NBN Co delays FTTN rollout for further testing


news The National Broadband Network company has acknowledged it is significantly delaying its rollout of Fibre to the Node technology in order to better test its own systems involved in the deployment, as debate continues to swirl around the controversial broadband rollout style.

The original version of the NBN as envisioned by the previous Labor Government called for a near-universal deployment of Fibre to the Premises technology around Australia. However, since taking power the Coalition Government has radically altered the NBN plan. Many areas of Australia will now receive the technically inferior Fibre to the Node or HFC cable network broadband technologies, which involve re-using the copper and HFC cable portions of existing networks owned by Telstra and Optus.

The NBN company is currently conducting a large scale trial of the controversial FTTN technology. Announced in October 2014, the trial is to see some 200,000 homes and businesses in New South Wales and Queensland receiving the FTTN technology.

In May, as reported by Kenneth Tsang on his jxeeno blog last week (we recommend you click through for his analysis), the company estimated that about 37,200 premises would be declared ready for service in September this year, with a further 35,200 to be added in October. However, the site reported last week that the latest monthly ready for service plan released by the NBN company showed a mere 2,100 premises would be declared ready for service in September — and only 9,600 expected premises expected to be activated in October.

A spokesperson for the NBN company confirmed the company was taking a different approach to the deployment of the FTTN technology than was originally planned.

“We’ve got 200,000 FTTN premises ready to go. But we have deliberately chosen to take a more gradual approach to activations than was originally flagged,” they said.

The spokesperson said the delays were for the benefit of end users on the NBN network, as well as the retail service providers (such as Telstra, Optus and TPG) which sell broadband plans using the NBN infrastructure. “It also allows us to test our own processes and systems and to identify any issues along the way.”

“But it’s not true to say that trials have been delayed, as some people are suggesting,” they added. “Nor is our approach to these initial FTTN activations going to push out the timetable. The first area to go live will be in the Hunter Region. And all 200,000 premises will still be made ready for service between September and the early months of next year.”

However, any delay in the NBN rollout — perceived or otherwise — is likely to attract heavy criticism from the Opposition and possibly other political parties.

Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare has been travelling around Australia over the past several months, holding forums and meeting with communities who are suffering from a lack of decent broadband speeds.

For example, in early August the Labor MP held a forum in Calamvale in Brisbane to hear from local residents who Clare said had been “been wiped off the NBN map by the Abbott Government”.

When the Coalition released its rival NBN policy in April 2013, it based the policy on the core pledge that the party would deliver download speeds of between 25Mbps and 100Mbps by the end of 2016 — effectively the end of its first term in power — and 50Mbps to 100Mbps by the end of 2019, effectively the end of its second term. According to the Coalition’s statement, the 25Mbps to 100Mbps pledge applied to “all premises”, while the higher pledge by 2019 applied to “90 percent of fixed line users”.

However, the Government has since abandoned that pledge, citing what it sees as a worse than expected situation with respect to the state of the NBN when it took power. Its policy previous to the election also did not include using the HFC cable networks as part of the NBN rollout, whereas it now does.

“About two thirds of the fibre rollout in Rankin was cancelled after the election, including 8,000 homes and businesses in Woodridge and Logan where work had already commenced,” said Clare in early August with respect to the Calamvale forum. “Tony Abbott also promised to prioritise the NBN rollout to areas with poor broadband. He has broken this promise too.”

“The people of Rankin deserve better than Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott’s lies and broken promises which have wiped our local community off the NBN map.”

It’s hardly suprising that the NBN company is delaying its FTTN rollout while it conducts further testing. The IT and network systems that the company is using for this rollout are necessarily complex, dealing as they do with both copper and fibre connections, as well as very likely interacting with Telstra’s existing systems to do so.

In addition, it’s worth noting that almost everything to do with the NBN always gets delayed. This rollout is Australia’s largest ever and most complex infrastructure project. There are always issues all along the way that few expected. We have seen this trend throughout the NBN’s life and we will continue to see it.

Then too, the NBN company needs to get this initial FTTN deployment right. Although it is being used throughout Europe especially, FTTN is a highly controversial technology in Australia — which had previously been promised a near-universal FTTP network. Everything the company does with respect to this network will be closely examined. If it gets aspects of this trial wrong, it will be heavily criticised for doing so.

Because of these reasons, I don’t want to criticise the NBN company too heavily for this delay. I am sure its engineers and architects are doing their best to get this project rolling even faster than it is at the moment.

However, I will note that any delay with respect to the FTTN — especially as Canberra trends towards an election in 2016 — will be damaging for the Government. The Opposition and other critics will seize on every minor issue with the FTTN deployment to criticise Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. And the delay revealed today is not a good look for a company which was making loftier FTTN promises in May.

Stay tuned for further NBN news later today as the company releases its annual financial results and latest corporate plan.

Image credit: Alcatel-Lucent


  1. Before the election the coalition were claiming the NBN would cost 90 billion and take forever. Malcolm even said that this was being generous to NBN – it could be even worse. All the reviews after the election concluded that Labors approach would cost 50 to 70 billion and would take about 2 years more than originally expected.

    Trying to get out of the “all premises by 2016” promise on the grounds that the NBN is in a worse state than expected is ridiculous.

  2. They should be criticised for their policy overreach, the money spent is considerable for very little return.

    Looking forward to the results, suspect better performance but well short of where most expected.

  3. This rollout is Australia’s largest ever and most complex infrastructure project.

    Which the Libs have made unnecessarily more complex and expensive in the short and long term!

    Total fail!

    • Even more complex now that they’re intending to use G.Fast. Why commit to one technology that has never been commercially deployed anywhere in the world, ever (DOCSIS3.1), when you can commit to two!

  4. more gradual approach to activations

    Which is GimpCo speak for “we are fucking up”.

    Before the election we were told by Turnbull that a FttN rollout would be faster.

    Before the election myself and others said that FttN wont get rolled out any faster or cheaper due to x, y and z.

    Before the election the Turnbull apologists relentlessly complained about the “slow” FttP rollout and sweared by the patchwork plan because “Stop the boats”.

    So here we are in 2015 when all those nodes should have been popping up like mushrooms as the coalition clowns alluded to and there’s certainly not a single node in my street. All we have to show for the their copper wisdom is a few test sites and yet MORE TESTING.

    What about all those overseas examples?

    VDSL2 is proven technology right?

    What about that information sharing deal with BT? Nothing could be gleaned from it?

    Nothing. It’s a nothing policy.

    • Exactly this. The NBN is a tangled mess of false promises piled upon layers of bullshit, and this is exactly the situation anyone with the slightest hint of IT knowledge and political wisdom predicted. I still have an “NBN is coming soon to your area” pamphlet that I received in 2012. Not only is there no NBN here of any description, but now my suburb isn’t even on the rollout roadmap any more (and when we do eventually get connected, it will of course be hideously-dated FTTN rather than the FTTP we were originally promised). I live a couple of kilometres away from the Hobart CBD for reference.

      Abbott and Turnbull will go down in history as the men that destroyed Australia’s boldest and most visionary infrastructure project. Sure Labor’s FTTP policy was fraught with problems and delays too, but has the switch to multi-mix addressed a single problem? Has the switch to FTTN sped up the rollout in any demonstrable way? Will it even save any money? (certainly not in the long term given the end game is fibre regardless). It’s enough to make me cry myself to sleep.

  5. I accept your reasoning, Renai, though I question why promise something that is impossible to achieve in the first place? Apart from the obvious “because it’s politics” answer.

  6. Its absolute bs….turnbull is so far wrong… so is labor. Spend up big can already get HFC copper at over the 110Mbs over NBN. The VDSL is doomed too much old copper could never get ADSL even here with the water in the pits here. The biggest mistake also was to roll out to country bumpkins again aka politics the guy with the cowboy hat loser. That is where the sheep are not any chance of business

  7. Turnbullshit : Cheaper & Faster ? What a bunch of Clowns . My FTTP was due to be Live DEC 2014 , I still have low ADSL speeds & dont even talk about when it rains . Netflix ? You have got to be joking , I can stream YouTube without it buffering ….. Tony & Malcolm , you will get what is coming to you at the next election for Stuffing up the biggest Australian Infastructure Upgrade ever , you will go down in history as the biggest bunch of clowns that stuffed this up …..

    • Trouble is they probably won’t as the public will fall for the same bullshit as always and vote them back in. People won’t get it until their wonderful FTTN internet grinds to a halt as the entire family tries to use it at the same time, while their friends a few streets away who were lucky to have got full fibre have no issues at all.

      • Considering that 80% on fibre have opted for speeds achievable on FTTN, I don’t think this is as big an issue as you think.

        • Mathew,

          If you’re the “mathew” that’s on Whirlpool, then you’re acting as a troll.

        • Even at face value, 80% accepting FTTN speeds does imply 20% taking up higher speeds. This network is supposed to be the future of telecommunications in Australia. It’s replacing telephone lines, low upload speed HFC, and cable TV. If 20% of customers today are demanding higher speeds than FTTN or HFC can deliver in 2021 when they are finally delivered for the most part, then that is a large proportion of Australia that is not being served.

      • @Mathew when will you stop thinking about today and realise the NBN was supposed to service the countries needs for the next 60+ years?

        Frankly your constant strawmen built on your false perceptions of take up rates (which got you booted from WP’s NBN forum for) is imo in breach of Delimiter’s Comments policy:


        Obvious and repetitive trolling to get a reaction (for example: “All Apple products suck”)

        Comments which display a lack of rationality or reasonableness. For example, a number of commenters on Delimiter over the past year have engaged in the debate, but consistently avoided acknowledging substantive issues raised by other commenters in relation to their argument. Instead, they have deliberately diverted the discussion down another path, annoying many other commenters.

        Comments which inject demonstrably false information into the debate (for example: “Fibre broadband only offers speeds up to 50Mbps”). Often I will leave these be, if other readers correct the record. But if it’s done consistently, it’s a problem.

  8. The only reason to delay activation of users is to get some great press showing how fast FTTN is in a ‘real world trial’, but to throttle take up ensuring FEXT/poor copper isn’t a problem. Maybe I’m too cynical, but this seems to be the modus operandi of Turnbull since taking over the NBN.

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