NBN: Fibre to the world

NBN: Fibre to the world

Summary: In this feature, ZDNet explores how fibre deployments across the UK, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States are being achieved, at what cost, whether they have been successful, and how they compare to Australia's NBN.

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TOPICS: NBN
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Australia

  • Project: Fibre to the premises, wireless, and satellite

  • Area: 7,692,000km2

  • Population: 22.6 million

  • Premises to be passed: 12.2 million premises on fibre by 2021, 1 million covered by fixed wireless and satellite services

  • Percentage: 100 percent: 93 percent by fibre, 4 percent by fixed wireless, 3 percent by satellite

  • Cost: AU$37.4 billion in capital expenditure to be paid off by 2040

  • Government/private/mix: Government bonds with a minority of funding to come from private investment

The Labor party went to the 2007 federal election with an AU$4.7 billion policy for a fibre-to-the-node broadband network for 98 percent of Australia. However, when it came to government, it took over a year of discussion about proposals with the industry before ultimately rejecting all proposals in favour of the NBN policy announced on April 7, 2009. This policy was for an AU$42 billion wholesale, fibre-to-the-premises network that would reach 90 percent of the population.

The policy came in the depths of the global financial crisis, and a period of peak antipathy between Telstra and the government. Telstra, which was originally owned by the Australian government, retained the copper access network when it was privatised in the 1990s. Telstra was not only in the best position to get its network upgraded, but also to help the government achieve its policy goals. The company had previously attempted to get the Howard government to invest in an FttN upgrade in 2006, but in 2008, when the Rudd government sought proposals for a broadband plan, Telstra, under CEO Sol Trujillo, did not meet the government's requirement for the proposal, and the government ultimately decided to move ahead with the full fibre-to-the-premises NBN.

Since the 2009 announcement, the policy has changed to become an AU$37.4 billion network with 93 percent of the population covered by fibre, 4 percent by fixed-wireless long-term evolution (LTE) networks, and 3 percent covered by satellite services.

NBN Co was set up by the government to construct, establish, and run the network as a wholesale operator, with an eye to make a 7 percent rate of return on the network to ultimately pay off the government's investment. Along with the government, NBN Co negotiated with Telstra under the more government-friendly leadership of CEO David Thodey to structurally separate its retail and wholesale arms, lease ducts and pipes to NBN Co for its network, and transfer customers from the copper network onto the NBN for a total value of AU$11 billion.

Under the deal, Telstra will also cease using its hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network to deliver broadband in Sydney and Melbourne. Optus is also set to receive AU$800 million to decommission its own HFC network.

To ensure the viability of the national network, in conjunction with buying out Telstra and Optus customers, the government enacted new legislation to ensure new networks that would offer comparable broadband services to the NBN could not be rolled out unless they offered similar wholesale access to their networks. It means that companies cannot target profitable areas, like the inner city of Sydney or Melbourne, and roll out a new network that could undercut the NBN on price.

The NBN offers a range of speed tiers on the fibre network: 12Mbps down and 1Mbps up; 25Mbps down and 10Mbps up; 50Mbps down and 20Mbps up; and 100Mbps down and 40Mbps up.

As of the end of December 2012, the network had passed 339,700 premises, with a total of 34,500 active services. The vast majority of premises are so far covered by the satellite service, with 250,000 covered and 23,100 using satellite. There are 17,300 premises that can access fixed-wireless services, with 1,000 active services, and 72,400 premises able to get fibre services, with 10,400 active services.

There are around 40 retail service providers (RSPs) able to offer connections to the NBN, and plans start from AU$29.95 and go up to AU$164.95.

The construction of the network has been slow, and most recently the company revealed it was three months behind schedule due to issues with construction companies not employing the numbers of workers required as fast as was needed. NBN Co has said it would make up the time by maintaining its peak run rate of over 6,000 premises passed per day for longer than originally planned. The network is scheduled to be completed in mid-2021 if it runs to completion. 

The federal opposition is against the scale of the project, stating that an FttN network would be more cost effective and completed faster than Labor's NBN. If the Liberal-National coalition wins the federal election on September 14, it is unlikely that the NBN project will remain in its current state.

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has not yet released his policy in full, but he has said it would be similar to the fibre-to-the-cabinet roll-out currently underway in the United Kingdom.

Topic: NBN

About

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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28 comments
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  • USA

    Considering the USA is the land of the free market i always find it funny there is a duopoly and i have the choice of time warner cable or slower dsl from verizon....and thats it.

    .....so much for "the land of the free"
    deancollins
    • Re: Considering the USA is the land of the free market

      Few markets need careful regulation in order to remain free. The US has somewhat neglected that side of it, to its cost.
      ldo17
  • Vectoring

    This article good, but still there are facts more. I was conference recently, Alcalu said 0.5m vectoring shipped and commercial lines working. 11 customers.
    Hans van Zitvlak
  • Transmission monopoly.

    Vectoring REQUIRES a monopoly at the electrical level too. Fibre, even GPON, holds the longer term possibility of un-bundling.

    Over the short term, there is a requirement for a monopoly at the transmission level with the NBN, but the longer term path, I recall roadmapped somewhere, did indicate the expectation that wavelength and physical unbundling are likely.

    This means that NBNCo over the longer term should shift to a model very similar to the current ADSL market where providers can lease a line (or wavelength) and operate their own infrastructure.

    Vectoring cannot do that. You will have one transmission monopoly forever.
    myne-819b4
  • Node to Wireless

    The alternative not being discussed is FttN + Wireless with the option of FttP as needed and cost effective. "Time" magazine reported last year that during the Obama re-election campaign, the organisers made the discovery that - wait for it - less than 50% of those under the age of 30 actually had a fixed line number! They live - quote - in the "cellular shadows". We seem to be using a philosophy of the post WWII time - the mass development of suburbia and the "gorgeous 'ome" - to quote Dane Edna - and so on - rather than looking at just how people live today. If I am renting a flat or house, as many younger people do, will I sign a 2-year ISP deal for NBN based services? No!

    Now, in addition, let's suppose I have my new NBN FttH will I rewire the house with Cat 5 or 6 cabling to make use of its speed or just let cables dangle over the floor from my NBN cabinet to my - well - what iPad / Android tablet, TCP/IP HD-LCD-TV, etc.? Guess what? I'll use my WiFi hub!!! Hold on? The "last metre" is wireless and more likely so with the massive acceptance of smart phones and tablets.

    So what about - rather than have everyone in the street trying to administer their own 802.11(x) wireless network - why not high speed wireless to/from the node? (Yes - we know all about congestion, etc. but remember that NBN line is also shared under GPON).
    Wireless from the node could also be used with backhaul from the node via satellite (See KaComm !) Ok - but what about 1080i HD video - OK - but are all home users connecting to the NBN cabinet via a cable to their lounge room or wherever? I doubt it! Once again - wireless.

    Let's rethink what makes sense - economically and with a faster delivery schedule (latest results from Mr Quigley seem to indicate that for many of us in outer regional areas, such as the Gold Coast with those old RIM boxes with their Telstra ADSL-2 "sort-of" "Top Hats", will be well and truly gone by the time we ever see a fibre cable from NBN.) No - we are NOT in the NBN satellite area.

    Time for a massive rethink!
    caelli
    • Interesting points

      You make some interesting points, but to counter that, there are a few other things that need to be taken into consideration.

      Firstly, that 50% under 30 report. Namely that it conveniently doesnt go into any details about how many are still at home, how many are sharing, be it with friends or Uni, and several other key bits of information.

      It IS important to understand that more and more of the emerging generation is going mobile, but to leave out details to prove a point is only helpful in the short term.

      People have to live... somewhere. While they are there, they are still going to be using the net on a day to day basis. Yes, more and more net use is through mobile devices, but its been shown several times that over 90% of data transmitted (either 92% or 96%, not certain) is done over fixed line connections.

      Mobile devices are the fast food of net usage. You check in with facebook, or check emails, or some other quick relatively quick task that doesnt take long. But for anything taking more than 5 minutes, you wait til you get home and do it there.

      Then theres entertainment. You cant stream a show or movie to a mobile device when out and about. At home, yes (we'll get back to that), but out travelling, no. Its just not possible and it gets very expensive.

      Why? Mobile broadband and home network wireless are two very different things. One relies of a limited amount of bandwidth that needs to be spread about all users in the area (several square kilometers), so a premium is placed on it. The other is a similar amount of bandwidth, but only over about a 100 square meter area. Your home network.

      There is a difference. To expect one to account for everyones needs is naive and self defeating.

      Your second paragraph is good. Its important, and its where a lot of use will be done. But that use of your wireless hub is NOT the same as a 4G tower out in the city.

      And because they are different, wireless from the node to the premise wont work. You're asking everyone to drive down a 1 lane road at the same time.

      What makes sense? Rolling out a system that wont meet our needs in 5 years, or roll out a system that meets our needs for the next 50 years?

      One last thing to consider. 4G wireless (and friends) convert your wireless signal to a fixed line signal to do most of the work. To realise the speeds people seem to think wireless can deliver, the fixed line has to be that fast as well. And right now, FttN barely meets the current generations needs. It wont meet the next generations needs.
      Gav70
    • Not same thing

      Inside your house you can use WiFi and ethernet.

      We have 100mpbs and yes to get the full bandwidth to any machine I took some of our wireless computers to gigabit ethernet.

      The remaining machines on WiFi are functioning much better than before - for instance the watching of iView is now reliable over our WiFi where it was always dodgy on 16mbps.

      If theere is more than one user in the home then the benefits of the shared speed are not the speed to a single computer.

      WiFi demontstrates the reason wireless internet can never handle dense population areas. The bandwidth per device/user is limited due to the total bandwidth being shared.

      So no - there is no need for a rethink - there is need for a more educated user base to avoid such misunderstandings of the basic math and physics of the problem.

      GPON Fibre has a high bandwidth and it is shared minimally. The signal is constrained to the fiber and does not interfere with adjoining signals (like copper) or any other signals in the area (like wireless).

      In your house you may be sharing your WiFi channel with the householders. Alternatively you could be sharing your wireless internet with several hundred households. Which would you think works better?
      richardw66
      • Also reason

        I should mention that I replaced the wifi only where the wifi signal was variable between 2 and 20 mbps due to the nature of the building.
        richardw66
    • Towers

      It's already known that the number of towers under that situation would have to roughly equal the number of cabinets for either GPON or VDSL.

      That's roughly 50,000 towers.
      Do you want a 30m tower a the end of every street?

      Given the number of communities already trying to block the NBN's wireless towers, do you really think this is even possible?
      myne-819b4
    • Look behind the argument

      Logic question: Flat sharers are prepared to sign a one year residential lease but not a two year ISP contract? What happens if RSP contracts are reduced to one year? Hopefully under the wholesale/retail NBN model switching RSPs will be streamlined and much easier for all concerned.

      It’s one thing for 50% of under 30s not having a fixed line for voice but what about for all other purposes? If your fixed line data speed is sub-optimal reluctance to have one could be because the offering is not attractive...but if the service were better might it not get more use?

      I have found a good way to deal with the ethernet cable on the floor issue is to take the cable through the ceiling. Neatly finished holes in share house ceilings could make a such a house an attractive proposition for landlords and their prospective tenants.
      Listohan
      • There are Monthly providers

        One is Club Telco
        Completely transportable, leasing a holiday home for a month, just switch locations.

        http://www.clubtelco.com/fibre.html
        Abel Adamski
  • Fixed Wireless

    Is being rolled out to place's in Country Australia, I'm assuming that will be Firbre to the Nobe and then Wireless to the home.
    martin_js
    • no fttn

      that's fibre to the wireless tower, the tower covers large areas just like a cellphone tower
      karl_w_w
      • Thanks for clearing that up!

        Regard the Fttn issue, but regarding the Wireless, my understanding is it won't be like a Cell tower (or for us Aussies mobile tower) Rather it will be fixed Wireless, ie each connection will be a dedicated Wireless connection.
        martin_js
        • Tried to post a link to the

          Information on the NBN co's website the AGAIN the profanity filter kicked in when it was not needed.
          martin_js
        • Yep

          It will fixed wireless, it's the exact same technology that Optus and Telstra are rolling out for mobile wireless data; that is LTE, or 4G in marketing speak. The difference between mobile LTE and fixed is that you have a fixed antenna on your house which has a direct line of sight with the tower, that way they can give a guaranteed service.
          karl_w_w
  • Woops

    Should be "Fiber to the node"
    martin_js
  • LOL at 1km

    http://www.thinkbroadband.com/guide/fibre-broadband.html

    100m 100 Mbps 5%
    200m 65 Mbps 20%
    300m 45 Mbps 30%
    400m 42 Mbps 45%
    500m 38 Mbps 60%
    600m 35 Mbps 70%
    700m 32 Mbps 75%
    800m 28 Mbps 80%
    900m 25 Mbps 85%
    1000m 24 Mbps 90%
    1250m 17 Mbps 95%
    1500m 15 Mbps 98%
    DanielZenno
  • FttN Power supply.

    One thing that must be considered with FttN is that every single one of the possibly tens of thousands of cabinets will need power. I have seen figure (either on ZDNet or somewhere else) that state possibly three new powers stations would need to be built to supply the electricity. Not to mention the costs of getting the power to the box, wich depending on its location, could cost from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars per FttN box. (allowing for digging up and resurfacing, under road boring, connection to the grid, traffic control, plant and material costs, etc.) Sorry if someone else has mentioned this, but I only had time to skim through the previous coments all the comments.
    Why Knot
    • FTTN - Not Exactly Green is it?

      The power consumption of the FTTN cabinets alone should be ringing alarm bells for anyone who wants to protect our environment.
      ITenquirer