Federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, said yesterday he was open to fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) proposals as part of the national broadband network rollout but warned that the government would not increase its AU$4.7 billion budget.
Speaking on ABC television, Conroy said that as long as consortiums looking to be part of the National Broadband Network meet minimum benchmarks for the rollout -- such as speeds of at least 12Mbps for 98 percent of the population -- the process will be open to proposals taking the network further.
"Our specs that we'll be releasing in the next couple of weeks will allow the possibility of a consortium to put forward a FTTH proposal," Conroy said, adding that he had already talked to some consortiums about the technology.
However, extra money for the enhanced rollout will not come from the government. "Whether they can build the business case, that's a matter for the consortium," Conroy said. "They can't expect the government's going to give more than AU$4.7 billion."
Conroy's move makes good commercial sense, according to Gartner research VP Geoff Johnson: "All he is really doing is saying 'We'll accept compliant and non-compliant bids and this is the budget'."
Johnson believes the best outcome will be a mix of appropriate technologies where the leading one would be fibre to the "x" (FTTX). "The best mix you can put together for the price is FTTX and fibre to the node [FTTN]," he said. "FTTN is an interim working technology. FTTX is the target technology in the foreseeable future," he said.
The expensive bit in FTTX is putting the cable in the ground, according to Johnson. After that it's only a matter of deciding how much to fire up the bandwidth, he continued saying that speeds in FTTX leader Japan sit at around 100Mbps.
Around two to five percent of the Australian population could have a business case to be connected using FTTX in locations such as CBDs, inner suburbs and technology parks, he estimated. Around 40 percent of homes and businesses are connected with direct fibre connections in Japan, Johnson said.