NBN facing challenges from mobile and IoT: Cisco

While NBN is no longer 'behind the eight-ball', it is facing challenges from the connectivity speeds and ubiquitousness of mobile networks, as well as the question of how it will accommodate IoT, according to Cisco.

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) company is facing competition from the connectivity speeds and ubiquitousness of mobile networks, particularly in the face 4.5G and 5G, as well as the question of how it will accommodate the Internet of Things (IoT), according to Cisco.

Cisco ANZ CTO Kevin Bloch told ZDNet that NBN has "gone from being behind the eight-ball" to ramping up its deployment over the last year.

Bloch attributed NBN's changing fortunes to the election of a new government at the end of 2013, and the new leadership's mindset towards the multi-technology mix, which he called the "most sensible, practical way forward" for such a large civil project.

However, he added that NBN is facing a number of challenges, firstly stemming from its often-criticised connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) pricing structure, which is being challenged by wholesale providers enabling cheaper fixed-line connections, followed closely by competition from 4.5G and 5G mobile networks, which are facilitating 'gigabit' speeds already.

"If you can get hundreds of megabits per second over wireless, that's a pretty attractive alternative to the NBN," he pointed out.

"So there is competition, I believe, by Telstra deploying that [1Gbps] service, and it's happening now.

"And then of course you've got 5G, even Wi-Fi to some extent, and so that is yet another area to think about for NBN."

All three of Australia's telecommunications operators have conducted 5G trials -- Telstra with Ericsson, Optus with Huawei, and Vodafone Australia with Nokia -- but as Bloch pointed out earlier on Thursday, telcos have a way to go until the networks launch in 2020, and need to "calm down" on 5G while standards are still being determined.

NBN must also decide what it is going to do about IoT, Bloch said.

"In IoT, the question then is: Does the NBN or should the NBN be involved in IoT?" Bloch said.

"There's going to be far more things connected to the internet than there are people or PCs; what's the position on NBN?"

Bloch said his advice to NBN up until now has been to concentrate on rolling out its network across Australia, but he said the company should begin considering its position on IoT, as well as how it intends to address the competition from cherry-picking wholesalers and mobile networks.

"I think now is probably the time that they're going to have to start thinking about all of these things -- so how is 4.5G going to affect you, how is 5G going to affect you, how are the cherry pickers going to affect you, what are they doing about IoT, and should they be involved in IoT?" he said.

"And these are all big questions."

On Cisco's involvement with the NBN, ANZ VP Ken Boal told ZDNet that it has thus far been mainly in physical design and an advisory capacity across the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network -- although Cisco is looking at "doing a bit more with the RSPs" in future.

"We are involved with some of the logistics of the rollout, so program management, design services as a partner for NBN for literally going out into the streets and helping to design some of the physical plant for the HFC," Boal told ZDNet.

"It was predominantly around the HFC component; we've actually got a very strong HFC business ... we were unsuccessful with the technology bid, but they really liked what we had to offer around just the general know-how of how HFC is essentially plugged together, the physical plant and the design, to ensure that the HFC rollout is highly successful, so that's the role we've been playing with quite a significant workforce working as part of the NBN team."

However, due to NBN significantly shrinking the HFC footprint from 34 percent down to between 21 and 27 percent following a leak revealing that Optus' HFC network is "not fully fit for purpose", Boal conceded that Cisco's role in NBN has been similarly reduced.

"We've been doing a lot of services work with NBN Co. That's probably wound back a bit just because of the [multi-technology] mix, and we were doing more on the HFC side," he said.

"We've still got some active work going on in NBN, but not so much technology, more of a services contribution."

On its partnerships with NBN's RSPs and Australia's major telecommunications providers, Boal pointed towards projects with Telstra on its network resilience, with Optus on the smart workplace, and with Vodafone Australia on network virtualisation.

"We've got a lot going on there. Obviously, the big Telstra program is happening right now, and we're really working closely with them on the building of more resilience into their networks. They're spending, so we're a beneficiary of that, and we'll see significant growth in the service provider side of the business, a big chunk of which is Telstra," Boal said.

"We've had a number of other major wins with the other providers; we have now a good partnership with Ericsson at Vodafone, and that has a lot to do with the modernisation and orchestration of their network, so that's been an exciting piece and that project's only just kicking off; and we're doing a lot more with Optus in their network, and that partnership's flourishing."

Other growth areas being eyed by Cisco during 2017 are its software portfolio -- of which Boal said Australia and New Zealand are the fastest adopters -- and security, with Boal repeating Cisco executive VP for Worldwide Sales and Field Operations Chris Dedicoat's position that automating and building security capabilities into its networking products is Cisco's top priority.

"Looking forward, our number one focus is linking the security proposition and the network proposition together, ensuring that security is built into the network ... when we talk about network as a sensor and network as an enforcer, it's about the internal network," Boal said.

"So that is probably the number one discussion that we're having, and enabling that in a more automated way."

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to Cisco Live in Melbourne as a guest of Cisco

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