Australian government using wrong NBN rollout strategy, leaked report warns

Australian government using wrong NBN rollout strategy, leaked report warns

Summary: Australia's new Liberal Party government is using the wrong strategy for rolling out the country's national broadband network (NBN) and should consolidate the planned two-stage deployment of fibre-to-the-node (FttN) technology into one rollout, a leaked internal report has revealed.


Australia's newly elected Coalition government is taking the wrong approach to rolling out its alternative national broadband network (NBN) strategy by planning it in two separate stages rather than completing the project in one go, the company building the network has warned in advice prepared for incoming communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The Coalition went to the September 7 election with an alternative to the previous government's fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) rollout – which would deliver direct fibre-optic connections to 93 percent of Australia's homes and businesses by 2021 – with an alternative fibre-to-the-node (FttN) NBN to be built in two stages.

The government must minimise double-handling if it hopes to meet its NBN rollout deadlines, a confidential internal assessment has warned.

The first stage would use VDSL2 technology to deliver a minimum of 25Mbps services across the country by 2016; some 90 percent of premises would then be progressively upgraded to 50Mbps by 2019 using VDSL2 'vectoring' technology, which delivers faster speeds over short distances over good-quality copper access network (CAN).

Noting that this approach "implies two truck rolls," the NBN Co advice – prepared during the pre-election caretaker period by NBN Co at the request of the former Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), and intended to form part of the 'Blue Book' briefing given to help the new minister hit the ground running – indicates that the need to retrain the workforce of NBN Co and its many subcontractors would pose an additional significant risk to the rollout, which is already "unlikely" to hit its 2016 targets.

NBN Co's analysis concluded that a two-tiered approach "would increase network rollout costs and end-user disruption" and needlessly delay the move to VDSL2 'vectoring' technology, which Telstra and Alcatel-Lucent recently began testing.

"VDSL2 with in-cabinet vectoring is proven and commercially available today, so there is no need to delay a deployment to wait for the technology to come online," the report warns.

"A number of successful trials have been conducted since 2010, and the technology is being deployed on a commercial scale in Austria and Belgium.”

NBN Co's analysis suggested a two-tiered approach "would increase network rollout costs and end-user disruption" and needlessly delay the move to VDSL2 'vectoring' technology. 

"NBN Co should deploy the best available xDSL technology in the FTTN network from the start of the rollout."

The confidential report, parts of which were published this week by Fairfax Media, confirmed that the project was "unlikely" to meet Turnbull's election 2016 goal and might only make its 2019 deadline if a long list of complex and significant issues was resolved within approximately the next 18 months.

Meeting such tight deadlines and the Coalition's promise of a cheaper NBN would require as efficient a rollout as possible, the report warned, suggesting that a "significant" effort to remediate Telstra's copper access network (CAN) for 25Mbps services, and further work to prepare it for 50Mbps, would involve duplication of efforts and should ideally be combined.

The previous government negotiated an $11b access arrangement to let it run its FttP cabling through ex-monopolist Telstra's nationwide network of underground ducts. However, the rollout ran into trouble earlier this year after asbestos was discovered in pits into which equipment for the FttP network, leading Telstra to temporarily shut down its rollout until additional training and remediation work could be completed.

There have also been widespread concerns about the "dilapidated" state of the company's nationwide telephone and xDSL infrastructure, which progressively expanded over the past century.

"Further remediation work may be required to increase speeds to 50Mbps," the report warns. "Therefore it makes sense that the network is remediated once only to achieve the target of 90% of the fixed-line network to receive minimum download speeds of 50Mbps in 2019."

Although the scope of necessary remediation of Telstra's copper "cannot be accurately determined until NBN Co gains access to Telstra's copper plant records and commences VDSL2 trials," NBN Co warned that "significant network remediation will need to occur in the copper plant including the removal of bridge taps, poor joints and any other physical impairment that impacts performance."

Turnbull has rubbished the NBN Co advice, confirming that he had read its contents but slamming it as a partisan, outdated document – despite evidence confirming it was prepared during the pre-election caretaker period.

The full Blue Book report, for which the NBN Co document was prepared, has been suppressed by Turnbull despite widespread calls for its release and his earlier promises that he was open to hearing the "unvarnished truth" about the NBN rollout.

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Fiber, Government AU, Australia


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • This is getting ridiculous

    Why has a technical detail few politicians are in a position to make a reasonable judgement about been allowed to become a partisan political issue?

    If I were Prime Minister of Australia, I'd certainly want to know that.
    John L. Ries
    • The half-NBN is now in a bog

      Whoever gets the fiber-to-the-copper (half NBN) will not get the optical NBN when there is a change of government.

      Nobody wants the fiber-copper NBN. Nobody.

      The politicians who want the half-NBN are trying to satisfy their media mogul pals, by preventing the Ultra-High-Resolution (4K) video industry getting underway.

      But for the public, the half-NBN is going to be increasingly difficult to sell, because the justification for it doesn't add up. It can't be upgraded very far, and the next incremental upgrade to VDSL2 is going to cost a lot of money. Add to that the enormous cost of maintaining the corroded copper network, and it becomes a bottomless pit where money disappears for little reward.

      We can only hope that the local government councils stop the unsightly half-NBN 'node' boxes going into the streets, so that a change of government will see the original 100% fiber network take its place.
      • So this is really a patronage issue

        Much like copyright enforcement has become here in the USA (for much the same reasons). Thanks for the explanation.

        But it looks like Mr. Turnbull lacks the political skills (particularly tact) to sell this to the public and isn't discreet enough to allow these sorts of decisions to be made when nobody is looking. That makes him a political liability, so unless Mr. Abbott is indebted to him in some way (and maybe even so), I'm thinking Malcolm Turnbull will be getting a new assignment in the near future.
        John L. Ries
        • not really

          No it's not really a patronage issue, I have the same internet speed as everyone i know living in a suburban area. Adsl2+ is already fast enough for me to stream media to my tv and i'm on an affordable unlimited plan. If the internet is the complete death of media industries then we are already there. The real issue is money, we just got rid of a government that seemed to enjoy spending money that we do not have. One of the election promises that just got the current government in is a reduction in spending on projects such as the NBN. Wether or not the new plan is a better idea or even being implemented correctly i don't know but i do know they have already sold this idea to the public and won an election along with it. I don't see how an major turning point in a winning election will end up getting malcolm turnbull reassigned. compared to the last guy, stephen conroy, mr turnbull is a genius. Conroy's great legacy is trying to bring south korean internet speeds to one of the largest nations in the world during the biggest recession since the great depression and then trying to slow it down with a north korean style internet filter so that he can block illegal downloads of movies for the media industries. He also wanted to block child porn instead of catching those sickos instead.
          so who is really in the media industries pocket, the guy that wants to spend billions filtering the internet or the guy that is reducing spending on a project the media industry publically wants
          • It's an investment, not a cost

            Why don't you campaign that road building should stop, because there is a recession? For that matter, why not reduce investment in universities too, because that is a great cost to the economy.

            It's seed money. The government invests money in wiring everyone with fiber-optic quality internet, and the economy will benefit.

            One area that will get a foot-hold is internet video. This is the video that will totally replace over-the-air television. It will be 4K resolution, and like everything else on the internet, the audience will be global, rather than city or country based. That's one area where you could get an early foot-hold and establish something big, by getting a head start on other countries (especially other English speaking countries).

            And besides, it's bizarre you think your economy is in recession when it is actually booming, and has been for more than a decade. Therefore, this is the best time to invest in infrastructure, like super-fast internet.
          • ....

            i didn't say we were in recession i said the world is. unfortunately that still creates instability.
            so your telling me better tv is going to make you work faster? gee what an investment.
            better internet for business and government is great but if you want better internet so you can stream your favourite tv shows in a higher resolution go pay for it. yes you can do that.
            i for one would love better internet, i just prefer infranstructure like roads and schools a little more. so no i'm not campaigning to stop all spending, but when debt is rising, the baby boomers are starting to retire and there is serious global instability you have to make a choice between education and high speed high resolution porn.
          • Can't agree

            Sorry Nat5han, but the comments you give here have been seen over these forums are the usual blind faith and belief in FUD that frankly are starting to p*ss me off.

            FIRSTLY - mate, I'm SSSSOOOO happy for you and the others who can get ADSL2+ and are happy. Truly. But your views don't really matter. The NBN is about fair and equal fast broadband for EVERYONE. And we are so far removed from that goal. Really. I wish you, Mr Turnbull and the other Nay Sayers would come out to Oakford/Oldbury here in WA, and thousands of other places like it, which are only 20 minutes south of Perth, yet have to have $500 Yagi antennas installed and go on ridiculous 3G plans to make business work. Just to get 3Mbps down, 2Mbps up. I'm SO lucky. I'm on pair gain/RIM here but manage to get full speed ADSL1 at 6-8Mbps.

            BUT - too bad for running online data backups, running my security cameras on-line, VoIP or anything else that requires uploads. with 0.3Mbps that is a pipe dream.

            Even your precious ADSL2+ would not suffice for that.

            Please, can we stop seeing this as a consumer issue. Yes, a lot of users who browse internet, e-mail, and perhaps watch some compressed IPTV will get by fine on ADSL2+ provided they are within 5Km from the exchange.

            But this is not about YOU. It is about everyone. Also, this is not about spending for the hundredth time. Most of the money comes from government bonds, and with a ROI (that's investment for the laymen, NOT COST) of 7% those can be paid back when due.

            Now, if we are going to do this, Malcolm told us FttN will cause us to invest $30b or so. With his delays, stalling, cost of PUCHASE/LEASE of copper from Telstra (he will not get it for free whatever he thinks), plus maintenance costs for the copper, plus electricity for the node cabinets, I think that's pretty conservative. I says we can get close to fibre speeds. In the lab, sure. Wait till he tries to connect people here where I am. FAIL.

            Fibre, about $40b. No cabinets, real world speeds of 400Mbps up, 1000Mbps down, lab tested at 76Gbps last time I looked.

            This is a no-brainer. Unless you are Malcolm Turnbull.

            Yes, it gives us 4K TV. So what? You really think this is why we need it? Like I'm sitting here waiting for a resolution I can't even view yet? Get with it mate. BUT super glad at least with fibre I COULD watch that in the future. Not so FttN.

            And it WILL make TV (if that's your thing) super cheap. Currently we cannot really provide good quality IPTV to all of Australia due to the state of broadband (not necessarily yours but millions of others). Imagine no dishes, no Foxtel requirement for minimum $50 per month? Imagine on-demand only pay for stuff you view? Imagine instead of the Foxtel monopoly juggernaut, tens or hundreds of companies competing for your dollar, because they do not have to supply a delivery method. Imagine every TV in your house watching a different IPTV channel or on-demand in full HD or 4K or whatever?

            Me, I just imagine no more telephone line rental (goodbye wasted $40 per month), as VoIP would actually work with BETTER voice quality than POTS. I imagine video calling my nan in Holland dying of cancer in full quality no stuttering or dropping picture, saving me $1800 in plane tickets, I imagine my security system showing me people entering the property so I can alert the cops, I imagine backing up my data to the cloud so in case of fire or theft, I can recover and maintain the running of the business. I imagine my kids attending virtual lectures in universities all over the world.

   your eyes and see wider than yourself. All of you.
          • A Fan of Alan Jones?

            FTTN is going to be a constant drain on the economy.
            The Government's financial contribution is almost the same for both plans yet the former would have become a profitable asset providing everyone with reliable communications.

            FTTN will struggle to compete with superior rival networks & become an ongoing subsidized taxpayer liability.
            Most likely to be outdated before it's even completed, it has double the power consumption & costs a $billion PA just to maintain that aging copper let alone the nodes & their battery consumption.
            The time has come to cease wasting $Billions in attempting to keep the Howard legacy of Telstra's "5 minutes to Midnight" long neglected cash cow limping along well past it's use by date by investing in a new fibre network that has a promising future other than the local tip where all those nodes will likely end up at.
  • Minister for Communications ???

    The Minister for Communication supresses a report that discredits his policies. Not very communicative, but strangely at the same time it tells us plenty!
  • Factually inaccurate

    Turnbull is not blocking the release of the blue book. His department is. The decision as to whether it is released under FoI rules is one that will be made by Andrew Madsen, Assistant Secretary of the Department’s Governance Branch.

    Anyone who bothered to stay informed on the issue would know that. David Braue's playing at being a journalist whilst using the bully pulpit to push his views and interests is partisan, shoddy and factually inaccurate.

    If the blue book ever sees the light of day it will reveal a whole range of views and predictions, because that's the nature of building a big project like this. Some people will say it'll never work, technically or financially. Other will insist it will. Yet others will express their views about how this or that part of it can or shouldn't be done. Most come down to what you consider important. Anyone who has done big complex projects knows that it in the end what usually makes it a succeed is someone with a vision cutting through all the crap and getting everyone to do their bit consistent with that vision, not all defending their territory and trying to do their bit the way they think is technically best.
    Gordon D
    • Is not the minister in charge of his department?

      He should consult with his senior civil service people, but he's the one who's responsible for his department, so unless I'm very much mistaken, he gets to make the final call.
      John L. Ries
    • Factually inaccurate?

      Hm, did you just say "his department"? Isn't he the boss of his department? This is a big political decision, to hide a technical report that advises his party decision is wrong. I voted for them, although I consider their decision about NBN is wrong and I hope they will listen to people who are experts in this area.
    • LOL, The Turnbull apologists always manage to entertain us. We can expect more of the same in the next 1124 days.
      Hubert Cumberdale
    • Fully Informed

      So that's why Turnbull suggests that He''ll "encourage the department" to release his if Shorten releases all the previous mob's data LOL.
      Schoolboy politics at best.
      • I find very few things more annoying...

        ...than public officials who dodge responsibility for their actions and non-actions (either personally or through surrogates). Malcolm Turnbull is Communications Minister, which makes him responsible for the official acts of his ministry subordinates who are his to command. He is also a highly influential member of Parliament (a former Leader of the Opposition, even), which means that even if The Law restrained him from releasing the document, he could propose a change in the law and probably get it.

        Not impressed.
        John L. Ries
  • Telephone line

    The competition needs for free trade, there are many communication company, they usually offer and advise the better services and prices. However Telstra, a former Telecome doesn't respect the customer. Whether NBN or the others, but compare with US, Europe, so Australia is bad, actually Telstra, the company has so much complaint about services, bill and company often increases the price for each calling, despite the line is the same.
    The internet services of Telstra's cost is higher than the others, so many customers gave up, they joined the other company. The CEO may review the value of services and prices for wire and internet, if they don't want to lose more customer.
    hoa minh truong