NBN says fibre-to-the-node is not a waste of money so everyone just chill

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Two NBN executives have explained why fibre-to-the-node is still being rolled out to many neighbourhoods despite the superior fibre-to-the-kerb starting to take over its plans.

The NBN started as fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) under the Labor government, which would have offered the fastest speed possible. The coalition government replaced that with fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) — which would have still left old copper lines from the nearest street cabinet to the premises – making for much slower speeds.

The new fibre-to-the-kerb configuration, which the NBN calls FTTC, runs fibre all the way to the “kerb” or “driveway” in front of the house or business, meaning the length of copper is reduced for better performance than FTTN. Last week FTTC turned from theory to reality, with the NBN revealing the first suburbs to receive the technology as part of its plans to eventually deploy it to 700,000 premises.

Since then the organisation has faced criticism from some Australians that have asked why the NBN is sticking to the inferior FTTN for some, while giving others the superior FTTC. Issues around fairness and best utilisation of public funds had been raised.

Now two NBN executives, chief network engineering officer Peter Ryan and corporate affairs general manager Karina Keisler, have defended the mixed technology strategy, saying that FTTN is not a waste of money and that those that receive it can be easily upgraded to FTTC later.

“We are very much designing the network with future upgrades in mind,” said Keisler.

“Getting end-users onto the NBN faster allows NBN to start generating the revenues needed to repay the capital the federal government has invested in the NBN network rollout and that we need to pay back.”

She said that the target of on-boarding 8 million premises by 2020 could only be achieved by deploying FTTN. This would allow it to reap an estimated $5 billion in annual revenues, giving it sufficient capital to upgrade FTTN areas to FTTC.

Ryan said that due to the enormous planning and preparation involved, mass-changing all areas earmarked for FTTN over to FTTC was impossible.

“I can appreciate that people are excited by the potential of FTTC but on a project the size of the NBN you cannot just tear up 18 months of design, planning and construction work that is in the pipeline for FTTN deployment to several million homes and change them to FTTC – that is not how things work in the real world.”

He compared the transition from FTTP to FTTN several years ago, saying areas marked down for FTTP still received it because it would have been too difficult to change strategy overnight.

The NBN had previously revealed that FTTN costs $2,172 per premise to deploy, while using Telstra’s old pay TV cable costs $2,259. Keisler said that the current estimate for FTTC deployment is $2,800 per premises but further research was required for a more accurate figure.

Ryan said as the NBN is the first organisation in the world to deploy fibre-to-the-kerb, there was no precedent to determine the exact cost of deployment.

“We cannot discount the possibility that our projected FTTC cost per premise might increase in the field as we find out more about deploying FTTC in real world conditions – we cannot simply assume that cost is correct and switch entirely to FTTC on that assumption,” he said.

“We are a genuine world leader in deploying this technology, [so] we can’t get on a plane and go and ask an American, Asian or European operator.”

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