Internode has announced a roadmap for the rollout of naked DSL services -- broadband access without a phone line subscription -- but claims it's being careful to avoid some of the challenges faced by fellow naked provider iiNet.
Naked DSL connections enable a subscriber to use their copper line for broadband connectivity without paying a carrier, such as Telstra, for line rental. Combined with a Voice-over-IP service, a naked DSL connection has the potential to cut telecommunications costs in the average home or small office.
Fellow ISP iiNet began offering naked DSL plans in November 2007. While the majority of its users have been satisfied, the ISP has struggled to provision some of its most tech-savvy customers without significant delays and downtime.
The iiNet experience, says Internode product manager Jim Kellett, has led Internode to take a far more cautious approach to rolling out naked DSL services of its own.
The only Internode naked DSL plans immediately available are for brand new connections, delivered via the Optus wholesale network.
By April, Internode expects to be able to convert existing users -- such as those already connected to a Telstra DSLAM -- to naked DSL at the same cost as new users.
But it will not be until mid-year that Internode can manage to convert a group of its best customers to naked DSL -- those on ADSL2+ Extreme plans.
The essential problem, said Kellett, is that Telstra are yet to come up with a process that makes it easy to convert a connection that uses spectrum sharing to naked DSL.
Internode's Extreme ADSL2+ plans use spectrum sharing -- with both Telstra's PSTN and Internode's broadband connection sharing the same copper wire.
"This is where iiNet has been getting some bad stick," said Kellett. "We understand from our trials how that could happen and we are doing all we can to avoid that outcome."
Kellett said the problem doesn't affect the vast majority of users who convert to naked DSL -- only those that have spectrum sharing on their existing line.
"Which just so happens to be the heaviest users," he said. "Unfortunately for iiNet, these are the type of customers that will make some noise if there is a problem as they are the people most reliant on broadband."
"Under the hood, [conversion] shouldn't be that hard to do, there just isn't a process in place for it yet," he said. "Until the process is improved, we are concerned that the customer would only end up with downtime."
Kellett expects the problem to be solved by the middle of the year. Internode's spectrum sharing customers will be able to convert to a plan called NakedExtreme, at the same prices Internode is charging for the services it will initially resell via the Optus network.
Internode also offers a VoIP package called NodePhone in conjunction with its broadband connections. Users will, however, have to wait before taking the plunge with Internode if they wish to use their existing phone number on a VoIP service via a naked DSL line: number portability on naked DSL is another technical hitch yet to be ironed out.
While it has been caused by technical barriers, Kellett believes that the gradual rollout of naked DSL is in the best interest of both Internode and its customers.
"It's a way of keeping a lid on demand," he said. "This way, you don't get 50 people on the phone at a time waiting for support."
'Ultra' services still to come
While it has not been publicly announced, Internode also has plans in the pipeline to offer a bundled phone and broadband service that would compete with Optus's Fusion package -- bundling an ADSL2+ service and a standard PSTN phone line without any line rental charges.
Internode's "Ultra" service, as it will be marketed, will be targeted at customers that want to keep their existing phone number on a PSTN line, or for those that require an analog PSTN line for their Foxtel service or fax machine.
It will also be delivered via the Optus wholesale network. Internode has promised that it won't charge for upload fees on any of its naked plans nor its Ultra service.
"We don't charge for it in our normal plans, so we're not charging it in our naked DSL plans either," Kellett said.