news The nation’s largest telco Telstra has reportedly kicked off a trial of the Coalition’s preferred fibre to the node, VDSL and vectoring technologies in an effort to show what they are capable of on its copper network, as the Coalition’s plan to dial down Labor’s more ambitious fibre to the premises NBN rollout gets into gear.
The Coalition’s version of the NBN policy will see part of Telstra’s existing copper network maintained, in what is termed a ‘fibre to the node’ deployment. The model has been extensively and successfully deployed in countries such as the UK, but Australian proponents of Labor’s policy have highlighted the fact that it offers limited speed boosts over currently available broadband in Australia (up to 100Mbps as a top-end limit), compared with Labor’s NBN, which will offer enhanced levels of reliability and speeds up to 1Gbps, coupled with significantly enhanced upload speeds.
Telecommunications industry experts have consistently stated that they believe Labor’s NBN policy to be highly technically superior to the Coalition’s more modest vision, and having the potential to deliver Australia superior long-term outcomes in terms of service delivery and boosting Australia’s economy through productivity gains.
In addition, questions have been raised about the extent to whether it’s possible to deploy the FTTN technology the Coalition is focused on in Australia and whether it will perform as the Coalition has claimed. There are also questions as to whether Telstra, which owns the copper network which would need to be used as part of the FTTN rollout, will consent to modify its existing $11 billion arrangement with the Labor Federal Government and NBN Co, along the lines the Coalition plans.
This morning, the Financial Review quoted a Telstra spokesperson as confirming that the telco had kicked off a “VDSL vectoring trial” involving FTTN just after the Federal Election several weeks ago, with its long-term partner Alcatel-Lucent supplying the equipment. We recommend you click here for the full article.
Alcatel-Lucent is also a major partner in deploying the current NBN, under a contract signed in June 2010 which was to see the French networking giant supply up to $1.5 billion worth of optical and ethernet aggregation equipment to NBN Co.
The news comes just days after Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in as Communications Minister to the new Coalition administration led by Tony Abbott, and on the same morning as news has broken that NBN Co’s entire current board has resigned, believing Turnbull does not have any confidence that it can keep NBN Co delivering on the project.
Speculation is also mounting that Turnbull will consider handing a significant tranche of the NBN construction work to Telstra.
During Turnbull’s Google Hangouts session with the Sydney Morning Herald during the election campaign, Informa senior analyst Tony Brown asked Turnbull whether one way of fixing the long-running issues with NBN Co’s contractor workforce would be to bring in the Australian company most qualified to roll out telecommunications infrastructure in the existing copper network — the company that owns it, has all the network information, decades of experience and an existing workforce stretching into the tens of thousands that don’t need: Telstra.
“It is curious that Telstra have not been used as a contractor to build any part of this network,” Turnbull responded at the time. “I’m not aware of a new generation network of this kind … I’m not aware of any new generation network that are not being built by the incumbent. Even in say, Singapore for instance, there is an independent entity, a separate entity that is going to operate the network, [but] they’re still using Singtel to do the construction.”
“I assume Telstra was excluded for political reasons, but Telstra should certainly be a candidate. Obviously there are details of price and matters of that kind, that are pretty relevant, but Telstra does have a huge amount of experience.”
Fascinating to see Telstra kick off this kind of trial. I really hope that the telco makes the results of its trial public, so that we can get some insight into what its copper network is actually technically capable of, when it comes to the FTTN family of technologies. I will be badgering the telco to give us some further insight into the results it’s found here.
As to the issue of whether Telstra should be involved in the construction (but not operation) of the NBN, I have previously laid out my argument that yes, it clearly should. You can read my detailed thoughts on this on Delimiter 2.0 (paywalled), but here’s my intro paragraph:
“A growing body of evidence is mounting that NBN Co should seriously consider contracting the nation’s incumbent telco Telstra to build large sections of the National Broadband Network infrastructure, no matter which major side of politics wins the upcoming election, and no matter whether a fibre to the node or fibre to the premises model is eventually chosen.”
One last thing: Apologies for linking to Delimiter 2.0 several times during this morning’s NBN articles; I know that a lot of people don’t like Delimiter to link to paywalled articles at all. Unfortunately, in this case, it’s useful because I really have gone into these issues in depth on Delimiter 2.0 previously; that’s what Delimiter 2.0 is for, after all — going into depth on important Australian technology issues, and trying to predict a little ahead of time what the future may hold. However, I do apologise to readers who are annoyed by the links.
Image credit: Telstra