Alcatel-Lucent walks fine NBN fibre line

Alcatel-Lucent walks fine NBN fibre line

Summary: As a network vendor that stands to profit from both fibre to the premises and fibre to the node, Alcatel-Lucent walks a fine line in the NBN debate.

TOPICS: NBN, Australia

Five years ago, when the National Broadband Network (NBN) fibre-to-the-premises project was first announced by the then-Labor government, Alcatel-Lucent was only too keen to get on board with the government's sell of the massive infrastructure project.

(Image: Screenshot by Josh Taylor/ZDNet)

In one promotional video the company put together, Alcatel-Lucent said that the government is future-proofing broadband services through the rollout of fibre to the premises.

"Life-changing and economy-building services will originate from this unheralded and seamless connectivity," the voiceover said in the video.

"Such a massive infrastructure project will no doubt take time, but it needs to be done right the first time."

The video finishes by saying that the NBN is "every Australian's right", and preceded the company's tendering for one of the largest NBN contracts awarded. Alcatel-Lucent went on to win an AU$1.5 billion contract with NBN Co for optical and Ethernet aggregation equipment in mid-2010.

After the election, and the installation of a hung parliament and new Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Alcatel-Lucent retreated from the spotlight. The company seldom commented on the NBN debate as Turnbull spent the next three years criticising the project at every turn, offering his alternative fibre-to-the-node (FttN) vision for what he believes will be a more cost-effective and faster NBN rollout.

Then, last year, as the election drew near, Alcatel-Lucent slowly returned to the debate, highlighting its successful FttN VDSL deployments in a number of locations across Europe and the United States.

Given the government-enforced ban excluding Alcatel-Lucent's largest rival Huawei's technology in NBN Co infrastructure, Alcatel-Lucent stands to do considerably well out of any FttN network contracts awarded as part of the planned overhaul of the NBN. The company has already been involved in two trials of FttN and fibre-to-the-basement technology with NBN Co and Telstra.

While the fibre NBN was once every Australian's right, Alcatel-Lucent's tune has changed, with the company now of the belief that the advances in VDSL technology mean that it is now possible to reuse existing copper lines in order to get the network rolled out faster.

In an interview with ZDNet, Alcatel-Lucent's market strategy director Stefaan Vanhastel said that up until a few years ago, fibre to the home was the simple decision, but advances in VDSL and vectoring, which cuts out cross-talk on copper lines for a better-quality connection, means alternatives are now available.

"It was no longer fibre to the home as the only option for ultra broadband services; you could also operate existing VDSL2 lines with vectoring and still do 100Mbps," he said.

"What we've seen since then is that many operators have adopted a very pragmatic approach. Fibre to the home is the long-term goal. You do fibre to the home where you can, and where the business case works, but when the operators are combining this with an upgrade of existing VDSL networks because that is something you can do very quickly and relatively cheaply."

He said that many telcos around the world are now taking a "pragmatic approach" in deploying a mix of fibre and VDSL technologies based on the most cost-effective way to connect people.

"We strongly believe, and we see this vision being adopted by the market, that the combination of multiple technologies is really the way to go to deliver more broadband to more people sooner," he said.

"It makes perfect sense to re-evaluate options, with VDSL2 vectoring having become available, and, in Australia, the same thing is happening with the multi-technology model."

The company was all too aware of the debate of the quality of the copper line, with Vanhastel stating that Alcatel-Lucent's trials show that even poor copper can be used.

"We've done more than 60 trials, including trials in China and a few other countries that are not exactly known for their good copper quality," he said.

"I've seen pictures of really corroded copper, but the good news is we get consistently good results with VDSL2 vectoring."

But Alcatel-Lucent isn't becoming a VDSL evangelist; the company still has a significant interest in the advancement of fibre technology. The company's fixed networks CTO David Eckard last week gave a presentation to a fibre-to-the-home conference in Sweden on the next-generation passive optical network technology called TWDM-PON that will allow operators to assign multiple 10Gbps passive optical networks on the same fibre.

"Many times, we hear from our customers that they do not want to deploy multiple fibre networks. That's one of the benefits we see with NG-PON2," he said.

"You can grow a 10-gig network in interesting ways. You could actually take two GPON networks and actually overlay one 10-gig network over the top of it."

However, Eckard said that while he is focused on the fibre advancements, it is not the case that it would only ever be about fibre versus copper.

"We're providing a toolbox of different types of solutions, and we have the ability to help put these different components together in such a way that it will satisfy people's network needs."

Topics: NBN, Australia


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Double dipping

    Simple they sell us VDSL first then fibre 5 years later. You can't blame then for the stupidity of the Governments broadband plan
  • Fiber is for long term

    Labor and Liberal should work together for the sake of Australia's future instead of giving short-term solution just to win the next election. If they continue to go on like this, the roll-out will cost more tax payer's money and take longer time to complete.
    • How the Hell does anyone, from any Party, work with a wanker like Conroy?

      I don't disagree with what you say, but the problem is the personalities of some of the people.
      • Disagree

        Without Conroy we would have SFA, with Telstra continuing to do it's monopoly routine of charging like a wounded bull for crap services and doing everything possible to handicap and cripple competitors and crippling the real economy in the process
        Abel Adamski
  • Alan Bond

    Lives on in spirit in the LNP
    Alcatel obviously can't believe their luck
    Abel Adamski
    • double time

      haha yep exactly, Alcatel is gona cash in on this one! soon as VDSL gets installed it is going to be time to upgrade to fibre, so guess who gets paid twice!
      • But wait there is more

        All that loverly active equipment scattered around the countryside in airconditioned powered tin sheds is of course due to it's environment more fault prone, thus also massive stores of spares will be needed.(sound of hands rubbing in the background).

        Most of the "savings" with FTTN are cost of labour, this cost is income taxed, spent incurring GST and circulates within the economy generating further jobs. This cost has largely been replaced by shipping money overseas to purchase all that wonderful equipment generating little benefit to our economy. However the cost of labour circulating through the economy will come with the ongoing inefficient labour intensive high maintenance/faults workforce. 10:1 the costly batteries will be imported from China to reduce overheads as they will be a ongoing..
        But hey the adults are in charge.
        I hate to point out that every lunatic fringe cult consists of adults, here we go again replacement overhead
        Abel Adamski
      • Sorry a little naive

        Just because it will be time to upgrade to fibre doesn't mean that it will happen. With all the cherry pickers and high operational overhead GIMPCo will be running at a massive taxpayer subsidised loss. Upgrades will financially completely out of the question regardless of the necessity. All those private sector mini monopolies won't waste money on upgrades out of commercial areas.
        We are aiming for sunrise industry and start ups who will have no choice for high standard data but those horrendously expensive centres.

        Note the rules
        Abel Adamski
  • AL will flap the way the wind blows

    If Labor get back in and push for FTTP again, then AL will be on board that too. For them, the 'best' technology is the one the client wants to just commercial common sense really.