • It’s just a trial though, they don’t need to test whole area’s to “show the system works” (or even “exceeded expectations”).

        10 Top Hats with 50 users each, there’s “A recent trial of 500 premises show that…”

        Their press releases pretty well write themselves, even without News Corp help ;o)

    • As I already posted a comment in the A deep investigation into Telstra’s copper article here:

      Many areas (including where I lived) already have a FTTN (Telstra Tophat) providing their ADSL2+ Service. TheTelstra Tophat is in fact a Alcatel Lucent 7330 ISAMs and is feed by Fiber (1Gbps backhaul).

      I’m approx. 100metres from our Tophat, and the Distribution Area cable run goes directly from the Tophat to my home. I was syncing at the max sync rate of 24Mbps for a fair while but now I sync at only 18Mbps sometimes less. Fairly new estate (4-5 years) and fairly new copper. So the copper has already started to deteriorate which is affecting sync rate. Can’t do anything about this as our PSTN Service works flawlessly and with no audible faults. Check whirlpool and you will find many other people having the same issue. Newest estate, new Tophat and their Sync rate slowly but surely goes down hill. Yep that’s the beauty of having copper in the equation. You can’t guarantee any contant sync rate with copper because it’s electrical properties don’t remain constant because they are subject many external factors. It’s just physics.

      Since the “Tophat” can easily be configured to support VDSL2 with vectoring and perhaps pair bonding if pair pairs were available. The 1Gbps backhaul in a Tophat (which is provided by the WDDM module), could have increased capacity if spare dark fibre was available. Then a swap out of the module and card (at both ends) would provide increased capacity.

      So Telstra could conduct their VDSL2 (with vectoring) FTTN trial using an existing “Tophat” without too much trouble. They would use (I’m guessing) only households within the stated 800m local cooper loop for such a trial. So household beyond 800metre radius from “Tophat” wouldn’t get a look in (unless the goal post suddenly move which is possible).



        • Yep I wasn’t just referring to “copper deterioration”. That is why I stated in my comments that you can’t guarantee any constant sync rate with copper because it’s electrical properties don’t remain constant because they are subject many external factors.

          “… Yep that’s the beauty of having copper in the equation. You can’t guarantee any constant sync rate with copper because it’s electrical properties don’t remain constant because they are subject many external factors. It’s just physics…”

          Perhaps I should have made my comments clearer.

  5. There’s a certain symmetry about the old monopolist getting ready to resume it’s ‘rightful’ place as the Coalition’s favoured telco. It reinforces the holy trinity – Telstra, Foxtel and Newscorp.

    • It’s almost like Malcolm said “We’ll get the band back together. We’ll get some gigs. We’ll make some bread and BANG!”

  6. Its hypocritical for Turnbull to claim Telstra was excluded for political reasons, and then hand Telstra construction contracts – without proper open tendering processes. Thats purely politically motivated as well. Its the only likely way he would get his FTTN network built. So much for promoting competition, using competition to keep prices down etc. If Telstra get the contracts, they will be at Telstras exorbitant rates, and the taxpayer will pay the price.

    • The problem is the difference in acceptable time frames for their respective positive outcomes for Turnbull and Telstra. Turnbull is governed by the constant media cycle and the 3 year term of his office. Telstra can afford to look over a 10-15 years horizon.

      This is a perfect fit between the two so the upfront costs can be shifted to Telstra looking good in the short term for MT, whilst Telstra play the long game, recovering costs and a modest profit today, but securing their present and future spot as the largest Telco in Australia.

  7. Every time I see this article, the quote that pops into my mind is “Whats the vector, Victor?”…

    Stupid Flying High…

    I hope Telstra do a best case/worst case test with this, as deluding themselves with textbook results only costs THEM in the short, medium, and long terms. They need to get their heads around whats really wrong with the system, as they’re going to get stuck with fixing it.

    Deluding themselves into thinking the problems arent there, even for a short time, only hurts their pockets. Which is all they really care about.

    • I don’t agree in this instance, Gav. If Telstra run a FTTN trial to demonstrate it working in a real world Australian case study they can then be handed the construction contracts for NBN Co (as they have shown it works and are the only infrastructure provider with hands on experience). Telstra gets paid to build the network and while they’re doing that they can run their own fibre for FTTP in profitable areas. NBN Co are saddled with a financially unworkable business while Telstra cement their position as the largest monopoly provider of wholesale telecommunications infrastructure.

      The only way Telstra are going to have to support an expensive failure like FTTN is if they take the network off the government’s hands, and the only way they’ll do that is in exchange for either a heavily discounted purchase price or huge annual subsidies (because they’ll already have FTTP in all the profitable areas, so the only parts left will be those where the economics don’t make commercial sense. But they do if the network costs you less than the income you make from it because it’s been sold to you at a loss, or if you receive annual subsidies to cover the shortfall and OPEX).

    • I hope Telstra do a best case/worst case test with this, as deluding themselves with textbook results only costs THEM in the short, medium, and long terms.

      They already did their head around it mate, leave the old stuff “as is” and use fibre in greenfields was the answer…

      • More thinking of doing some FttN stuff in the real world, where last mile copper dramas are going to ruin it for them in 2-3 years. Its all well and good to roll out FttN and stating “up to 300 Mbps”, but what happens when they are copping thousands of complaints about not even getting 20 Mbps because of the copper.

        They need to know the likely dramas so they can plan for them, and thats only happening with worst case testing.

        I’m thinking specifically about situations like mine. MDU, approx. 800m from the exchange, let the line is 2 kms long. Why? Whats gone wrong that means the connection loops around 2 blocks east, 2 blocks south, 2 blocks west, and 1 1/2 blocks north to get to my property line?

        Geographically, the lines should run straight up my road, then connect into the fiber trunk line and straight to the exchange. I should have 20 Mbps now.

        So if they were looking at FttN in an area like mine, how would a rollout work to get me on less than 500m loop? The logical point is the top of the road, which as stated is one of the main trunk lines that forms the backbone of the network already. Or even better, the next corner, which would be around 500m from that trunk line.

        Or am I to expect that, even with a node 50m away, I’d be connecting to one thats 1 1/2 blocks south, and 2 blocks east? A location by the way that wont happen, because its at the end of the residential section of Wollongong suburb, the node wouldnt be central to 500m loops. Basically, I’m a worst case scenario waiting to happen in a FttN rollout.

        These will be the real world situations they are going to face. If they ignore them now people are just going to complain. Then what happens? They fix the copper line so it connects to the next block, and hence I connect to the node 50m away, or replace it with fiber, or a node is put in a location that isnt efficient.

        As it is, fiber is being rolled out across the suburb, so its only MDU issues to be addressed – in a 6 year old MDU, so there wont be ducting issues. Not exactly sure when we get it though, it was listed as being completed today from memory, but parts of the area have stretched to November.

        There would have been asbestos issues in the Wollongong area I expect.

        • If fibre was due for completion by Nov I’d say your area will be contracted for completion, even if there are delays those don’t change the contracts – you may have been a worse case example for FTTN but you won’t have to worry about that ;-)

          • I happen to think you’re right (that we’ll get FttH), but that doesnt stop me thinking about others in similar situations. The issues with my unit cant be unique, and are going to be the sort of things that make the headlines in the coming years.

            A promise of 25 Mbps, only to see nothing better than now, with little to no solution. I’m 800m from the exchange, but my copper line is 2 kms long. What happens if thats NOT because of a break in the line, but some bizarre planning decision made half a century ago?

            Where I live is on the southern edge of Wollongong’s main CBD. End of the street is basically the end of the residential stretch for the better part of 10kms, thanks to the Port Kembla steelworks, so if a node was put 500m down the copper line as I expect it was laid, then its coverage is going to be wasted. 500m away would be the very corner of the population, and hence 75% of its 500m coverage radius wouldnt have residents.

            Not a cost effective rollout of a node, and every suburb is going to have similar issues at their boundaries. So do they waste a node, or roll out fiber?

            I’m just saying they need to look at those situations now, and figure out ways to solve them because they are going to be the issues that come back to bite them in a year or two.

            For me personally, I just need to find out what the call is on getting FttH for the MDU, then connecting.

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