NBN is supercharging old copper to go as fast as fibre next year

Source: NBN

The National Broadband Network has announced that new technology would be rolled out next year that allows old copper lines to deliver fibre-like speeds.

This week a public debate has taken place about the Coalition government’s decision to change Labor’s original plan of running fibre optic cables all the way to the premises. The current multi-technology mix strategy has seen the NBN often utilise century-old telephone copper lines that already run into homes, in order to reduce the cost and time of deployment.

The compromise has seen complaints from users that the NBN does not perform as per the retail packages they’ve purchased, with the length of copper slowing down all the speed gained through the fibre backbone.

On Tuesday, NBN chief strategy officer JB Rousselot revealed at the Broadband World Forum in Berlin that the company would adopt G.fast technology next year, which in testing has delivered 600Mbps over 100m of a 20-year-old copper line.

The fastest commonly available NBN speed tier currently is 100Mbps, although the national network is aiming to have gigabit (1Gbps or 1000Mbps) speeds available on the network in the future as user demands ramp up.

“Adding G.fast to the toolkit for the [fibre-to-the-kerb] and fibre-to-the-building networks will allow us to deliver ultra-fast services faster and more cost effectively than if we had to deliver them on a full fibre-to-the-premises connection,” said Rousselot.

Unfortunately, the technology will not yet be rolled out to fibre-to-the-node areas, which is the configuration that involves the most amount of copper and generally the worst-performing option. Next year’s rollout will strictly apply G.fast on fibre-to-the-kerb (FTTC) and fibre-to-the-building (FTTB) sites.

Business Insider understands G.fast, as it currently performs, cannot travel further than 400m of copper, which means almost half the FTTN would not get any advantage. But Rousselot said next year’s start would build momentum to eventually help FTTN users.

“Our FTTP and hybrid-fibre coaxial end-users already have the technology to support gigabit services and adding G.fast over FTTC provides the upgrade path for our FTTN end users to ultimately receive gigabit speeds too.”

The G.fast technology differs from the current VDSL technology used over copper lines by using 106MHz and 212MHz frequencies instead of 17MHz. USA’s AT&T, BT in the United Kingdom, Switzerland’s Swisscom and Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom have already rolled out the technology to customers.

The NBN is working with suppliers Netcomm Wireless, ADTRAN and Nokia to implement G.fast. Nokia itself has rolled the technology out commercially for 9 telcos and performed trials with 49 carriers globally.

“A 2018 launch for G.fast puts NBN on a firm pathway to gigabit services in its copper network domain,” said Nokia Fixed Networks Strategy Engagement executive Els Baert.

Earlier in the week, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said the NBN, the way it was implemented, was “a mistake” – and blamed the previous Labor government.

The Labor prime minister that launched the NBN concept, Kevin Rudd, then publicly shot back, saying the original fibre-to-the-premises model was “perfectly designed for this nation’s needs”.

“News Limited did not want the National Broadband Network. News did not want fibre to the premises and the reason they didn’t want that is because it would provide direct competition to the Foxtel cable network in this country.”

The Foxtel cable network is part-owned by News Corp Australia, previously News Ltd, through its holding in Foxtel.

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