NBN to launch FttDP without G.fast

Despite being described as a 'central component' of FttDP in NBN's recently commissioned Ovum report, ZDNet understands G.fast will not be immediately enabled for the 2018 FttDP launch.

Contradictory to NBN's recent emphasis on the upgrade paths allowing gigabit speeds across its multi-technology mix (MTM) network, which has led to assumptions that its new fibre-to-the-distribution-point (FttDP) network will be launched with G.fast, ZDNet understands that the network will be launched with old VDSL technology instead.

NBN has made a recent show of demonstrating the upgrade paths for all network technologies in its MTM, most recently commissioning Ovum to release a report on the benefits of G.fast and its deployment by comparable nations rolling out country-wide broadband networks.

Such are the arguments that NBN and the Coalition government have been making to support the decision of relying on legacy copper networks rather than rolling out widespread fibre to the premises (FttP), besides the often-mentioned cheaper cost and faster rollout time, NBN and the government have said there exists the capacity to upgrade all network technologies to reach "fibre-like speeds".

"It is about making sure we provide a minimum performance level today with an upgrade path. This is vitally important," NBN CEO Bill Morrow said in August when announcing NBN's trial with Nokia of XG-FAST.

"We're constantly looking at new things that we can deploy that will give either a lower cost, faster time to get everybody connected, or better speeds. And that's where we think about FttDP ... we know that when we think about that technology, we think about G.fast as the technology that will go over the top of that to give us some pretty fast speeds, and most recently we've been testing XG-FAST that actually takes that out to a whole new level of multiple gigabits per second capability."

But despite NBN's FttDP network launching for at least 700,000 premises in 2018 and G.fast available prior to that in 2017, ZDNet understands that the network technology will launch with VDSL only. This means that the approximate 500Mbps download speeds attainable over a G.fast FttDP connection will be downgraded to around the maximum 100Mbps download speeds currently seen over fibre to the node (FttN).

Although the company will likely reappraise G.Fast in future, NBN CEO Bill Morrow had previously conceded that even if FttDP were available today, the company would hold back on making the product available due to additional work needed on its IT system to integrate FttDP.

"The reality with fibre to the distribution point is that it is still in the very early stages of its development. We are intending to go forward," Morrow said in Senate Estimates in May.

"At the same time we will look at our IT systems, the network release systems, that have to be put in place and we will begin to work with the retail service providers on the changes that they need.

"But realistically, on the chances of this getting deployed in a commercial fashion, it is not going to be before the end of next year."

By comparison, several other countries relying on copper networks for last-mile connectivity are looking to launch G.fast services as they become available; BT's Openreach division is expected to launch the first commercial G.fast services next year.

By March 2017, an extension to BT's current pilot of the technology will also see another 140,000 premises obtain access to G.fast. BT's field trials have seen average speeds of 330Mbps delivered over the technology, with 10 million premises to be connected by G.fast by 2020. The remaining 2 million UK premises will be connected with FttP.

Swisscom in Switzerland also announced that it will be using G.fast for its fibre-to-the-street (FttS) rollout, similar to NBN's FttDP network. The first Swisscom G.fast FttS customers will be switched on by the end of this year, with possible speeds to increase from 100Mbps to 500Mbps.

Energia Communications in Japan and M-net and NetCologne in Germany have also announced a rollout schedule for the technology.

"G.fast is a central component of a FttDP deployment architecture, with fibre deployed deep into the network and the VDSL tail reduced to under 400 metres and, in many instances, under 100 metres," the Ovum report commissioned by NBN and BT said.

NBN has also said it could upgrade its FttP network using Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) technology that would see download speeds of 1Gbps; its hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks with DOCSIS 3.1 -- currently due to be launched in the second half of 2017 -- for download speeds of 1Gbps, and then Full-Duplex DOCSIS 3.1 for download speeds of 10Gbps; and its fixed-wireless network with Carrier Channel Aggregation (CCA) combined with improved Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) for download speeds of 1Gbps.

The recent focus on possible upgrade paths, through both announcements and trials, have led to the assumption that the company will be deploying these network upgrades as they become available; however, they are seemingly more theoretical than practical, with the company as yet not committing to a timeframe for most of them.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) FttP network is already offering gigabit speeds as of this month.

NBN does have the capacity to deliver much faster speeds; over a year ago, it attained speeds of 522Mbps down/78Mbps up during a trial of G.fast fibre-to-the-basement (FttB) technology over a 100m copper line, and in August, NBN's XG-FAST trial with Nokia attained speeds of 8Gbps.

But if NBN launches its FttDP network without G.fast, it will be a wasted opportunity to demonstrate that it can employ new technologies over old networks to compete on a global scale for broadband speeds.

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