news Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition Government will “ditch” its plans to deploy Fibre to the Node infrastructure over Telstra’s copper network prior to the 2016 Election and instead focus on deploying fibre to the ‘distribution point’ or driveway of premises on the National Broadband Network, the Opposition said yesterday.
Under Labor’s previous near-universal Fibre to the Premises model for the NBN, the HFC cable and copper networks owned by Telstra and Optus would have been shut down. However, the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix plan instituted by Malcolm Turnbull as Communications Minister in the Abbott administration is seeing them acquired and upgraded by the NBN company.
One of the key technologies being used, Fibre to the Node, has come under sustained attack over the past several years, as many Australian technical experts believe it will not serve Australians’ telecommunications needs for more than a handful of years.
FTTN also relies heavily on Telstra’s copper network. internal documents released by the Opposition last week showed that, by the NBN company’s own estimates, the cost of remediating Telstra’s network had blown out by a factor of ten from original expectations, to about $641 million, with the cost of rolling out infrastructure to each premise via Fibre to the Node having blown out substantially.
Speaking at the launch of Labor’s National Information Policy yesterday, Clare delivered what has become a regular attack on the performance of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull — formerly Communications Minister — in rolling out the NBN.
“The NBN is now rolling out slower than Turnbull promised and it is costing more, much more than Malcolm Turnbull promised,” said Clare. “He said he would build the NBN, this was a promise at the last election, he promised he would build it for $29.5 billion. That has now blown out to almost, or up to $56 billion. He also promised that all Australians would get access to the NBN by the end of next year. Now that has blown out to 2020.”
However, one unusual aspect of Clare’s comments was that the Shadow Minister predicted Turnbull would substantially modify the NBN’s rollout model prior to the upcoming 2016 Federal Election.
— Jason Clare MP (@JasonClareMP) December 8, 2015
“The NBN company now is trialing a new technology, they know their copper NBN is not going to be good enough for the future, so they are now trialing something called fibre to the distribution point or an easy way to understand that is fibre to the driveway,” he said.
“They are trialing this now, I suspect before the next election, they will announce they are going to ditch their copper NBN and roll out fibre to the driveway instead and when they do, remember this point: it will be proof that Malcolm Turnbull got it wrong on the NBN.”
Currently, the FTTN model used by the NBN is seeing the company extend fibre from Telstra’s telephone exchanges to neighbourhood ‘nodes’ on street corners, instead of all the way to Australian houses and business premises, as under the Labor model.
If Clare’s prediction is accurate, it would mean the company would instead extend that fibre all the way to the curbside for premises, using copper cables to reach the final few metres into premises themselves.
The NBN company revealed in late October that it was trialling this technology. At the time, it told a number of media outlets such as The Australian newspaper and ZDNet that it had used the FTTdp model coupled with the G.Fast standard to achieve laboratory trial speeds of 967Mbps on a 20m copper loop length and 800Mbps on a 100m copper loop length.
The company also trialled the technology in a real-world setting, where copper cables ran 100m from the basement to the fifth floor of an apartment block in Carlton, Melbourne. The apartment tested was able to reach speeds of 522Mbps down and 78Mbps up during the trial. It believes that it can achieve even higher speeds with further advancements.
If the NBN company does go ahead with a FTTdp model, it will represent a significant change of policy from the Federal Government. The Coalition — stimulated by Turnbull in the Communications portfolio — has been focused on the FTTN model since Turnbull was appointed Shadow Communications Minister in September 2010.
It would also bring the Labor and Coalition NBN models much closer together. Labor has not yet released its formal NBN policy for the 2016 election, but if the NBN company does formally announce a widespread FTTdp model, it would mean that both parties would likely support a mostly fibre-based NBN model, along with support for reusing the HFC cable networks the NBN company is buying from Telstra and Optus, and satellite and fixed wireless technologies in rural and regional areas.
The FTTdp model would also support a long-term migration to the technically superior Fibre to the Premises model.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting