The company responsible for rolling out the National Broadband Network (NBN) across Australia has made good on its promise to have a searchable rollout map by the end of 2016 that will allow Australians to find out when they can connect to the NBN.
The updated Check Your Address page began providing information on when users could connect to the NBN on Tuesday afternoon, unless the address is within a HFC area. It is expected that these areas will be added at some point in 2017.
While the updated map allows Australians to see when addresses are in the planning stage, unless the addresses is within the satellite or fixed-wireless footprint, users are not informed whether they are connected via fibre-to-the-node, fibre-to-the-distribution-point, fibre-to-the-basement, or fibre-to-the-premises.
Speaking at Senate Estimates in October, NBN CEO Bill Morrow said the new rollout map provides a higher level of transparency than its previously used three-year construction plan.
"As far as individual areas on the three-year map, we have made it perfectly clear that that is fluid and will change," Morrow said at the time. "The three-year plan that you referred to is when construction will commence, not necessarily when they'll be able to order a service.
"We've heard from this committee that you're looking for greater transparency, we know your constituents are interested in this, and so by the end of the year we'll have that available."
In August, NBN removed all areas from its build prep map that were not slated to get fibre-to-the-premises technology.
The company said that since non-FttP fixed-line connections do not require disturbance of streets and driveways, residents do not need lengthy notification.
Also on Tuesday, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) released a survey where over 40 percent of business respondents said the process of connecting to the NBN had adversely impacted the functioning of those businesses.
The ACMA said only 22 percent of businesses said the NBN connection process was smooth, while businesses said the most common complaint was "ongoing service issues".
NBN Strategic Review shows FTTP still very viable
If you believe NBN Coexecutive chairman Ziggy Switkowski and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the NBN Strategic Review released last week is all about re-using HFC cable, implementing Fibre to the Node and minimising the use of Fibre to the Premises. However, a close reading of the document shows that it also finds that former NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley was right: Labor’s original FTTP vision can still be delivered very affordably and in a timely manner. I analyse the issue in an extensive, 3,500 word article on Delimiter 2.0 this morning. A sample paragraph:
“A close reading of NBN Co’s Strategic Review report published last week shows the former chief executive of the company was overwhelmingly correct: A predominantly Fibre to the Premises National Broadband Network can still be rolled out with only modest cost and timeframe implications. But that’s a truth that nobody currently involved in the process seems to want to hear.”
I’m not the only person to have noticed this. I note this article by Informa senior analyst Tony Brown, published on the Sydney Morning Herald. In it, Brown writes:
“… the Strategic Review concludes that NBN Co could actually build the all-FTTP NBN by mid-2024 – just three years behind its original schedule and only four years after the completion of Turnbull’s hybrid model … From a political perspective it now gives his opponents the chance to ask, ‘Why are you delivering a second-class network when we could have a world-class FTTP network with just a couple more years’ work?’”
Politicians are fond of telling selective versions of the truth. It is true that the NBN Strategic Review recommends a model which heavily favours re-use of the HFC networks as well as FTTN/FTTB options … a model which nicely dovetails with the Coalition’s policy requirements. What is not clear at this stage is why this makes any sense at all, when Australia could have a fully fledged almost universal FTTP network for only a few billion dollars more and only a few years later, if a different path was taken.
But then, that’s politics. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has conclusively demonstrated he doesn’t want to hear sense … or even, really, hear the public at all, when it comes to NBN policy. No doubt the Minister would prefer that commentators such as myself and Brown not continually raise these inconvenient truths. No doubt the Australian public, or at least the 70 to 80 percent of it which supports Labor’s NBN model, would prefer the Minister actually, you know, do his job and get Australia a better broadband network, one which would propel us into the future rather than looking squarely into the past.
NBN Co's 25Mbps promise relies on HFC networks already built
At the launch of the Coalition's broadband policy in April, Australian Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott barely discussed plans for the existing Telstra and Optus hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks, but now those networks will likely make up one third of the total National Broadband Network (NBN) fixed network, and almost half of the Coalition's 2016 target for faster broadband by 2016.
The details of a proposal to use the existing HFC networks were first outed in NBN Co's strategic review, released on Thursday last week, as part of a "multi-technology mix" model for the future NBN. The model will combine fibre to the premises, fibre to the node, HFC, fixed wireless, and satellite that will require around AU$41 billion in peak funding.
Although 2.7 million premises are now passed by the two HFC networks, the strategic review points out that the networks could be extended to cover another 700,000 premises to bring the total to 3.4 million premises passed. The document suggests that in order to cope with peak demand on the networks and support 50Mbps by 2019, they will have to be upgraded. NBN Co redacted the cost of upgrading the HFC network from the document, but put the operating costs at AU$15 to AU$25 per premises per year.
The review assumes that NBN Co will gain access to the HFC networks in the second half of 2015, with the upgrades and expansions to be completed over the next four years. By accessing the network in 2015, NBN Co would gain access to the 2.6 million out of the 5.23 million premises that it has said will have access to at least 25Mbps download speeds by 2016.
This means that almost 50 percent of the total 43 percent of all Australian premises that the report says will have access to download speeds of 25Mbps by 2016 will come from the HFC networks already built. This comes despite a Coalition promise before the election that every premises will have access to 25Mbps download speeds by 2016.
"We've said by 2016, no one will have access to less than 25 megabits per second," Turnbull told 2GB in April. On Friday, the minister said that NBN Co had told him otherwise.
"What I said before the election was that we believe that we could get all Australians 25 megs by 2016, and the company has come back with its advisers and said they do not believe that is achievable," Turnbull told Channel Nine.
News of the proposed re-use of the existing HFC networks in the NBN has drawn criticism from some quarters, with claims that no upgrade to the HFC networks will be made at all as part of the proposed NBN takeover of the networks. However, Internode founder and new NBN Co board member Simon Hackett wrote in a personal blog post over the weekend that those views come from incorrect assumptions arising from the strategic review.
"The review proposes to take the existing Telstra and Optus HFC cable networks, and to transform them into a modern broadband network via major investment in these areas," Hackett said.
"For stand-alone premises in the rollout areas concerned, this includes repairing all existing lead-ins that need it, building all the missing lead-ins that were never done in the original HFC rollout, and expanding the HFC rollout into all the 'black spots' inside those overall rollouts that were left behind when the original rollouts ceased.
"The deployment also includes a laundry list of network upgrades and capacity expansions to deliver high-performance, low-contention ratio 100 megabit downstream rates."
Apartments and other multi-dwelling units would be covered by the HFC network through fibre-to-the-basement technology, Hackett said.
Contention ratios will be reduced on HFC by deploying nodes, and the spectrum being used on the cable will be expanded with new IP-capable data transmission equipment used in the network to improve speeds, Hackett said.
"HFC is capable of NBN-grade outcomes, providing sufficient investment is made in the infrastructure concerned," he said.
In fact, the incorporation of DOCSIS3.1 into the networks would be able to support up to 1Gbps download speeds, Hackett said.
The NBN Co board member pointed out in his blog post that this is his personal view, and does not represent the position of NBN Co or its board.
The use of the HFC networks of Telstra and Optus in the NBN is still entirely hypothetical at this point, as the agreements in place with both companies are to have customers moved off the network and onto the fibre-to-the-premises NBN.
Turnbull has indicated that initial discussions have commenced with Telstra for renegotiation, but given the 2015 date for getting access to the HFC networks, the company has set out close to 18 months for new deals to be struck with the two telecommunications companies.