news The nation’s largest telco Telstra last week carried out the first copper to fibre customer migrations in its South Brisbane exchange area — including those of customers belonging to other ISPs — as it continues its project to replace its copper network in the region.
Telstra has chosen to replace the copper connections to about 20,000 premises in the region as its South Brisbane telephone exchange — where the copper cables terminate — is being closed in order to make way for the new Queensland Children’s Hospital in the area. The region is one of the first in Australia to receive fibre services to the home — but is not part of the Federal Governent’s flagship National Broadband Network project, although the long-term plan is for the infrastructure to become part of the NBN.
The telco said in a statement that last week three customers who had been using traditional fixed-line telephone services through its Wholesale Line Rental product (which other telcos use) had been migrated from copper services to the fibre. One of these customers was actually previously using Telstra as its retail provider, but migrated to another provider.
In addition, one customer using broadband through the telco’s Spectrum Sharing Service had been migrated to its Fibre Access Broadband product, which represented the first customer to use the FAB service — and the first mixed service, as they were using Telstra as their retail fixed line telephony provider, and another provider for broadband.
Overall there are about 20,000 customers in the region, with about a third of those (some 7,000) being customers of other providers which Telstra serves through its wholesale division. About 4,500 are accessing broadband through Telstra Wholesale’s unbundled local loop service (ULLS).
In a separate interview, the telco’s general manager of wholesale products, Graham Bate, said it had originally planned to start migrations in March, but after feedback from telco customers, decided to defer the shift until August this year. Customers in the area using the copper network will be progressively migrated to the fibre throughout the rest of this year.
At some points, as the network has been rolled out, Telstra has faced a few bumps in the road with respect to the fibre deployment, with ISP customers such as iiNet criticising the company for not providing exactly the same services on the new fibre as it had through its previous copper network — such as naked DSL and multi-cast IPTV broadcasting.
Over the past decade, the product suite which Telstra Wholesale offers and the processes by which other telcos connect to its network have become increasingly refined, due to both sides working together on the matter, as well as dispute resolution processes through regulator the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
However, it’s only over the past several years that fibre rollouts have been hitting Australian residences, primarily in greenfield development zones and early NBN rollout areas.
Bate said the rollout was “the perfect opportunity for the industry and Telstra to derive some learnings about fibre”. And with respect to the complete suite of services available over copper: “The challenge is for us to replicate in our fibre product, something which customers have implemented in their own network — something which we haven’t implemented in our own network previously,” he said.
Ah, the love/hate relationship between Telstra and the clutch of ISPs which it both services (through its wholesale division) and competes with (through its retail arm). Enough ink to float a yacht on has been wasted on the ins and outs of this complex dance over the past decade — and I’m sure that much and more will be used up in pixels on computer screens over the next.
To be honest, I think Telstra has done quite a good job with its South Brisbane fibre migration. Sure, there has been the odd complaint from ISPs, and I’d personally still like to see a service similar to naked DSL implemented (where you don’t have to pay for a telephone line on the side), but it’s also true that such things only evolved on the copper network after years of work on both sides anyway, and that even NBN Co itself is requiring customers sign up to buy a telephone line as well as a broadband service. While Telstra’s fibre offering isn’t perfect, it’s hard to argue that it’s not standard.
The South Brisbane fibre upgrade was always a bit of a bastard child — born halfway between Telstra’s copper past and the nationwide NBN fibre rollout which is designed to replace it. However, I don’t think going through the process has been a bad one, for either Telstra or its ISP customers. The feedback I have gotten from network engineers is that there is quite a lot involved in rolling out fibre — especially in such a mass rollout — and both Telstra and the industry would have, as Bate points out, learned a lot through this one.