Capacity no biggie for our wireless: NBN Co

Capacity no biggie for our wireless: NBN Co

Summary: As it is a fixed wireless network, the National Broadband Network (NBN) long-term evolution (LTE) deployment will not suffer the same capacity issues as regular mobile networks, according to NBN Co's chief technology officer Gary McLaren.


As it is a fixed wireless network, the National Broadband Network (NBN) long-term evolution (LTE) deployment will not suffer the same capacity issues as regular mobile networks, according to NBN Co's chief technology officer Gary McLaren.

Yesterday, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced that the areas surrounding Geraldton, Toowoomba, Ballarat, Darwin and Tamworth would be the first five regional sites to be connected to the NBN through NBN Co's fixed wireless technology, to be deployed together with Ericsson.

The first sites are expected to cover around 14,000 premises altogether. While many traditional telcos struggle to cope with the volume of users they have at any one time, McLaren told ZDNet Australia that because NBN Co wireless was a fixed network, usage in areas would be predictable, so capacity was less of an issue.

"Because we don't have a mobile network, we're not having to cope with fluctuations in load and devices moving around the cell, so we're looking to be as precise as we can with the dimension of the network," he said.

McLaren said that the locations were chosen because each of the five sites is one of the points of interconnect for the NBN. From these points, fibre will be run out to wireless towers, and, in some cases, microwave will be used between towers. To connect to the service from each premise, McLaren said there would be an A4-sized antenna attached to the side of the house with a cable running to the network termination unit inside the house.

"It'll be a professional install from NBN Co and our contractors that will make sure the signal strength is there, it's actually performing as we expected, can actually achieve 12Mbps," he said.

For the entire wireless network to cover 4 per cent of premises, NBN Co is expecting to have to use around 2300 towers to ensure adequate coverage. The executive said that NBN Co would be looking to use existing telecommunications towers and mobile base stations in place with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, but admitted that there would inevitably be new towers that NBN Co would have to construct.

Despite the rise of data use, and demand for better coverage from telcos, installing towers in communities remains a controversial issue. Regional newspapers frequently report community concerns over the installation of new towers in their area, and often construction plans for new towers fail to come to a head after community backlash. McLaren said that through community consultation, he believes NBN Co will be able to avoid similar backlash.

"I don't think we'll see it as a backlash, we've been talking to people in these communities, we've seen quite a lot of people that are obviously keen to get the service and are expecting infrastructure-like towers will be needed to do it," he said.

"We're working through that with Ericsson [and] obviously with the local communities to make sure they're done in the right way and with the local concerns about any impacts taken on board."

In a similar fashion to the trial NBN fibre sites, McLaren said that NBN Co would use these first five release sites to gain insight into the best roll-out methods for the rest of the country, so the company can develop a detailed design of the network. While the company plans to offer speeds higher than the basic 12Mbps service in the future, he said it was important to first get the network right, to ensure it could offer the promised speeds to everyone in the wireless footprint.

"We don't want to have a situation where ... you have the 'haves' and 'have nots' within a wireless coverage area, so that some can get a high speed and some can't," he said.

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Networking


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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  • We will all watch this with great interest in particular how they manage some of the real world issues with a wireless network.
    1. The world is not a flat place so there will be some people that will not have line of site unless they are putting a lot of tower points into the network.
    2. That means that spectrum use will be a challenge given they will need to re-use spectrum and avoid self interference.
    3. People have a bad habit of planting trees around their properties creating a line of site issue that either requires a high mast (ugly) or use of a chain saw (even more ugly)
    4. Councils also have a bad habit of planting roadside trees in lots of places creating same situation as above.
    5. Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) sitting on the roof is subject to weather events creating potential alignment issues after a storm. Requires contractor to re-visit the property to align.
    6. Unlike DSL if the CPE fails then a contractor needs to go back to replace equipment on the roof and realign (can't just post out a new router like DSL).
    7. For now wireless is a shared medium so expect to see contention being an issue as the network load increases particularly the period between 5pm - 10pm when most people tend to use it. Difficult to see 12 Mbps being available to people during that period once significant numbers are connected.
    8. Building the network is one challenge and connecting thousands of customers is a whole different challenge requiring many contractors and a way of managing them and the install standard.

    As I said we will all watch with great interest.
    wireless guy-71eb8
    • Fixed wireless is not a perfect solution, but it will do a decent enough job.

      You make some decent points, but I think some of the concerns are overstated.

      For one thing, the antenna will not need to be as strictly aligned as a satellite dish or microwave aerial - and perfect line of sight is not vitally important, as long as there are no mountain ranges or other land masses in the way.

      I also imagine that the number of active users per base station will not be as great as would be expected with mobile data - and without the need for handover to another cell tower, there is more efficient use of the available bandwidth.

      Most wireless broadband sites are in or near major towns that will be getting fibre - and therefore, the users in those towns will therefore not be eating up the wireless bandwidth. The network design in fact pretty much stipulates that wireless users will tend to be located in areas that are quite sparsely populated. I know they've modelled the usage over various kinds of topography and usage patterns, and I'm inclined to NBN Co has been quite conservative, but confident, in their estimates of the end user experience.

      The other advantage of fixed wireless is that they can plan the location of towers very carefully to suit dwelling location and density, and maximise the reuse of spectrum from neighbouring towers because they don't have to offer "everywhere" coverage.
      • Actually alignment it important with not a lot of room for error. Modulation quickly get ordinary and packet loss starts with only small deviations in alignment. Line of site is more of an issue than you might imagine and any terrain blocking will mean it is unlikely to work and trees particularly when wet soak up the signal. The only thing that will give good near line of site is a low frequency like the digital dividend and NBN are not getting that.

        Regarding numbers of people on a tower wireless services are not planned for "sparse areas". In fact NBN plan to service some small towns with up to 300 premises with wireless. The sad part of that plan is most already have DSL and will be switched to wireless. Others currently have DSL and because they are outside of the planned fibre and wireless footprint will get satellite. So some people will lose a DSL connection with low latency and end up with a satellite service and high latency and that won't be good for VoIP.
        wireless guy-71eb8
  • Wireless guy: It's "Line of Sight" and yes, like any wireless network there will inevitably be LOS issues at some locations within the wireless footprint. These locations, (if they aren't served by other technologies) will be eligible for the NBN satellite service.