Is NBN Co’s FTTP ramp-up “pure fantasy”?



blog We’ve been hearing the same mantra from NBN Co for some years now with regards to its Fibre to the Premises network rollout. Initially moving, as Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull likes to describe it, “at the pace of an arthritic snail”, NBN Co executives have long been fond of claiming that the company’s rollout would speed up as time went on, in a “ramp-up” phenomenon. However, over at iTNews, journalist Ry Crozier has crunched the numbers and determined that the claim is just that — a claim — with no actual evidence of such a ramp-up in sight. Crozier reports (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“NBN Co isn’t suffering the ill effects of the construction industry’s Christmas shutdown, nor is it about to suddenly “ramp up” fibre rollout efforts now that the silly season is over. This whole fibre ramp-up narrative has gone on too long. Take a closer look at the numbers and you’ll see there is no longer a reason to believe a word of it.”

For me, what this clearly evident trend points to is that, despite all the analysis that has been done into the NBN rollout so far, we really don’t know what to expect here. As I wrote in an article discussing the rollout for Delimiter 2.0 in August last year (paywalled), globally, only incumbent telcos have conducted this kind of Fibre network rollout. It’s hard to know what to expect in terms of the capabilities of a startup company like NBN Co, even supported as it is by extensive construction contractors. Unfortunately, Labor picked an untested model for NBN Co; and that’s never a good idea for major technology projects.

This doesn’t invalidate NBN Co’s Fibre to the Premises model — far from it. But it does point to the fact that the construction model picked by Labor for the project — as former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has acknowledged — has failed. It will be interesting to see whether the Coalition can do any better at holding to its promises.

Image credit: Mary Bliss, Creative Commons


  1. huh? why would they ramp up now that the project has for all intents and purposes been cancelled?

    • This is true. There’s no need to even talk about a “Dog Whistle” here. Turnbull has made it perfectly clear that he has no interest in FTTP, so why should he allow any ramp-up?

      NBN Co are just following his orders. If that means not issuing new orders or not directing new rollouts, then that’s the way it is done. Death by neglect!

      Effectively, Tony Abbott’s dream of “Destroying the NBN” is still happening – I bet he sleeps well at night…

    • @HazchemD

      Exactly. Under orders from Turnbull, NBN Co requires permission from the government to start work in a new area. Turnbull hasn’t given authorisation for new build contracts for a while, if ever. How are they supposed to ramp-up when they cannot start new work?

      “In regard to rollout in brownfield areas, NBN Co should continue existing construction where build instructions should not ordinarily be issued pending further analysis and discussion.” – Malcolm Turnbull (Statement of expectations)

  2. The article also references the fact that the change of government and management of NBN co have a benefit in slowing down the FTTP rollout. Why does your article not mention this aspect at all? If I were the LNP or Ziggy, of course I would be slowing the rollout and stopping any ramp up from occurring, its common sense as it will confirm their disgraceful review as correct.

      • @Renai

        Maybe no evidence that they WANT to. However, I would say this is evidence that they ARE slowing the roll-out down, whether intentional or not: “In regard to rollout in brownfield areas, NBN Co should continue existing construction where build instructions should not ordinarily be issued pending further analysis and discussion.” –

        Now that Malcolm Turnbull has conducted his review and determined what direction he wants to take the project, why hasn’t he issued new instructions to NBN Co allowing them to start construction in new areas as they are ready? You could say that Malcolm will eventually approve new areas but you have to ask the question as to why he is micromanaging. This either comes down to poor management or a hidden agenda, I know which one I believe is more likely.

        • I missed the edit period but I should clarify that I meant that it was evidence that they have options available to ramp-up but are just not taking them. Slowing the roll-out by inaction.

      • For contractors to “ramp up” they would need more contracts to do more areas in parallel and hire more people to do so. What’s the incentive now to do this? What was the incentive before the election to ramp up when it looked like the Coalition would win and stop/pause/change the rollout?

        • I suspected something along these lines when the NBNCo deployment map changed to be more reflective of ‘reality’. All the Govt have to do is to slow down deployment is to slow down the issuing of contracts to continue the build. Pretty easy actually.

          Renai, while I can’t get proof of this, is there anyway we can find out this part of the procurement chain has slowed?

          • Well there is one news article I remember that pretty much shows the slow down. Tasmanian contractors protesting at the lack of work on the NBN. I can’t imagine that Quigley would have left them idle for long there would be contracts coming their way quick smart.

      • That is true, but neither do they seem to be pushing the contractors like the previous management were. I live in the Riverstone area and have been watching closely the NBN activity around here. They were supposed to have a few other parts of Riverstone done by now, but since they finished RIV01 just before the election they are nowhere to be seen. Speculation on Whirlpool suggests they have gone to concentrate on another nearby area like Blacktown, but just as an interested observer I see no evidence of any “push” to get things completed. This is in total contrast to when RIV01 was done, every couple of streets had a crew on it. Now there are none anywhere.

  3. How could they ramp up the FTTP roll out when it’s getting canned? A ramp up would require more input.

    But there is no commercial sense in inputting more resources (like manpower and equipment) in to it, so they are running with the same resources they had, the best they could hope for would be to continue the roll out at the same speed.

    As in the past, the current Liberal government continues to show it just plain doesn’t ‘get’ telecommunications in Australia.

  4. I got taken off the NBN map when it was in build stage.
    So flap you Coalition government…

  5. The ramp up has been a fantasy for a long time, and the strategic review lays out why pretty clearly.

    NBNco predicted the build would be 3 months design, 7 months construction.

    The reality was over 7 months design, and 7.1 months construction.

    The reason design takes 7 months is because NBNco and the contractor spent it bickering over cost per premise for each area, they both need to agree before the Contract Instruction is issued.

    NBNco would have realised around September-October that they didnt have enough contract instructions issued to reach their targets, hence why they moved the goalposts by including “Early Release” sections in the target (previously the target was for completed areas of ~2000 premises with an extra goal for Early Release areas).

    That way they could re forecast and have some hope that the contractors would be able to partially complete enough areas to meet their target.

    In doing so they destroyed the efficiency of the build, as laid out in the SR. Where previously Early Access would be a small side effect of the overall build of an area, it became the sole focus, leading to a hugely dispersed and inefficient rollout.

    Ry’s is a victim of the very fallacy he mentions, just looking at the overall figures. NBNco need to go back and fill in the areas they didn’t do properly (a good example is Armidale where the rollout dropped off the radar once they had done most of it), and then actually build scale in focused areas so they can roll out efficiently.

    Whether the new management can actually fix the rollout remains to be seen.

    The per week figures have already been jacked up as far as they go by putting the focus on Early Access.

    • “Whether the new management can actually fix the rollout remains to be seen.”

      To be fair, it remains to be seen if the NBNco will be permitted to. The deployment models have changed, however Turnbull is nowhere to be seen. He’s not approving new work?

      How do you action new works if it’s not yet signed off? What are you going to build, new areas would not automatically receive FTTH if that was planned, simply because that’s no-longer the technology of choice. They are non-zero factors.

      This entire article’s premise (not Renai, but the source) ignores the ‘caretaker’ period, the election, the delayed Report, and the expected change in technology.

      How can something “ramp up” if the deployment is effectively being left in first-gear, no new areas being signed off (that we can tell) and no sign of any new policy to which NBNco will operate under.

      Never mind that ~30% of the ‘mixed model’ presumes access to HFC, of which they do not currently have. FTTN is still under trial.

      Sure, blame NBNco for not meeting farcical numbers; I think it’s pretty clear that the (then) government got the numbers wrong.

      But, do not confuse this with Turnbull’s decision to neuter the rollout through inaction and change; the later is most definitely influencing the former.

      It is not logical or reasonable to ignore the Minister’s efforts. He is now responsible, not the least by virtue of changing the deployment.

  6. Before the change in gov I was meant to have construction start this year and there were trucks pulling fibre in near the exchange around Christmas. Just checked on the NBNCo map now and there is absolutely nothing in my area. Apparently it hasn’t started.

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