Australia's FTTN network: Conroy fires starter's gun

The competition to build the national fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) broadband network has started today, with Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy officially calling for telcos wanting to build the network to come forward.

The competition to build the national fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) broadband network has started today, with Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy officially calling for telcos wanting to build the network to come forward.

The Minister has now released the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the network's rollout and operation, setting out all the information that will be required from tenderers. Up to AU$4.7 billion in government funding will be made available for the successful telco. "This is a major step towards delivering on the government's election commitment to enable world-class, high-speed broadband for all Australians," Conroy said in a statement.

The government's RFP states the winning telco must deliver minimum download speeds of 12Mbps to 98 percent of the population; have the network rolled out and operating within the next five years using fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP); support high quality voice, data and video services; ensure the government's return on investment; facilitate competition via open access arrangements and provide uniform and affordable retail prices to consumers regardless of where they live.

The closing date for submitting a proposal is 25 July. The proposals will be assessed throughout August and September, with a proponents selected by a panel of experts — chosen by the Minister last month. Negotiations will start between the government and the possible suppliers after that.

A decision is to be made by the end of October.

"The new network will change the way Australians communicate and do business, and demonstrates the priority this government is giving to building Australia's future," Conroy said.

Tenderers are expected to maintain the network until at least 2020 and "preferably beyond", according to tender documents, and will be asked to detail how the system will be upgraded to cope with greater bandwidth demands from consumers over time.

Telcos will also be required to do a little crystal ball gazing and explain to the government what bandwidth-hungry services and applications are likely to be adopted by consumers and businesses in the future.

While the tender documents make no reference to mandatory uplink speeds, the government specifies that the FTTN network should permit symmetric applications. Tenderers are also asked to predict how bandwidth demands across the network will change over the short, medium and long term, and the proportion of users who will require symmetrical broadband services.

The documents also hint that the government is already looking beyond FTTN and towards fibre-to-the-home — technology already being delivered to some new build sites in Australia and more widely in high-tech countries including South Korea and Japan.

Tenderers must explain to the government how they will deal with "issues related to network redesign that will arise should there be a decision to upgrade the network to operate at higher access speeds, (eg replacement of existing nodes with smaller units located closer to customers, optical fibre cables that may require extension or augmenting, or a move to FTTP)," the document states.

However, it looks likely that Labor's dreams of FTTP are already limited to specific areas, with tenderers asked to detail "the extent to which the Proponent could use FTTP in rolling-out to greenfields sites".

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