NBN Co's Mike Quigley unplugged

NBN Co's Mike Quigley unplugged

Summary: Two years into the job as head of NBN Co, Twisted Wire spends half an hour with Mike Quigley to talk about his role and the progress of the nation's biggest ever infrastructure project.


Two years into the job as head of NBN Co, Twisted Wire spends half an hour with Mike Quigley to talk about his role and the progress of the nation's biggest ever infrastructure project.

Quigley is clearly enjoying his role, despite some of the challenges it provides. "There's a sense in the company that we are doing something that's important to the nation," he says, "and that's very satisfying."

When it comes to challenges, politics is almost certainly the biggest obstacle. He admits the magnitude of debate around the project has taken him aback, but suggests most of the discussion from politicians has been around competition policy. "I don't pretend to be a competition expert, I'm a network builder," he says, although we know that politicians, Malcolm Turnbull in particular, are questioning the philosophy of such a widespread fibre deployment.

On the prospect of a change in government, Quigley says that becomes a question for when it happens. In the meantime, he says, NBN Co "needs to proceed to execute on the plan that it has agreed with the government of the day". He says he hasn't been meeting with Malcolm Turnbull or other opposition members to discuss alternatives, outside Senate hearings and joint parliamentary committees.

Quigley's focus on delivering to government objectives is understandable — it is his one and only shareholder. But that task is being made harder with so many shifting goalposts, not least of which is the deal with Telstra. The extent to which NBN Co uses Telstra infrastructure is dependent on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission agreeing on Telstra's approach to wholesale and retail separation. So, will delays such as this ultimately push back the roll-out schedule? Quigley says it has been necessary to suspend things but, he says, "we haven't reached anywhere near the point where we are spinning our wheels". In other words he expects the project to continue on schedule and within budget, at least for now.

Several Twisted Wire listeners asked why Alcatel was chosen for GPON equipment, when Alcatel still had some development work to do. Well, no vendor met all the requirements of the project, according to Quigley, so whoever was chosen would have had more development work to do. But why Alcatel, was this a case of jobs for the boys? Quigley's quick to point out that he was removed from the decision-making process, given the potential for conflict of interest.

There are many more topics covered in the program, from the selection of first release sites, to the decommissioning of HFC networks and the danger of building a company that has the same cultural difficulties experienced by Telstra and other large monopolies.

Got something to add? Call the Twisted Wire feedback line on 02 9304 5198.

Running time: 39 minutes 33 seconds

Topics: Broadband, Government, Government AU, Telcos, NBN


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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  • How can we possibly justify spending the remainder of the $50 billion on an NBN project yet to deploy, when "AUSTRALIANS anxious to stay connected on the road have pushed wireless ahead of copper as the most common form of broadband."

    Extract, Courtesy:


    Vasso Massonic
    • Vasso, isn't a big part of that numerical increase in wireless connections just a natural function of how services are apportioned among devices? In my household, we have four mobile devices with their own mobile broadband, but only one fixed line service. It is the fixed line broadband, however, which does the lion's share of volume, which appears to be consistent with the national trend.

      See ZDNet's own story at: http://www.zdnet.com.au/mobile-growth-wont-kill-fixed-line-accc-339322971.htm

      "Wireless telecommunications services continue to grow, but not at the expense of fixed-line broadband, the competition watchdog has said.
      "Fixed broadband remains the dominant technology for downloading data, accounting for 91 per cent of data volumes." [extracted from linked ZDNet article]
    • Without knowing how many people are wireless only, how many are fixed only and how many have both these numbers are pretty much meaningless if you want to claim fibre and wireless are not complementary. However something else to consider there are more people than premises and always will be so the comparison should really be percentage based. With that in mind 37% of premises are "ADSL" connected and "mobile wireless internet connections" are at 21%.
      Hubert Cumberdale
    • fyi vasso...


      from within: "fixed broadband remains the dominant technology for downloading data, accounting for 91 per cent of data volumes."

      even with all these devices, still only 9% of data is wireless...!

      as mentioned previously, these are complimentary technologies. mobile for everyone in the family for small stuff, when on the go and one home fixed, for the serious stuff. or even more telling one mobile device for every employee and one fixed central office network for business.

      obviously there will be more wireless devices, but the real work is still done by fixed and the stats prove it. how hard is that to understand for those who actually want to understand?

      imagine how slow wireless would be if all of a sudden that 91% fixed became wireless? how many more towers would be needed? want a lovely tower outside your place? etc... we've been through it all before but alas!

      my suggestion vasso, just as the opposition are saying, take anything Google says with a grain of salt, because the nbn is in their interests... in that case take everything the Australian (who's bread & butter is print media/newspaper sales) with a grain of salt too then, because it isn't in their interests to have better faster comms, killing off their paper sales is it now?
      • sorry gwyntaglaw, didn't realise you posted the same url. just thought i'd answer vasso...but you already did it :-)
        • No worrys, Beta... the truth bears repeating!
  • Well, the substitution argument only holds credibility if those people who have wireless broadband don't also have fixed broadband.

    As the article you link to says: the increase in wireless broadband connections was primarily due to demand from subscribers who already had a fixed-line service looking for an additional mobile connection to use away from home.
    • All those smartphones, iPads and tablets preferentially roam to Wi-Fi where available. (Even Malcolm Turnbull's iPad!) So already wireless consumption of data is partly delivered over 3G but preferentially delivered over WiFi, often at higher speeds and without the peak hour congestion experienced via mobile data towers.
  • Vasso:
    That's like saying we don't need to spend for building grocery stores & home kitchens any more 'cause Aussies "on the road" prefer Fast Food outlets.
  • Aside from the tired fixed-vs-mobile nondebate, it was a terrific interview, Phil.

    I've always come away impressed by Mike Quigley and his straightforwardness, honesty and capacity to handle this complex and challenging job. Regardless of anyone's views on the design of the NBN, that is surely something that people can agree on.
    • Totally agree, even with the coalitions deliberate smear campaign he still manages to keep a level head. (Added to the Hall of Awesome btw: http://delimiter.com.au/forum/national-broadband-network/485-hall-awesome.html)
      Hubert Cumberdale
    • Yes Gwyntaglaw - he is a nice guy too!
  • It`s all very well carrying on about the NBN. We would just like to be able to access a half decent adsl service. We can`t even get adsl2 here. How about Telstra updating its telephone exchanges before worrying about "superfast broadband". That`s just a pipe dream on Bribie Island, and we are only a 50 minute drive from the centre of Brisbane. Hardly the outback!!!
    • why not just say, well private enterprise haven't delivered and therefore won't...then get behind the only network which will, the nbn?
  • I question the justification of the big spend not suggesting that we decommission fixed-line services.

    The $50 billion price tag NBN is the ultimate Rolls Royce fixed-service but is at risk of reaching obsolescence and / or run out of funds before final completion in the next decade. The idea was to fund the project using limited borrowings, 'persuade' Telstra to cede its network, replace copper with fiber optics and generate revenue to fund the deployment as they proceed.

    Telstra agreed to lease its net work, and gradually close down of its wholesale division and concentrate at beefing up its Next 3 & 4 G mobile networks to compensate the potential loss of business for it's shareholders.

    It Seems Optus will not rest until Telstra is demolished and the Singapore government's subsidiary reigns supreme in Australia's telecommunications sector.
    It's nothing but wishful thinking on its part simply because Telstra has the business acumen to handle anything that is thrown at it. Albeit, Telstra's opponents have managed to delay the implementation of the NBN project resulting in waste of public funds through legal settlements to contractors over delays which will continue until some sanity prevails.
    Vasso Massonic
    • There's a series of odd statements here:

      - Please provide your source for the figure "$50 billion". And no, quoting Malcolm Turnbull (or any politician for that matter) doesn't cut it. The NBN Co corporate plan states "$35.9 billion total Capex to the end of deployment period".
      - "at risk of reaching obsolescence and / or run out of funds before final completion": these statements are fantasy. What evidence for "obsolescence"? Even a conservative roadmap for fibre speeds shows >10Gbps available in a decade's time. Please also provide a source for the "run out of funds" statement.
      - "Telstra agreed...beefing up 3&4G mobile networks to compensate" It sounds as though you are arguing that Telstra had to be coerced or compelled into enhancing its mobile broadband provision. Such networks are likely to be highly lucrative for the foreseeable future - it was clearly in their own interest to pursue this over declining revenues from the legacy copper network.
      - "Optus will not rest"? I don't think Optus has any more to do with the NBN than any other telco, and the swipe at Singapore is just bizarre. The idea that Optus will vanquish Telstra is novel, to say the least.
      - "Telstra has the business acumen to handle anything that is thrown at it." Sounds like a claim for super powers! I'm sure they do have business acumen (David Thodey is no dim bulb), but they don't inherently possess more of it than any other telco.
      - "Telstra's opponents have managed to delay the implementation of the NBN project..." Well, that's quite laughable. The ACCC might have other views, however. "If only Telstra had been given everything it wanted, then everything would be soooo much simpler! No more confusing 'competition'."
      • Time will tell and you will not have to Wait too long.

        About the cry baby Optus and ACCC, refer to the following,

        Vasso Massonic
        • "cry baby"...?

          as a self confessed "cheerleader of communications" those continued derogatory remarks towards one comms company while lauding perpetual praise on another, would suggest otherwise.

          seriously, if you really were as you suggest, why would optus, telstra or the accc's own separate agendas bother you one iota?

          surely you'd want what's best for us all, even if that meant optus (oops the cry baby) got there way wouldn't you?
          • I do, so let the NBN dice roll. VIZ:

            "The ACCC has heard from NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley and the secretary of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's department, Peter Harris, that the plan is the only realistic way to reform the telecommunications sector. "

            But, Optus, won't let go. VIZ:

            "Telstra will benefit from a systematic long-term advantage on the NBN because it will be favoured as part of the $11 billion deal between Telstra, the NBN Co and the federal government. "
            Vasso Massonic
          • you do (psst, as long as it helps telstra and my shares)...is that what you meant?