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  • News, Telecommunications - Written by on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 14:17 - 32 Comments

    NBN Co demotes master FTTP architect


    news NBN Co has removed network planning responsibilities from Peter Ferris, the highly experienced and respected network engineer who was responsible for the design of the company’s previous Fibre to the Premises network, allocating the role to an executive who is qualified for the role but has not directly worked in the telecommunications sector since 2007.

    Ferris, whose formal title is executive general manager of planning and design at NBN Co, was one of the company’s early employees, joining it in October 2009 six months after it was established by NBN Co founding chief executive Mike Quigley. He has previously held a large number of technical engineering roles focused around Australian telecommunications networks (see his LinkedIn profile here).

    For example, immediately before joining NBN Co Ferris was general manager of network technologies at 3 Mobile, which merged with Vodafone that year to form Vodafone Hutchison Australia. Prior to that, for over four years he held the position of general manager, technology and planning at Optus. He has held other senior engineering roles at Optus since 1993. Prior to that point he worked as a manager at Telstra, with his tenure at the company dating back to January 1972.

    Ferris is widely regarded as being one of the key figures behind the design of the Fibre to the Premises network which NBN Co was established under the Rudd Labor administration to build. It is believed that much of the design of the network is based directly on principles laid down by Ferris, and that the executive was involved in all aspects of the network planning process.

    Although Quigley was the primary public face of NBN Co during Labor’s time administering the company, Ferris also appeared in public on occasion to give details about the project. In August 2011, for example, the engineer gave a highly regarded speech to engineers at Macquarie University that attempted to “myth-bust” some of the popular misconceptions surrounding the project. The video of Ferris’s presentation is available online.

    The speech became popular viewing material in Australia’s technology sector partially because it directly rebuffed some of the statements being made by the Opposition and other NBN critics, going into areas such as the claim that the investment in the NBN would be better spent on other areas, future bandwidth demands, wireless bandwidth versus fibre bandwidth, the idea that the Coalition’s preferred Fibre to the Node rollout style will be adequate for future needs, and the lifespan of fibre infrastructure. Ferris’s speech was often based on technical evidence accumulated during the executive’s long career.

    NBN Co’s construction model — which involves the extensive use of third-party construction firms — has been acknowledged by both sides of politics to have largely failed. However, very little criticism has been levelled at the network rollout model architected by Ferris, with most technical commentators believing it to be a strong model for a FTTP rollout.

    However, it now appears that the executive’s responsibilities have been taken away from him as part of a restructure of NBN Co conducted by the company’s Coalition-appointed chief executive Bill Morrow, who took up his post this month. That restructure will also see NBN Co head of corporate and commercial Kevin Brown, chief financial officer Robin Payne and chief technology officer Gary McLaren (pictured in order above) leave NBN Co. All three have similarly regarded as competent leaders at NBN Co.

    In a statement this month, a NBN Co spokesperson said Ferris “remains a highly respected employee of NBN Co”.

    “He is currently providing input to the organisational review within the Chief Operating Officer’s area,” they added. NBN Co chief operating officer Greg Adcock was appointed to his role in November 2013, after leading Telstra’s relationship with NBN Co. He replaced respected chief operating officer Ralph Steffens. NBN Co’s CTO office (formerly led by McLaren) has been subsumed into Adcock’s division.

    Adcock has been reported to have had a prior connection with Turnbull before the Federal Election. In mid-June, the Financial Review reported that Adcock was being considered for a senior executive position at NBN Co by Turnbull.

    Regarding Ferris, NBN Co added: “His former responsibilities have been subsumed across a number of areas, but principally into a new role, EGM Design Authority & Deployment Standards, reporting to the COO. Grant Bowden has been confirmed in this position today. Mr Bowden has widespread experience in planning and strategy for large scale network infrastructure developments.”

    Ferris’s replacement, Grant Bowden, bills himself on his LinkedIn profile as “A highly experienced senior executive (CTO) with a proven track record in strategy, planning and implementation of large scale business and technology infrastructure.”

    He further adds that he has experience with complex and large scale infrastructure planning and execution; broad executive management disciplines – strategy, planning, operational management, human resources management, financial management and marketing; organisational design and management, including strong team and people leadership; and organisational change planning, execution and management.

    However, Bowden does not appear to have worked directly in Australia’s telecommunications sector with wide-scale network rollouts for some time.

    His most recent role was as a consultant to Australian property and infrastructure group Lend Lease. It is not clear whether Bowden has been involved in the group’s construction engagements with NBN Co. Period to that role, which started in February 2013, Bowden had worked as a senior executive with Commonwealth Bank since June 2007, focusing on IT infrastructure.

    Part of that role was spearheading the bank’s network telecommunications infrastructure. However, banks such as CBA do not typically deploy their own network infrastructure as telcos do, but rely on telco infrastructure.

    Bowden’s most recent role directly in the telecommunications sector was a position at Optus from May 206 to May 2007, when he was director of marketing and strategy for Optus’s wholesale division. “Reporting to the MD, Optus Wholesale this position was accountable for product planning, development, lifecycle management, value proposition, feature, competitive advantage and technology for the fixed, mobile and DSL product range. This included go-to-market strategy, [marketing and communications], branding and pricing,” Bowden’s LinkedIn profile states.

    Prior to that point, from August 2003, Bowden held a position as director of business and wholesale services engineering at Optus.

    His profile states: “Reporting to the MD Networks, this position was accountable for determining strategy, directing planning and operations, developing the engineering designs of complex customer solutions for competitive bids and the design and deployment of the Optus/SingTel IP, ATM and Voice Networks. This included leading a team of 300 staff via 8 direct reports with $180m operating expense ($150m intercarrier charges) and $55m Capex supporting $2.6b of Optus revenues.”

    Prior to that point Bowden held another similar director role responsible for the engineering development, expansion and evolution of the Optus network. He held several national and regional general manager roles with Telstra from May 1995.

    Bowden’s appointment is only the most recent time that appointments to NBN Co under the Coalition’s watch have come under constant scrutiny.

    In late 2013, Communications Minister Turnbull refused to answer questions from the media about whether it was unethical to appoint several ex-Telstra executives with personal connections to the Liberal MP but little experience with network infrastructure rollouts to help NBN Co undertake the Strategic Review into its future broadband model.

    That Strategic Review, handed down in December last year, found that it would not be possible to deliver the Coalition’s stated policy goal of delivering broadband speeds of 25Mbps to all Australians by the end of 2016 or at the projected cost, and recommended that up to a third of Australian premises theoretically already covered by HFC cable networks effectively receive no upgrade at all under a drastically revised deployment scheme.

    Its recommendations were accepted by Turnbull this month, with the Minister ordering NBN Co to go ahead with the revised model, despite the lack of a cost/benefit analysis into the deployment, which the Minister had stated constantly in Opposition was necessary for the project.

    Importantly, I wish to note at the conclusion of this article that I consider Grant Bowden a very fit candidate to lead the technical design of NBN Co’s network infrastructure as executive general manager of design Authority & Deployment Standards. Bowden is very obviously a highly successful senior executive with direct experience in widespread network rollouts of the type NBN Co is conducting. There are, in point of fact, few executives of his calibre in Australia.

    It appears that Bowden has not worked directly for a telco for quite some years, but he is still very qualified for this role.

    However, I would separately question why Ferris has had his responsibilities taken away from him, and his position inside NBN Co completely marginalised. By all accounts, Ferris did a very good job of designing NBN Co’s network infrastructure to start with, and the executive was highly respected both within NBN Co and by those dealing with the organisation. What was the point of removing him from his role?

    This, of course, is a question I’ve already asked many times. I asked it when former NBN Co COO Ralph Steffens left the company in November last year. I asked it when NBN Co turfed its head of corporate and commercial Kevin Brown, chief financial officer Robin Payne and chief technology officer Gary McLaren several weeks ago.

    And, as the drastic restructure of NBN Co continues to move forward, with more and more senior executives widely regarded as competent leave the organisation, I will continue to ask it. Of course, I don’t expect to receive any (official) answers.

    Image credit: Screenshot of Macquarie University YouTube video

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    1. Posted 22/04/2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink |

      “However, I would separately question why Ferris has had his responsibilities taken away from him, and his position inside NBN Co completely marginalised.”

      Agree wholeheartedly.

      Peter has been involved with and been so good in so many network projects over many years – (PMG/Telstra, Optus, and others) – that this is a severe kick in the teeth.

      Expect a discreet – (and unfortunate) – departure soon.

    2. Paul Grenfell
      Posted 22/04/2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink |

      No need for anyone with fiber skills anymore.. Mr Copper has changed the course of the Nbn, now CBN..

    3. Posted 22/04/2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink |

      It is pretty simple really, the people having their “powers” revoked, are not the Yes-men that Turnbull has put into place.

      He doesn’t want people there who are going to possibly have an opposing opinion to his plan.

    4. nonny-moose
      Posted 22/04/2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink |

      i dont think it controversial that some of these rejigs have been punitive – there are few good reasons i can see why otherwise talented folk have been booted other than as payback for real or perceived support for the former policy. (its the simplest answer to me).

      it is really depressing, because in the act of punting these people away for – as r0nin says – yes men, the likelihood of the thing being run well in any fashion is IMO receding further and further away… and they dont care, because they can point to it and go “See! we were right, it IS a boondoggle’. responsibility for these decisions made will not be taken when theres such a convenient out at hand; and in any case its NEVER their fault anyway.

      courage… only a little under 2.5 years to go :S

    5. Mr Creosote
      Posted 22/04/2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink |

      More evidence that Turnbull is not interested in looking at any other option than FTTN and HFC. E.g. Option 4 from the strategic review wont get a run. The result is already decided.

      The next round of sackings should be all the consultants Turnbull is paying millions. They aren’t needed. Turnbull already knows the answer he wants. Time to stop the waste.

      • RocK_M
        Posted 22/04/2014 at 11:17 pm | Permalink |

        I highly doubt that.

        If anything he looks set to probably hire *more* of these *independant* consultants just to show the illusion of legitimacy on the “new” and improved plans.

    6. Malcolm
      Posted 22/04/2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink |

      He will fit right in, another dinosaur from the past to help Turnbull put together an outdated service for all Australians

    7. Rich
      Posted 22/04/2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink |

      Competent, Critical of bad ideas? Fired!

      So …. What’s Simon Hackett up to? Will he get ejected from the board once he starts making sensible contributions?

      • Paul Thompson
        Posted 22/04/2014 at 9:27 pm | Permalink |

        I don’t have faith that Simon is the person he is carefully portrayed as being.

      • ungulate
        Posted 22/04/2014 at 10:07 pm | Permalink |

        Hackett? You know the expression “lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas”. Or is it something like “supping with the Devil”? Or is it about making ones bed and.. oh well you get the picture.

      • nonny-moose
        Posted 22/04/2014 at 11:21 pm | Permalink |

        hes a non-executive director right? i doubt hes going to have much leeway to offer contributions in any case…. doubt he would be fired but he can be safely ignored as things stand.

      • quink
        Posted 23/04/2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink |

        Dude, Hackett. Simon. I know you must be reading this at some point. Say something.

        Or take action. Just saying that the status-quo is probably not just going to sail by peacefully.

      • Posted 23/04/2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink |

        Hey everyone,

        please stop whaling on Simon Hackett in these comments. It is very clear that he is making his view felt on every development during NBN Co board meetings, which is his role. It is not his role to criticise the company publicly.

        Further comments maligning his personal character will be deleted.


        • quink
          Posted 23/04/2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink |

          Simon Hackett could burn down an orphanage, eat a baby and [censored] before any of us would malign his character.

          What we’re trying to say is that he’s trapped in a situation that he himself took responsibility for without, frankly, any measurable outcomes that we can point at. At some point you have to wonder whether it’s best for him to either become engaging PR on a good level, even if it does mean conflict, or to leave NBN Co behind. But neither of these is happening, so his credibility in being able to point the NBN Co ship into a productive direction is becoming pretty minimal from an outside perspective, unfair as it is.

          That said, Simon Hackett is a hero in my opinion. And even if he doesn’t say one more pipsqueak about anything NBN, his past achievements and knowing him likely his other future ones too, will just keep backing that up. And sorry if there’s an impression to the contrary. And yes, I’ve been with Internode for more than a decade and right now I could probably save $20 a month just by switching to iiNet yet I’m still with Internode and will be forever. Not a small part of that is due to how much I respect Mr. Hackett and his creation Internode in general.

          • NBN_FttP!
            Posted 23/04/2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink |

            Hear, hear!

            Simon Hackett will always be a legend in AU for Internode’s consistent delivery of first-class, reliable internet service, backed up by the best personal customer service I’ve experienced anywhere in the world.

            If this government wants to deliver a world-class broadband network in Australia, Simon Hackett should be running NBNCo. He has delivered the goods with Internode and could do it again with NBNCo

            No one else even comes close.

            I don’t know Bill Morrow but Ziggy Switkowski will lay ruin to anything he touches within 18 months — and has consistently demonstrated this with serial performances at Kodak, Optus, Telstra and others.

            I worked for him (direct report) for 7 months and was gob-smacked at how inept this man was on even the simplest of matters; yet, somehow he continues to con people into hiring him for senior roles. Why anyone would appoint this guy to do anything beyond sweeping the floor is beyond my comprehension.

            He doesn’t understand the telecoms industry; he doesn’t understand IT; he didn’t understand the photography world and he surely doesn’t understand what is needed to deliver a successful, world-class wholesale broadband access network for NBNCo.

            His only hope will be if Bill Morrow can cover for him. And side-lining Peter Ferris is a crime. Good luck to us all.

        • Hmm
          Posted 23/04/2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink |

          “It is very clear that he is making his view felt on every development during NBN Co board meetings, which is his role”

          Can you provide some evidence to back that? As I have seen very little of it, and having access to some would be excellent.

    8. h4rm0n1c
      Posted 22/04/2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink |

      They’re just cleaning house of every dissenting point of view, I mean, if some asshole politicians lied publicly about a project you’d been painstakingly attending to for years, and these same people then proceeded to put into motion a series of changes that are completely hostile to the current model that you’d designed (and in the process, undo all of the work you’d just done), wouldn’t you be pissed off?

      I think there’s a lot of very unhappy people working at NBNco right now, who feel as if their ship has been hijacked by pirates.

    9. ungulate
      Posted 22/04/2014 at 10:05 pm | Permalink |

      Its pretty obvious why Mr. Ferris has been demoted.

      Its about internal cultural warfare. Eventually there will be consequences. As I correctly predicted here long before the election, FTTN will result in a 2 to 3 year delay and the first stages will involve internal cultural warfare, decaying morale, and falling productivity within NBNco.

      Time to watch it all go horribly wrong. We haven’t seen the court cases yet..

    10. Paul Thompson
      Posted 23/04/2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink |

      “Start sending threats and abuse to that lying scumbag Malcolm Turnbull and Phony Tony Abbott!”

      I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that is bad advice and very illegal.

    11. Damian
      Posted 23/04/2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink |

      Illegal advice for sure, but what’s the best legal alternative?

      Whinge and rant online but still be ignored in the real world by the policy making politicians?
      Fight a losing battle against politicians and mainstream media to persuade majority of dumb Australian’s to vote the way you think they should?

      All the while, people like Abbott and Turnbull, who most of us are convinced are corrupt, or at best just incompetent, get away with pursuing their agenda. Best case, in several years they are voted out, and walk away with millions in retirement. The damage will already be done and for all practical (economic) purposes, irreversible. We all lose out except them. Where is the justice in any of this?

      I’m not impressed either by Labor’s pathetic opposition of the CBN. Renai seems the most vocal and passionate fighter for the NBN. Jason Clare, as much as I like him, is too timid and quiet on the matter, even though it’s HIS responsibility. Conroy is also fighting for the NBN, but doing so in a manner that makes it hard for objective people to respect him.

      Can’t we donate to some crowd funded investigation to uncover their corruption, and put them behind bars? I’d pay hundreds to see that.

    12. quink
      Posted 23/04/2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink |

      Please go away.

    13. Glen Croaker
      Posted 23/04/2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink |

      I worked with Peter Ferris for a number of years, 30 odd years ago when he was building the Telstra Digital Data Network. This treatment of Pete is a real bitch, but I’m sure that he will get his teeth into another project that needs to be built, and again, “get the bloody job done ….correctly” …Glen

    14. Richard
      Posted 23/04/2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink |

      Is it really any surprise that politicians will play politics.

      At least Turnbull is contributing to academia by providing some excellent case studies in the fields of politics, technology, organisational management and project management. Amusingly, the cost of these case studies is probably going to be at least 10 times what the Coalition wants to cut from the education budget.
      Rest assured that some day in the future, students will be researching this political period over a fibre connection and writing assignments about the Abbot-Turnbull led technological devolution. My only hope is that it happens while I’m still young enough to use a computer.

    15. Posted 23/04/2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink |

      Some major restructuring is happening there at NBN Co, they demoted him simply because NBN will not push FTTP anymore.

    16. Dirk Diggler
      Posted 23/04/2014 at 5:47 pm | Permalink |

      He was hired as a yes man to champion the ill-conceived technology mix of the Labour NBN– anyone who joined was a kool-aid drinker and was so very passionate about FTTP in their interviews, how could it be done any other way!

      Well, the lunatic conroy and his party were told to get packing by the public, so it’s time to get rid of the yes men of yesteryear and replace them with new leadership.

      I don’t think anyone who has been sent packing is surprised

      • quink
        Posted 23/04/2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink |

        Kool-aid? Is that you, Malcolm? Joking aside, maybe you would have more credibility in calling out others as yes-men if you didn’t parrot the exact same disturbing phrase referring to a suicide cult that Malcolm has used. Please bring a more productive argument to the table – enthusiasm and consensus are no evidence of wrongdoing.



      • PeterA
        Posted 24/04/2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink |

        I love that it’s the labor NBN that is full of yes men and following ideology, all whilst without any evidence (CBA) and even evidence to the contrary (primarily fibre builds in the internal review) it is the coalition’s NBN that is choosing the FTTN network purely because of the ideology that saving a couple dollars and only building FTTN was the only thing the coalition said out loud during the election.

        The labor governments network started as an FTTN network, but after research and reports and technically informed debate, a fibre network was born.

        Please go and attempt to rewrite reality somewhere else Dirk.

    17. Ryan
      Posted 23/04/2014 at 11:15 pm | Permalink |


    18. Paul
      Posted 25/04/2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink |

      “Nepotism”? They are hiring Peter Ferris’s kids now? Where’s the evidence.

      • Rachel Ferris
        Posted 05/05/2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink |

        Haha I’m hired?! Must’ve missed the memo :-)

    19. shane
      Posted 25/04/2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink |

      Having known Mr Ferris for a very long time and knowing how he thinks I doubt anybody could call him a yes man.
      To all doubters re the NBN i live in Armidale with fttp am connected to it and the download speeds are brilliant, I also work at the local university which has arnet as its network and the difference in speed is noticeable. I just hope that somewhere in the future the politicians realize their mistake, but not holding my breath

    20. Graham H
      Posted 28/04/2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink |

      Glad to see at least one from Section 7 has risen to great heights professionally, even though not recognised by those who think words can create a situation which breaks the laws of physics.

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