NBN announces FttDP trials across Sydney, Melbourne

NBN will be trialling its FttDP network technology in hopes of deploying it to around 300,000 premises.

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) company has announced that it will be conducting trials of fibre-to-the-distribution-point (FttDP) network technology beginning next month.

As a solution for what NBN labelled a niche problem -- premises in more remote areas, with lead-ins of between 50 metres and 300 metres, where it is too expensive to roll out either fibre to the node (FttN) or fibre to the premises (FttP) -- it is putting forward FttDP.

FttP connections can cost up to AU$20,000 to connect these remote premises with lead-in conduits, NBN said, with the properties also deemed to be not isolated enough to obtain satellite connections.

The solution to this is FttDP, with a VDSL-based three-month trial to begin in Sydney, Melbourne, and other capital cities across the country next month.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow said the company is confident of the speeds that can be reached across VDSL FttDP and skinny fibre.

"When you combine the two ... skinny fibre obviously is able to have a smaller diameter, so you can get it through the ducts a lot easier, it's not as complex, you don't have the cabinet that sits on the street," Morrow said in an interview with ZDNet.

"It goes underground, so there's far less civil works, and that's what enables us to do cheaper, and four weeks faster, than what typically it takes. When you then add this DPU ... that eliminates the need to do the most painful part of FttP, which is going up between the footpath to the side of the house."

Morrow added that the VDSL box currently has the capability to deliver speeds of up to 500Mbps, but, once it is updated to a G.Fast box, has the capacity for 1Gbps -- not that this upgrade path will be necessary until the arrival of the Internet of Things, he said.

The trial in April will be conducted using NBN staff members.

"When we examine the candidates for this [trial], based on what we do know of it today, we think there are hundreds of thousands of homes that should be served by this technology versus FttN or FttP or fixed-wireless," Morrow told ZDNet.

"This is a quantum shift in the architecture to be able to take it to the next level."

NBN said the FttDP network could begin being rolled out in 2017.

Earlier this week, Morrow said it has been a year since the company became aware that FttDP was getting close to becoming the most cost-effective network technology to deploy. It now costs only AU$400 more per premises than FttN.

"When you use this and skinny fibre, those two together going down the street, that's when we see that cost about AU$2,750 [CPP] roughly on average," Morrow clarified to ZDNet.

"So that AU$450 difference between FttN and skinny fibre with FttDP is when you see those differences."

In October, NBN signalled its intent to deploy FttDP for premises that are located more than 1 kilometre from a node.

"If there is a copper loop length that goes too far beyond the 25Mbps capability -- so call that roughly 1km -- then what we would do is first look to see if we can bundle pairs together, because then you get a better attenuation and a higher signal that gives you the higher speeds," Morrow said during Senate Estimates.

"If that doesn't work, then we could look at the cost of actually pulling fibre down and using what we call fibre to the distribution point, which is still not taking fibre all the way up to the house, but brings fibre closer to the home, to where that copper loop length is much less."

Morrow further explained that the newly available "box" being used as a distribution point will be installed within footpath pits, and will draw power from the set-top boxes positioned inside the homes it provides with broadband.

"What is new, senator, is the boxes that are just now commercially becoming available that are small enough to fit within the pit in the footpath, and that are reverse powered from the home to be able to make that possible," Morrow said in response to a question from former Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy.

NBN had moved away from a full-fibre rollout following the Coalition's election, with the present multi-technology mix angling to provide 38 percent of the population with FttN and fibre to the basement, making use of the existing copper lines; 34 percent with hybrid fibre-coaxial; 20 percent with FttP; 5 percent with fixed wireless; and 3 percent with satellite services.

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to Brisbane as a guest of NBN

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