news The National Broadband Network Company today revealed it had successfully conducted early trials of the Fibre to the Node (FTTN) rollout model mandated by the Coalition Federal Government, with the trials delivering “raw” download speeds of 105Mbps over a distance of 100m from a local test ‘node’.
Under Labor’s previous NBN policy, some 93 percent of Australian premises were to have received fibre directly to the premise and the remainder satellite or wireless. Fibre to the Premises, as a technical model, allows very high upload speeds. Current retail NBN plans, for instance, allow upload speeds of 40Mbps on 100Mbps plans, while the long-term migration to gigabit speeds will allow upload speeds of 400Mbps.
However, NBN Co’s Strategic Review published in December last year changed the paradigm, with the company recommending (and the Coalition formally supporting last week) a vision in which up to a third of Australian premises will be served by the existing HFC cable networks of Telstra and Optus, with Fibre to the Node and Fibre to the Basement used in other areas not already covered by Labor’s FTTP approach. Satellite and wireless is to be used to cover some rural and regional areas as under Labor’s previous plan. This new model is known as the “Multi-Technology Mix” (MTM), or “the Coalition’s Broadband Network” (CBN).
NBN confirmed late last year that it was planning to conduct FTTN trials, as well as accompanying trials of Fibre to the Basement technology in apartment blocks. And in February it confirmed the trials had begun with real customers.
The Fibre to the Node build pilot was to be undertaken in two locations: Umina near Woy Woy on the NSW Central Coast and Epping in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. NBN Co was to construct two small scale Copper Serving Area Modules, erecting kerbside node cabinets which will connect fibre to spare copper pairs in the Telstra pillar. NBN Co stated that neither site had been earmarked to receive FTTP within the next 12 months under the previous rollout plan. Once active, NBN Co was to invite RSPs to participate in a Fibre to the Node end user trial. This limited term trial will test the delivery of high speed broadband via FTTN to up to 100 premises at each location.
In a new statement today, NBN Co said the first in-premises test by NBN Co of the FTTN technology had delivered raw download speeds of 105Mbps and upload speeds of 45 Mbps.
The technology trial was conducted recently by NBN Co engineers in Umina, near Woy Woy, on the NSW Central Coast.
Engineers installed a VDSL modem in a shopfront and then connected the existing copper telephone line to a node cabinet in the street. The node cabinet, which has been erected alongside a Telstra pillar around 100 metres from the shopfront, converts electrical signals transmitted over copper wires into pulses of light that can travel over optical fibres.
The company issued the following rider to its speed claims, however: “NBN Co provides services to its wholesale customers, telephone and internet service providers, and does not provide services directly to end users. This trial involved testing speeds over physical network layers rather than end user speeds. End user experience including the speeds actually achieved over the NBN depends on some factors outside our control like equipment quality, software, broadband plans and how the end user’s service provider designs its network.”
NBN Co chief executive officer, Bill Morrow, said in the company’s statement: “This is an important milestone in the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN). It demonstrates that existing technologies such as the copper network are capable of playing a vital role in delivering high speed broadband to Australians.”
NBN Co chief operating officer, Greg Adcock said: “As outlined at our analysts’ update today, this speed test is a result of the work by our engineers and construction crews to install a small number of node cabinets in Umina on the NSW Central Coast and Epping in Melbourne’s northern suburbs to pilot the construction and delivery of FTTN.”
“Once active, the next step will see NBN Co invite retail service providers to take part in a limited FTTN end user trial in these locations. The aim will be to test the delivery and end user experience of high speed broadband via FTTN to a small number of premises at each location.”
According to NBN Co, the results of the technology trial bolster the findings of the Strategic Review conducted by the company and published in December 2013. The Strategic Review determined that the NBN could be delivered sooner and more cost-effectively by incorporating existing capable telecommunications networks with an upgrade path – such as copper and hybrid fibre coaxial cable (HFC) – into the rollout.
The company is now planning a widescale commercial rollout of technologies including FTTN next year, following the renegotiation of NBN Co’s Definitive Agreements with Telstra.
However, the so-called “Multi-Technology Mix” option which NBN Co is pursuing continues to be unpopular with Australians in general, with most preferring Labor’s technically superior FTTP model. For example, in mid-February Shadow Minister for Communications Jason Clare presented to Federal Parliament the signatures of 272,000 Australians who want the new Coalition Government to build Labor’s all-fibre version of the National Broadband Network instead of the technically inferior version which is currently being proposed.
NBN Co’s own Strategic Review shows that the full FTTP model, if reworked to be more efficient, could be delivered for peak government funding of $54 billion by the end of calendar year 2023. The Coalition’s preferred MTM model could be delivered for $39 billion by the end of calendar year 2020. Both would deliver a modest investment return on the Government’s capital injections. However, commentators have pointed out that over the long term in which the infrastructure is expected to operate — between 50 and 100 years — the time and cost differences between the two plans is negligible, leaving Labor’s FTTP proposal as the more technically superior.
Very good news that NBN Co has been able to achieve these very solid results in these tests. However, I will note that thus far we don’t have any data available about the quality and reliability of the copper run used in the tests. As has been noted many times previously, the quality of Telstra’s copper varies significantly between different areas and even between different streets.
I will also note that the speeds delivered by NBN Co here are not consistent with the experience in the UK, where BT’s Infinity service delivers speeds only up to 76Mbps. Given that the UK’s copper cable is widely considered to be in better condition than Australia’s, I am surprised at the results being shown here. I would also be curious to know whether the distance of 100m from the nearest node being used in these trials is considered a relatively normal distance in terms of a wider rollout of FTTN, and what distances comparable rollouts in other countries use from the node to the premises.
Image credit: NBN Co