FTTP NBN no big loss, claims Gizmodo


Three Wise Business Monkeys

blog There will no doubt be a great deal of debate in the days ahead about how the Coalition’s election victory will affect Labor’s flagship National Broadband Network project. There will be angst about the loss of the all-fibre vision which would have vaulted Australian telecommunications into the forefront of broadband service delivery globally. There will be debate about the extent to which Telstra’s copper network can support fibre to the node. And, of course, there will be discussion about Malcolm Turnbull’s merits as the nation’s new Communications Minister. However, what most Australian technologists probably didn’t expect to see was a claim that the loss of the FTTP NBN is no big deal. Writes Gizmodo editor Luke Hopewell today:

“I’m seeing a lot of people wailing on Twitter, Reddit and Facebook this evening, saying that the National Broadband Network is “dead”. “Goodbye, NBN”, one of my friends wrote. Here’s why you should stop being so dramatic … The bright side is that Malcolm Turnbull accepts the need for fibre broadband and sees the benefit of a national internet infrastructure. He just has a different idea of how to roll it out than the rest of us.”

Let me just say that the comments Hopewell has written here are flat out ridiculous. We’re not talking about Turnbull having a different view than his wife on what colour he should paint his house. We’re talking about the Coalition radically changing Australia’s largest-ever infrastructure project, an initiative which was to cost north of $40 billion and reform the entire telecommunications industry as well as underpinning the next century of broadband delivery in Australia, halfway through. This isn’t a small deal — the loss of the FTTP model for the NBN is probably the most significant immediate impact of a new Government in Australia.

It’s because of the importance and complexity of this issue that it has been debated endlessly in the media over the past half-decade. To argue that we shouldn’t mourn the loss of Australia’s greatest ever telecommunications policy is farcical. Or perhaps Gizmodo is just trolling. The loss of the FTTP NBN policy because of political differences between Labor and the Coalition is a travesty, and starkly demonstrates how Australia’s political system often fails voters, who had overwhelmingly been in favour of the NBN — even Coalition voters.


  1. And now, Turnbull will be watched very very very closely. He best be able to make good on his promise, because i suspect the technology sector will not forget.

    Was it a good thing the liberals came into power, for them, sure, but now they have an extremely tough time ahead, extremely tough.

    • yeah it certainly is a bit dramatic. The NBN will be alive but it’ll be gimped so much it’ll want to commit suicide. Given the state of the copper I’d say it’s already halfway there :-)

    • The LNP only broke both of the NBNs legs then gave it a wobbly stick to use to help it walk around.

  2. I know we haven’t always been in agreement on certain things, but I really do appreciate your contribution to the debate and the media environment in general, Renai (that’s the reason I read Delimiter in the first place). I completely agree with your comments here. The end of Australia’s greatest ever telecommunications policy really is something to mourn.

    At this point, what can we really do but hope that our future politicians have greater vision, and that by then it won’t be too late?

    Anyway, I look forward to your continued coverage of the “NBN”, whatever form it takes in the future, and I’m certain that even if the NBN is dead, the debate around Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure will continue. Maybe we can’t change the trajectory of it, but let’s keep the bastards honest.

    • +1

      The Gizmodo piece by Luke was enough for me to permanently take Gizmodo out of my RSS feeds. I don’t think its any secret that the quality of both their American and Australia news and reviews has taken a big dive the last few years, but I’ve always kept Giz AU there for a bit of mainstream Aussie tech news and things like like app specials. However that NBN fluff piece from Luke is just the final straw. How am I supposed to take Luke seriously when he shows such a tragically shallow understanding of the NBN’s benefits, and suddenly has confidence in the crappy alternative we are being lumped with? Giz have also been doing a lot of paid ‘advatorials’ lately, which is never a good sign that a site will be honest and objective.

  3. I read this article as well and was astounded to hear it from a site dedicated to technology. This is a huge backwards step for Australia – arguments for/against whether we can afford the current plan aside – we will now be paying $20b for a network which delivers speeds which are slower than current consumer offerings.

    To the poster above commenting that calling the NBN dead was dramatic: We could always use the words from the old BT CTO regarding their FTTN (something discussed on this very website).

    “Fibre to the cabinet is one of the biggest mistakes humanity has made,” he said. “It ties a knot in the cable in terms of bandwidth and imposes huge unreliability risks … “

  4. Personally, I don’t really care and agree in part with Gizmodo ;o)

    I’m on 100Mbps (so “I’m OK jack”), my only interest was ever in what it could mean for Australians trying to get ahead in a digital world. 25Mbps won’t actually cut it “out there”. If Australians aren’t interested enough to look out for themselves, that’s their issue.

    I will, however, continue trying to push our future in what I think is the right direction (better broadband and government encouragement for small/innovative businesses).

    Australia is (according to Tony), now “open for business”. It’s our duty as citizens to make sure they hold to that in the best way possible…

    • There is one problem with being one of the lucky ones with FTTP. Since FTTP will now only make up 22% of the rollout there will be services that will not be offered here, or offered at a higher price, because not everyone will be able to take them up. This will not be today, but other countries are getting 4K, 8K, or what ever new service that needs higher bandwidth. When countries are doing away with local storage and using shared storage for collaboration, etc, we won’t be included.

      • It is the second biggest problem – without guaranteed performance essentially across the board, it will be pointless attempting to develop many projects because they would need much greater market penetrative to be commercially viable. The same goes for government services – if you can’t be assured that most people will have access (even most people in specific areas) there is simply no value in pursuing most projects.

        As for the biggest problem, see my post in the ‘NBN is dead’ article: http://delimiter.com.au/2013/09/07/fttp-dream-coalition-victory-kills-labors-nbn/

        • > It is the second biggest problem – without guaranteed performance essentially across the board, it will be pointless attempting to develop many projects because they would need much greater market penetrative to be commercially viable.

          Guaranteed 100Mbps (or faster) is the great delusion of Labor’s NBN supporters.
          – There was no guaranteed performance. The speeds quoted were peak information rate not committed information rates.
          – Labor predicted that 50% would connect at 12Mbps

          If there was truth in political advertising, then Labor’s NBN adverts would be required to state: “Our predictions are that less than 5% will have 1Gbps connections in 2028.”

          • And now 100% on FTTN will connect at 25Mbps and no faster till 2017. Your point, if you have one? Is it something about predictions not always being right, or what?

    • “If Australians aren’t interested enough to look out for themselves, that’s their issue.”

      You could say the same about AIDS and the dangers of smoking awareness campaigns, seat belt legislation etc.,. Don’t bother, people should just know

  5. What would be interesting is getting them to setup a government website that shows what houses have access to what network infrastructure so when you buy a house you don’t have to play Russian roulette anymore. That would alleviate alot of problems for those of us who care about internet when moving house or buying one. The TPG map isn’t bad but it could be way way way more accurate under whatever the NBN co end up rolling out.

  6. I don’t see this as surprising at all, Hopewell has written some ludicrously inaccurate pro-Liberal pieces in the past.

  7. As always we need to be careful not to conflate the minutiae of technology with the big picture. The most important aspect of FTTP has always been ubiquity of access and ubiquity of competition.

    FTTP policy directly addresses the world-wide fact that Telco incumbency stifles the progress of a country.

    The biggest risk of the LNP policy is that it will entrench cherry-picking and revivify incumbency. Two evils that have dogged Australia for far too long already.

  8. To be honest, Whilst I agree completely with you Renai and most posters, this will not be the least of Australia’s problems under this government and the propaganda and belief shaping media machine whose rivers of gold income from their Pay TV monopoly will now be unfettered.
    The Foxtel whitewash was a classic pea and thimble scam, the contract would have a life of maybe 5 years, about the time a serviceable base FTTP customer base for Pay TV competition would be present, also remembering the FTTP would run parallel to the HFC so direct competition there also.
    The Net Flix model is already facing cost pressures as the content owners become greedier also regional aspects growing so alternatives will be limited in the future.
    A large percentage of the population are not tech savvy so would prefer a Package deal for family and sport that can be budgeted for that can just plug into their smart TV

    • Abel, IMHO media ownership is a drop in the bucket compared with the most likely and compelling outcome of FTTN – Telstra control and ownership of the nation’s communications infrastructure indefinitely. At the risk of repeating myself, see my comment on ‘the NBN is dead’ article and my economic analysis of FTTN, including a breakdown of relaxed competition clause ramifications.

  9. It will be interesting to see what payoff Telstra will get for their assistance and co operation in delaying the rollout

  10. On the topic of so called minimal impact and no big loss, such a comment completely fails to appreciate the ramifications of FTTN Economics combined with the change to infrastructure competition clauses – the loss will be FTTP, for many people for decades. For everyone else, as it will be owned and controlled by Telstra, it will be at Telstra’s high margin prices, forever. The chance for competition and infrastructure separation may have been lost forever.

  11. Well at least Rupert’s happy. He’s going to get everyone put on his HFC cable. Rupert hates the NBN – till he controls it. RIP democracy, buried before a foreign criminal.

  12. Gizmodo is fluff. I read it often but rarely take it seriously. It’s designed as click bait – all the Allure media sites are.

  13. What happened to all the LNP/FTTN fanboys?

    Now that the LNP are forming government, can we expect that as per the last 3 stories on the NBN, we shall never see them again?

    I suspect that it may be to do with the lack of funding for “social propaganda” from the LNP post Saturday night’s result, but please, correct me if I am wrong and they start turning up again to tell us all how good Malcolm is doing and how wrong we all were to support the FTTP plan.

    • |>What happened to all the LNP/FTTN fanboys?

      The election is over, so they won’t be paid anymore.

      No need to shill for free!

  14. I can only really see two plays here for MT (based on his knowledge that you can’t be half pregnant with policy):

    1. Find some reason for the NBN to remain the project as it was under Labour. Blame labour for locking them in, new information about suitability of the Curb-Fridge, feedback from God (via Tony or the ACL one assumes) or whatever the excuse. This would be the only way to keep T$ at arms length while keeping the voting public onside as I think MT and T$ have been doing some pre-election bargaining and T$ are now looking to collect.

    2. Hand it over, pretty much in it’s entirety to, Telstra as the incumbent who owns the copper but keep HFC to quiet Optus and force, or at least the impression of, complete structural separation of T$W and T$R to try and maintain the illusion of competition to keep the public onside.

    Be interested in other’s thoughts.

    • One can dream!! (Double exclamation considered)

      I have no idea what convinced so many Australians that LNP would “do things better” but something tells me that as long as they hide in fighting from the public and Tony stays the leader for the term, Australians won’t have a problem swallowing anything that comes from this government.

      • I think you’ll find it was the disunity in Labor that brought them down, it made it an easy run for Tony as long as he didn’t rock the boat himself (and which is why he took on so many Labor policies in the end).

        Most folks aren’t policy wonks and just want to hear the big picture stuff, not the detail.

        • Yeah like Tony’s comment ‘I believe in you Australia’

          It shows no direction, no clout nothing but hot air.

          This made me sick

  15. Anyone want to hear the real-life experiences of FTTC (our name for FTTN) in the UK? Now you seem to be going down this path, perhaps some “facts” might help replace some of the FUD.

    Around here, the service is known as ‘superfast broadband,’ following the same ‘minimum 25Mbps’ goal that the coalition are touting, with a current maximum of 80Mbps. The commercial rollout (ie self-funded by incumbent BT) got going in 2010 and aims at 67% coverage by spring 2014, while stage 1 of the public-subsidised BDUK project aims at 90% by sometime in 2015. Government machinations mean the latter is running slightly late, and they’ve since added a stage 2 target of 95% by 2017. All targets are a percentage of premises.

    A lot of people deride our copper as in poor condition, but it turns out that the D-side wiring (from cabinet to home) is in a relatively better state than the E-side (exchange to cabinet); FTTC services are generally more stable than ADSL2+.

    BT are deploying FTTC cabinets alongside their existing “PCP” cabinets (primary connection points), which are above-ground jointing boxes that terminate the large E-side cables (usually pressurised and older), and connect from these to the smaller (and usually newer) D-side distribution cables to the neighbourhood. This means that it is the D-side length and quality that are important to FTTC, rather than the distance to exchanges.

    I believe BT serves around 28 million properties, and has around 80,000 PCP cabinets, averaging 350 premises per cabinet.

    Deployment of FTTC cabinets isn’t the only thing happening – they are effectively also overlaying the E-side copper with E-side fibre back to the exchange, along with the required nodes for splicing the fibre. Right now, this provides the point-to-point fibre connections to the cabinets, but it is also the backbone for the future GPON FTTP network. Indeed, BT are in an early trial phase for a product they call “FTTP on demand”, where anyone (in an FTTC-covered area) can order an FTTP connection – install prices of £1500 and monthly prices of perhaps £100+ suggest this is targeted at businesses.

    Some areas don’t get FTTC, but go straight to an FTTP deployment. This was originally meant to be around 20%. However, with the unveiling of the “FTTP on demand” product, it seems that they’ve scaled back the amount of the original FTTP component in favour of the “customer-funded” alternative.

    Across the country as a whole, 45% of D-sides are less than 400 metres, 60% are less than 500 metres, 75% less than 700 metres, and 90% less than 1100 metres. Most cable appears to be 0.5mm (24 AWG).

    Currently using vanilla VDSL2 and the 17MHz profile, we can get 80Mbps at 350-400 metres, and 40Mbps at 600-700 metres. I believe 25Mbps can reach around 900-1000 metres.

    As take-up increases (currently 10% nationally, around 20% on earlier upgraded areas), we are starting to see the effects of crosstalk, and getting speed reductions as a result (largely because FEC and interleaving get turned on, adding overheads). The main aim to cope with this effect is the addition of vectoring.

    BT are close to starting public trials of vectoring, so the results of that are awaited eagerly. The suggestions are that this will allow 100Mbps at distances of 500 metres (ie within reach of some 60% of premises) and 50Mbps at 800 metres, even before factoring enhancements such as bonding. I believe they’re also considering PHYR in place of FEC+interleaving. We’ll see whether we actually get there.

    It is NOT a dream to believe that, here, we could have half the country on 100Mbps by 2018, and almost everyone (95%) capable of ordering FTTP (at a price) if that isn’t fast enough.

    What about the price? You can currently get 80Mbps packages with unlimited allowance, plus unlimited national calls (standard voice line, not VoIP), including line rental, for around £40 per month. That’s just under $70, I believe.

    How well does it work? I’m 350 metres from my local cabinet, and get an 80Mbps sync. I’m part of the testing pool for the UK telecom regulator, and the testing rig averages around 73Mbps, and almost never drops below 70Mbps even during the busy evening period. Upstream I get 19Mbps.

    For the future? Well, the cabinets themselves will only be around 20 years, but the infrastructure that goes alongside them (and the associated civil works) to get fibre out that far will not be wasted, and will provide a backbone that the future FTTP network will sprout from.

    Your mileage will vary, but an FTTN-based NBN is not necessarily a disaster. It feels to me like a faster way to bootstrap everyone up.

    • Actually you’ve just stated exactly what pretty much every well informed person in this “debate’ actually knows.

      Our concerns are based upon the following factors:

      – The copper in the ground in Australia, specifically D-side is of lower gauge, or in a worse state of repair than, that of BT or DT.
      – The node density that Turnbull suggests, given our population density in urban areas is less than that of the UK, is not high enough to give the stated speed minimums he has suggested.
      – The extra cost associated with a full FTTP to the government is not actually that significant considering the long term benefits.

      In essence, Turnbull has stated, or expects, that Australia will be able to function with a facsimile of BT without providing sufficient evidence that this is the case.

      I have no doubt he will produce something to improve Australian Broadband, but I don’t think it’ll come up roses, and I don’t think that, given the specific circumstances in Australia, the fiscal savings in the short and medium term will be worth it compared to the previous governments plan.

      Especially when you consider your FTTN roll-out is being done by an incumbent, and ours is being done by a new company that has to acquire the copper via a (minimum of) $11 billion dollar deal.

      If you’re going to “fight the FUD” can you please actually know what “FUD” you are actually fighting?

      • I think the FUD I’d like to counter is the more irrational fear that FTTN is bad per-se, without reason. And I guess I’m limiting that to the effects seen by individual customers, rather than the total cost of the project.

        Over here, and undoubtedly as a result of our existing copper quality/gauge and our cabinet density, FTTC will prove to be a pretty good solution for the masses, for around two-thirds of the country. It will probably stay viable for those people for 5, 10 or even 15 years depending on their household demands… and there is (almost) a migration solution available for those who needs are beyond FTTC speeds.

        There are plenty of people here that argue that FTTC is bad, and demand an FTTP-for-all solution instead. The problem with FTTP-for-all is that it would go to the most profitable areas first, and would take longer to deploy – and a lot longer to finally get around to the areas that would really benefit from fibre all the way.

        I take the different view that FTTC is actually a good, economically sound solution for a good proportion of premises. But I think we should have a policy that FTTP should be deployed to areas where FTTC turns out to be technically or commercially unviable – ie the premises that are too far from existing cabinets, or whose density is too low.

        So FTTP-for-all isn’t my slogan. More like “FTTP-for-the-rest”. And (surprisingly) I think that setting a 25Mbps minimum speed target is a good way to push that.

        Unfortunately, commercial operators deploying competitive access networks will (almost certainly) never follow a principle of deploying FTTP to the least viable areas first.

        Australia, trying to build a coherent NBN, has an opportunity to do exactly that. A top-down, cost-effective deployment of 100Mbps FTTN in the denser, viable areas leaving extra money available. That could be spent on a bottom-up deployment of FTTP where the density or distance makes FTTN unviable. And both could be done faster.

        You’re right that the copper quality and gauge, and the cabinet density, all play their role in determining just where (or whether) FTTN is viable. Those will indeed be key to whether FTTN can be deployed within the expected budget – but I can’t profess any knowledge that refutes any of your own experiences in these areas.

        As an aside, I know that Australian cities are notionally less dense than the UK, but I don’t know whether individual neighbourhoods are really less dense. The capital cities seem to have greater amounts of high-rise flats than we ever have in the UK, and my one experience of the suburbs (around McKinnon in Melbourne) suggests that it feels very similar to suburbs in the UK – you have bigger homes, detached, with more single-story places, sure, but they take up a much bigger percentage of the plot of land, while we have bigger gardens. When I’ve looked at Oz suburbs in google-maps, I’m always amazed at how densely packed the properties seem to be!

        Obviously both the UK and Australia have remote locations where neither FTTC or FTTP are viable, but I think you are already approaching these in a reasonable way, while we are not doing so yet.

        BTW – While our FTTN rollout is being done by our incumbent, it is being done in a competitive environment. The mere spectre of notional future competition of the access network is enough to restrict how much investors are willing to lend to BT in such a rollout. The payback time (of 12-15 years) for FTTC is already more than most people would expect for such investments, making it risky – so it isn’t a surprise that we can’t jump directly to a full FTTP rollout. Unfortunately, this is a case where the possibility of competition actually stifles development.

        Your NBN Co might have to acquire the copper at huge cost, but it will be doing so knowing that there will be no competitive pressure. That’s a huge advantage.

        • My objection to it isn’t that I think FTTN can’t be done, my objection is that instead of a “clean” upgrade we’re looking a dogs breakfast of various technologies, and possibly even various FTTN’s (Malcolm wants “competition”, but competition in telecoms doesn’t work in Australia, so telcos will just cherry pick the parts that Malcolm would be hoping NBN Co would be trying to make money on, in a similar way to HFC and Mobile here). Malcolm’s plan has a very real threat (as in a SWOT) that it won’t pay it’s self back in the time frame required (if at all).

          Also, given the structure of the NBN in Australia, I’m not sold on the idea that us going direct to FTTP is the more expensive solution. No one (even Malcolm) suggests that we won’t be going FTTP at some stage in the fairly near (as in decades) future. Considering the government (i.e. “taxpayer”) component is only $900m difference, I’m waiting to see the results of his studies to see the economics of the following:

          1. The cost of stopping the current roll out, considering the billions that have already been spent.
          2. The cost of rolling out copper based equipment (that may or may not be reusable in an FTTP environment).
          3. The cost of a later upgrade to FTTP based on a network that wasn’t designed specifically with that in mind (GPON can cover vastly more area than FTTN can).

          For the piddling amount (GDP wise) of $1b, why not do it the way we want it to end up the first time?

        • You use the word “coherent”. This is probably because BT has a reasonable grasp of what needs to happen, and is being driven by business case coupled with demand. There’s also a set of upgrade plans and the network is being built to allow for FTTH.

          Turnbull here isn’t being driven by business case. He’s driven by personal preference. The current operator of the Copper Network isn’t NBNco. They’re not currently driving a FTTN deployment, so like NBNco would need to tool up for a change in the deployment method.

          Telstra, of course, will be happy to trade the network for market control.

          What is also vastly different, is that BT didn’t start a funded FTTH deployment and then decide part way through that that was a bad idea and revert to Copper.

          No-one, to the best of my knowledge, has stopped a fibre network cold, and rolled out copper instead.

          It’s also fair to suggest, given FTTN is being deployed at all, that the Copper network their is in much better condition than here. I also believe the wire gauge is similar to that used in rural areas here, but certainly not in the main within built-up areas, where the gauge is considerably less.

          Your comments regarding cross-talk are partly why Turnbull here has floated vectoring as the saving grace, despite not confirming what the cabinet distance maximum would be.

          I have no doubt that FTTN would offer better than straight ADSL from exchange. No-one really argues that that is a poor choice. It’s big improvement.

          The problem is that we have an active deployment of Fibre, after (several) reviews have over the course of time recommended that the Copper be replaced. You don’t suggest that, repeatedly, if the CAN is, generally speaking, in great health.

          The incumbent decided to try and push for FTTN, with pretty crazy regulatory concessions, and in the end the only solution left was to, pretty much, start again. So we did. And now we’re heading right back to square one.

          The technology is only as good as it’s implementation – and I don’t believe the Opposition here hasn’t even come close to understanding that simple fact.

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