news The National Broadband Network Company has revealed plans to commence trials of the Fibre to the Basement and Fibre to the Node network infrastructure models, including use of the vectoring standard, as the Coalition’s plan to reshape Labor’s previously Fibre to the Premises-based NBN vision kicks into gear.
Under Labor’s NBN policy, some 93 percent of Australian premises were to have received fibre directly to the premise, delivering maximum download speeds of up to 1Gbps and maximum upload speeds of 400Mbps. The remainder of the population was to have been served by a combination of satellite and wireless broadband, delivering speeds of up to 25Mbps.
Originally, the Coalition’s policy was to have seen fibre to the premises deployed to a significantly lesser proportion of the population — 22 percent — with 71 percent covered by fibre to the node technology, where fibre is extended to neighbourhood ‘nodes’ and the remainder of the distance to premises covered by Telstra’s existing copper network. The Coalition’s policy was also continue to use the HFC cable network operated by Telstra and will also target the remaining 7 percent of premises with satellite and wireless.
However, the possibility of a different style of rollout has been raised by Turnbull in the several weeks since the Liberal MP became Communications Minister. In late September, Turnbull appeared to have drastically modified the Coalition’s policy stance on the NBN just weeks after the Federal Election, declaring the Coalition was not wedded to its fibre to the node model and was “thoroughly open-minded” about the technology to be used in the network. NBN Co is currently conducting a strategic review into its operations and model that will inform Turnbull’s decisions regarding the project’s future.
Speaking this afternoon, a NBN Co spokesperson confirmed NBN Co had recently conducted a laboratory trial of Fibre to the Basement broadband, including use of the high-speed vectoring standard, to see how the model functioned. “We’re now taking that trial out of the lab and into the field,” the spokesperson added. The laboratory trial used equipment from French vendor Alcatel-Lucent, with whom NBN Co has an existing contract to supply networking equipment.
Some ten premises will be chosen for the trial, although NBN Co doesn’t know where the premises will be yet. The trial will see both aerial fibre and underground fibre cables tested, and the premises will be either blocks of flats or shopping centres — representing typical multi-dwelling unit structures which have proven difficult for NBN Co to target with its FTTP rollout in the past. The company’s fibre currently covers some 70,000 “service class zero” premises — premises where fibre has been deployed in a building’s street, but where it has proven difficult to get the fibre into a building’s individual units.
NBN Co is planning to use its existing product development forum to engage retail Internet service providers to participate in the trial.
The company is also in the “very early stage” of scoping out a similar Fibre to the Node trials, although those are less advanced than the Fibre to the Basement trials, the spokesperson said. NBN Co will obviously need to get access to Telstra’s copper network.
The news comes just a month after Telstra itself 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. Alcatel-Lucent is also supplying equipment for that trial.
I’ve seen some comments today to the effect that these trials are pre-empting the results of NBN Co’s Strategic Review into how the NBN should be delivered in future. However this isn’t how I view the trials. The fact is that NBN Co needs to know more about how FTTB and FTTN works, if it is to be able to make recommendations in its Strategic Review. And let’s not forget — the company only has 60 days to deliver that review.
In addition, I think it’s clear at this point that FTTB and FTTN will be some part of the NBN. NBN Co needs to know as much as possible about these technologies, as that knowledge will help inform the future of its project. It’s not enough to merely rely on results achieved by vendors or other telcos — NBN Co needs some hard data on this itself. I’ve also asked the company if it can release the results of its FTTB laboratory trial. Hopefully that will tell us a little about how FTTB could work in Australia, if that data does eventually come out.