NBN's build-it-first approach for wireless wrong: Vertel

NBN's build-it-first approach for wireless wrong: Vertel

Summary: NBN Co building a fixed-wireless network without knowing where exactly the fixed-wireless customers are located is one reason for the delay in the rollout, according to fixed-wireless provider Vertel.


Delays to the rollout of the fixed-wireless network as part of the AU$37.4 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) can be partially blamed on not knowing where the customers will be, according to Vertel managing director Andrew Findlay.

As part of the NBN rollout, 4 percent of Australian premises will be serviced by a fixed-wireless long-term evolution (LTE) network currently being built by telecommunications network vendor giant Ericsson.

The work is scheduled to be completed in 2015, and while NBN Co had hoped to reach 70,000 premises for the fixed-wireless network by the end of June, it came up short, at only just over 27,300.

The government-owned company has previously blamed poor property location information and line-of-sight obstacles such as tall trees as hindering the progress of the wireless network construction.

Vertel, which operates hundreds of point-to-point microwave links for business and government agencies across the country, had been initially approached by NBN Co to use its towers, according to Findlay. He told ZDNet that when the company investigated the way NBN Co was constructing the network, the company was treating it more like a mobile network rollout.

"A lot of our towers were initially targeted by NBN Co, and when we started to get information about it, it became clear they were using some pretty basic RF engineering tools to work out what would be the best candidate site, which, in a mobile environment, you can get away with because it's not based on line to sight," he said.

"They basically outsourced the delivery of a lot of it to Ericsson, who have a lot of experience in delivering mobile networks, but the mobile networks are inherently based on technology and frequencies that don't require line of sight."

Findlay said that fixed-wireless operators normally wait for a customer to order a service before working on getting the physical line of sight in place. NBN Co's challenge is that the company has to roll out the network for customers who haven't ordered a service yet.

"Doing it on the mass market without having any idea of where your customers really are, it's always going to be a difficult scenario to get that right," Findlay said.

"I think it comes back to, if you look like something like the NBN, they've been so focused on the engineering exercise of delivering something like fibre, and I really think the wireless component has been something they've really looked at as being just the other thing they've got to do to make the story right."

An NBN Co spokesperson denied Findlay's claims, and told ZDNet that the approach taken to the construction of the fixed-wireless network is not at all like a traditional mobile network.

"The fixed-wireless network has been specifically planned, designed, and rolled out in an optimal sequence to integrate with the broader NBN infrastructure," she said.

"The fixed-wireless rollout set some ambitious targets and has faced challenges, including the availability of transit and construction in remote locations."

An Ericsson spokesperson also rejected Findlay's assertion that the vendor lacks experience in fixed networks, stating that it has broad experience in rolling out networks similar to Vertel's.

"Ericsson has extensive experience rolling out large-scale wireless networks in Australia and around the world, including a number of fixed-wireless projects," the spokesperson said.

"We are a world leader in point-to-point microwave solutions, and have vast experience with line of sight. Ericsson has deployed over 2.7 million MINI-LINK point-to-point systems, which are used within the NBN fixed-wireless network."

Yesterday, Parliamentary Secretary for Broadband Ed Husic announced that fixed-wireless services are now available to more than 6,300 premises in 19 rural and remote areas of Tasmania. The Tasmanian component of the NBN rollout is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Topic: NBN


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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  • seems like not a week goes by

    that we hear about another way the NBN rollout is being mismanaged.
    • No surprise

      Becoming too much for almost anyone to ignore (even the "unbiased";-)
      Richard Flude
      • indeed

        I'm in favor of the idea of the NBN, but it's been so mismanaged
        • Mismangement is that point many of us have been trying to make

          This is what is happening in South Australia - parts of the NBN fibre network are being ripped-up because of non-payment.


          GREG HOY, REPORTER: Anger in the trenches. In Seaford, South Australia, NBN subcontractors are not rolling out the National Broadband Network, they’re ripping it up.

          BARRY PRINGLE, SUBCONTRACTOR, SA: This is what happens when you don’t pay your subcontractors on time and you just get basically fobbed off by the main contractor working for NBN.

          GREG HOY: Subcontractor Barry Pringle is pulling out in protest over paltry pay rates for extensive work like this.

          BARRY PRINGLE: The schedule rates that NBN are paying their subcontractors are so low it’s unable to build in the correct amount, or the industry standard…

          JOHN O’DONNELL, COMMUNICATION WORKERS UNION: The reality is NBN Co, the new Minister for Communications, the Rudd Government need to wake up, have a look at the pricing structures in this industry. They’re not designed to be viable. They are sending people to the wall. six of our businesses have gone to the wall in the last 12 months…

          GREG HOY: ...Recently, (NBN) announced it had reached its politically sensitive, though radically reduced roll out schedule for the end of June. Many remain suspicious of the actual numbers connected.

          JOHN O’DONNELL: You do hear bits and pieces that are misleading, especially announcements from NBN Co. telling people that you know, we’ve established these networks, they’re up and running. I’m sorry, but I go out there, I don’t see any connections to the premises.
  • Yawnz

    Another boring article Josh. Vertel is probably still reeling from the fact that they didn't get a slice of the NBN project.
    I am surprised that the managing director is getting the wrong idea about NBN. The purpose of NBN is to provide Australians with the pathway to a broadband grade internet service, may it be via fibre, wireless or internet. We will still need to sign up with an ISP. On top of these, Vertel's solution is to wait until you sign up, then they'll start the designing and building the microwave link. I cannot imagine what the cost and delays would be like with this scenario.
    • ops

      I meant satellite ..
  • Who the fark is Vertel?

    Not sure what the point of this article ZDNet.

    Vertel doesn't do anything special from what I see, and Ericsson is well known enough.
  • funny little tiff amongst

    industry players. Interesting to watch at the next drinks and canapés night.
    Knowledge Expert
  • Not a clear picture

    Some of the points made by Vertel don't add up.

    The network would be dimensioned using population maps. They know where the customers are. The absolute worst case, connecting more customers than predicted, would results in lower peak speeds.

    The customer link uses LTE, that doesn't need line of sight. Seems like he's purposely muddying the waters by talking about microwave links which may be used as backhaul.
  • zzzz

    Yeap your definately pro NBN, I wont even bother pointing at the issues with this article.

    Feel free to be your usual arrogant self Josh.