Telstra and Alcatel-Lucent have confirmed that they are working on a fibre-to-the-node (FttN) trial that could be picked up as part of the Coalition's rework of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.
The trial, first reported by the Australian Financial Review, was started after the Coalition's election win on September 7, and was part of a long-running technology partnership with network vendor Alcatel-Lucent.
"Alcatel-Lucent has been our access network partner for many years, and we regularly test technologies with them. We have recent experience with FttN-like technologies through our Top Hat rollout," the spokesperson said.
"We started the VDSL vectoring trial just after the election, and it is going well. We haven't demonstrated its capabilities to anyone yet."
Telstra and Alcatel-Lucent worked together on the company's first FttN pitch back in 2005, and then on the unsuccessful NBN tender in 2008.
Prior to becoming the new minister for communications last week, Malcolm Turnbull frequently highlighted the VDSL vectoring work being undertaken by Alcatel-Lucent in Belgium with Belgacom, and in Austria with Telekom Austria, as a potentially more cost-effective alternative to delivering fibre to the premises to 93 percent of Australian premises today.
As FttN involves installing a node on the street corner and then using the existing copper line to the premises to offer VDSL services, Telstra will need to be involved in the construction of the FttN NBN because it still currently owns the copper lines. The Coalition will first need to renegotiate the AU$11 billion Telstra NBN deal in order to access the cable.
Telstra's CEO David Thodey has said that the company would like to see a quick renegotiation, but the trial indicates that Telstra has an interest in getting more construction work out of the new NBN. Although Telstra did not directly receive any major construction contracts for the NBN under Labor, the company has been heavily involved in the on-the-ground work with pit and duct remediation. In August, Thodey said that Telstra would like to assist wherever possible in the construction of the NBN, and Turnbull has said that he would have given more of the construction work to Telstra in the first place.
The speeds on the FttN trial will be of most interest, but Telstra is remaining tight lipped on it at this point. On VDSL, speeds range up to a maximum of 80 megabits per second (Mbps) down, depending on the length and quality of the copper line. Anywhere farther than 300 metres from the cabinet or node sees a massive reduction in speed.
As part of this internal trial, Telstra has been using VDSL vectoring, which cuts down the noise on the copper line, allowing even higher download and upload speeds.
According to an analyst briefing document from Alcatel-Lucent, the Belgacom trial has a copper loop length of 500 metres, with preliminary lab and field test results showing a minimum downstream speed sans vectoring of 20Mbps, and with vectoring a minimum downstream speed of 65Mbps.
A Telstra spokesperson today said that Telstra's current trial has no customers at this stage, but that the trial has been "delivering the expected FttN speeds". The spokesperson did not disclose the length of the copper line, or the location of the trial.
The Coalition's proposal would currently see around 71 percent of premises receiving fibre-to-the-node services instead, although this figure will largely depend on the outcome of the reviews and audits the Coalition is currently undertaking into NBN Co, the current rollout and the best options for broadband.
An Alcatel-Lucent spokesperson confirmed the Telstra trial, and said that the network vendor is working on VDSL vectoring trials with between 40 and 50 telcos worldwide.