news NBN Co founding chief executive Mike Quigley has advised the company’s new management to get on with the job of fulfilling the Coalition’s Fibre to the Node vision for the project and not to politicise it further, in his first public appearance since retiring several months ago.
A former Alcatel-Lucent executive of long standing, Quigley led NBN Co from mid-2009, when he was appointed as its first employee, through to the September Federal Election. Slightly after that point, he retired, with the Coalition appointing former Telstra and Optus chief executive Ziggy Switkowski to fill his shoes temporarily as executive chairman, until a permanent replacement is found.
Last night, Quigley gave a wide-ranging speech to TelSoc, a society focused on the telecommunications industry which hosts regular networking activities and lectures. At the event, held in Telstra’s offices in Sydney’s CBD, the executive was presented with the Charles Todd Medal for his services to the industry.
At the event, constituting his first public appearance since leaving NBN Co, Quigley gave a wide-ranging speech reflecting on his time at the company. Delimiter intends to publish further detailed extracts from the speech, which goes into detail about what Quigley feels NBN Co has accomplished in its first four years of existence.
However, perhaps the most topical aspect of Quigley’s speech was saved for his conclusion.
Much of the debate over the NBN has focused on the different rollout models proposed by the two major sides of politics. Labor favours a universal fibre to the premises model, which is the technically superior option, although it is slow and expensive to deploy. The Coalition is likely to modify that model to extensively use technically inferior fibre to the node and to the basement technology, which is faster and cheaper to deploy.
In concluding his speech, Quigley said if could offer some advice to NBN Co’s new management, it would be to focus on the task ahead regardless of NBN Co’s specific rollout model, because it had very little time to get its job done.
“The NBN is not a typical incremental project being undertaken by an incumbent telco,” the executive said. “In a country like Australia no telco would undertake this job without government involvement. So it truly is a national investment.”
“Whether you build an FTTP network or an FTTN network, there are risks either way. You can run the risk of building more than Australians will want or need in the future. Or you can run the risk of building less than they may want or need. This risk exists because an FTTN network cannot easily be upgraded to FTTP in an NBN environment.”
“Do I personally think that an FTTP network is a better technical and economic option and a better investment for our country? Well of course I do. But that is now irrelevant. Are there going to be challenges in implementing an FTTN policy as described? Of course there are. But no doubt work-arounds of one sort or another can be found.”
“If I could offer some advice to the new management of NBN Co, I would say: Even with all the work that has been done on the Transit, Satellite, FW, Greenfields, OSS/BSS, Product and Pricing and SAU, and the fact that you have a fully functioning company at your disposal, you do not have a minute to lose.”
Telecommunications analysts such as Paul Budde have interpreted comments by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the past several months that the Government was open to different NBN rollout models as the Minister having given NBN Co “the opportunity to save the current NBN”.
“Do not waste your time being party to a re-writing of the FTTP business case using nonsensical assumptions aimed to prove a pre-determined outcome,” Quigley said last night, according to speech notes seen by Delimiter. “That will only further politicise the project and ultimately delay you.”
“Even though I live in the middle of Sydney, my current peak speed on my ADSL2+ service is about 8Mbps. An increase to 25Mbps by 2016 and to 50 Mbps by 2019 would be an improvement. So, like many other Australians, I do hope that NBN Co, under its new management, can make that happen for me.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Mike Quigley here. Australian politicians and the technology industry has spent most of the past decade tearing each other apart on what the right rollout model is for the NBN, and the project has become increasingly politicised around this issue. But what is important — as countries such as the UK are showing — is not necessarily what rollout model is the correct one. After all, both have been successful internationally, and FTTN can ultimately be upgraded to FTTP down the track.
What is important is that everyone involved with the NBN is pulling in the same direction to make the project as a whole move forward with speed. Quigley’s point — and it’s a point I strongly agree with — is that NBN Co’s staff must focus on implementing the policy which the Government has decided on, even if they personally disagree with it. It’s a very valid point, and one I encourage everyone involved in this process to take on board.
Personally, I am very much over the FTTN versus FTTP debate. I just want the NBN project as a whole to pick up a head of steam. Like Quigley, I personally will be very happy to be receiving broadband speeds of 50Mbps by 2019, as I suspect most Australians will be. We can have a national debate after that point about FTTP upgrades. But right now, what’s important is getting this job done.
Image credit: NBN Co