Yesterday the National Broadband Network Company revealed it had made its long-time and respected chief technology officer Gary McLaren and several other senior executives redundant. This email was sent by McLaren to staff at NBN Co.
By now you will have heard the news that I will be leaving NBN Co after assisting the transition of the CTO function to Greg Adcock’s COO organisation.
I started at NBN Co in August 2009 when the company was still being run out of a serviced office in North Sydney. The company had just started with nothing much more than the government’s April 2009 press release as a guide for what had to be done. I had got a bit of a head start by leading the initial industry work on the NBN in Comms Alliance. It was an exhilarating but intense period as we worked towards putting some detail on what the NBN would really entail.
Decisions had to be made quickly to meet government imposed deadlines for the NBN in Tasmania by July 2010, which was run as a separate project with help from Opticomm. In parallel the CTO organisation had to be built quickly – the pressure was onto to deliver the first services using NBN Co’s FTTP architecture. We had to do the technology architecture, design, procurement, testing and implementation. The team came together quickly and by the middle of 2010 we had a lab up and running and were testing equipment. The CTO team pioneered the way with the first FTTP release sites in Armidale, Townsville, Brunswick, Kiama and Willunga which were up and running during the first half of 2011.
In parallel we were given the task of setting up the Interim Satellite Service. After some lengthy negotiations we settled on an arrangement with Optus and IPStar that was brought into service in July 2011. The demand for this interim service has been overwhelming – and unfortunately some of the recent bad press has obscured the real improvement this service achieved compared to the previous ABG scheme. Delivering broadband to remote Australia will always be a challenge – as users’ broadband expectations grow the demands on the network continue to increase but the solutions are inevitably extremely costly in this part of the world.
The Fixed Wireless and Transit programs were also initiated from the CTO group and we were given carriage of not only creating the architecture but also creating the model for rolling out these networks before handing them over to the network build functions. After awarding Ericsson a contract in June 2011 we ran the initial Fixed Wireless pilot sites in Ballarat, Toowoomba and Tamworth. The Transit program started with the interim PoIs and then we had to quickly re-engineer the network for the 121 PoI architecture after finalisation of the controversial PoI decision in late 2010.
All of the above was done using a disciplined engineering approach that balanced risk, cost and timeliness. The Solution Development Framework (or SDF) proved to be our bedrock for making sure we did not compromise quality and jeopardise the network. The Active Network Release and Passive Network Release programs have been delivered smoothly – enabling our products and services to enter the market across all technologies. Unlike most rollouts of brand new technologies we have not had any major performances issues with software or hardware – once constructed the Fibre, Wireless, Transit and ISS systems have worked smoothly and reliably. NBN Co has not had to worry about network outages hitting the press – we have delivered high quality networks on time and on budget.
We have supported our NBN Co colleagues in various ways – taking leadership of cross-functional project teams, setting up the Engineering Support Centre and assisting wherever we can to try and address the problems that have come up in the build of the fibre network.
My biggest regret in leaving NBN Co will be not seeing the completion of the Long Term Satellite program. The launching of two new satellites would have been a once in a career event. It has been a tremendous learning experience for me to go through an extensive procurement process that explored all options for turnkey, lease or build of these satellites.
When it became clear that NBN Co would not be able to partner with other major satellite operators and we would have to take this program on ourselves I was just a little bit apprehensive. It not only involved the two Ka band satellites but the building of ten new ground stations in remote parts of Australia to locate sophisticated antennas and equipment that actually deliver the service. But the team we have assembled and the progress so far has dispelled all such apprehension. I am sure this program will be delivered on time and budget in 2015 like our other programs.
It has been a great experience over the last 4 and half odd years. The team is now well established and ready to continue to bring more technologies into the NBN under the Multi Technology Model. The trials we have initiated for FTTB and FTTN are now out in the field and will be used by NBN Co and RSPs to refine these products for mass deployment. The challenges will be different – taking over existing assets with millions of live customers and with an active workforce doing thousands of truck rolls a day will require innovative technical solutions. It will be difficult, but the NBN Co network technology team is well placed to do it.
As I mentioned at the start of this long email I will be around for a while yet to help with the transition to the COO organisation. I look forward to catching up with all of you over the next few months before saying a final goodbye.
We have come along way since those early days when NBN Co was a true start up.
Please keep up the good work and stay focussed on the job – the technology team will continue to be a vital part of NBN Co going forward.
Thanks for all your help!
Chief Technology Officer