TPG's fibre plans are Turnbull's first NBN test

TPG's fibre plans are Turnbull's first NBN test

Summary: TPG's announcement of offering fibre-to-the-building broadband services will be the first test of new Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.


TPG's planned launch of fibre-to-the-building retail broadband services to around 500,000 apartments and units across metropolitan cities in Australia will be the first major test of new Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his approach to broadband in Australia.

In theory, under the current legislation, TPG could be prevented from offering the retail product, and it wouldn't be allowed to build the fibre network out unless it only offers a layer 2 wholesale product at the same price as NBN Co's current wholesale product.

The legislation was designed so that big retailers would not go out and build new fibre networks in the high-density areas like, say, all the places that TPG is currently planning to build its network — Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth — and then go and charge less than NBN Co's price, which is designed to keep the price the same in regional and metropolitan Australia.

But what a difference a change of government can make. The Coalition government, due to be sworn in tomorrow, is likely to take a vastly different approach to the anti-cherry-picking laws that the last government put in place.

When Turnbull trumpeted the success of Openetworks in upgrading apartments in Erskineville, Sydney, to VDSL in a matter of weeks, he said he would encourage more companies to consider rolling out their own network upgrades, provided that they offer a wholesale service, too.

TPG's planned upgrade is simple in that the company owns a lot of fibre across metropolitan areas in Australia already, and offers fibre products to businesses in around 1,600 buildings. The sudden push into retail fibre broadband products just over a week after a change of government smells like a telco testing the new government on the competition law.

When the products do launch, after trials late this year, they could be in flagrant breach of the current competition law. It's possible that the new government may seek to repeal the existing laws, but that's unlikely to happen until July 2014, when the new Senate sits, and the Coalition will have better luck getting laws through the Senate by winning over some of the votes of the right-wing minor parties such as the Liberal Democrats, rather than hoping that Labor and the Greens will agree to repealing the legislation before then.

But until then, Turnbull has a decision to make. Does he ignore TPG's wilful breach of the law, or does he make a ministerial exception as Conroy did for Telstra and TransACT?

The difference with those two cases is that a wholesale product is offered. It's a bit hard for the new communications minister to claim to be all about competition while allowing TPG to have the monopoly on its fibre service into these buildings, if it decides not to offer a wholesale product.

TPG has told ZDNet that it is aiming to skirt around the laws by only expanding the offering within 1km of where the current network footprint reaches, which is allowed under the legislation, but the legislation also specifically prohibits the "upgrade" of networks to over 25Mbps after November 2010.

This means that TPG's plans could be open to interpretation, and a TPG spokesperson confirmed that the company would look at a number of ways of getting around the law if the 1km rule did not work.

"There are a range of approaches we can take to supply it under the current law. For example, we can use the 1km extension exemption or we can also supply it with wholesale open access. We may also choose to supply a 25 mbps product. All options are under consideration but we do not believe that regulatory approval is required," the spokesperson said.

Turnbull's office had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

Topics: NBN, Government, Government AU, Australia


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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  • The reports are a bit ambiguous

    Does TPG intend to extend its own, existing its own network as FttB, or, take NBN's FttN and extend it to FttB as well?
    • PIPE

      TPG owns fibre networks via PIPE.
      Josh Taylor
  • Telstra will step in

    Just like when Optusvision tried to cable and Telstra followed them, the minute TPG starts to do this, Telstra will follow them.
  • Certainly is amazing what can be acheived when you light a fire under the lazy ass of the private sector :-)

    Just remember though TPG must be destined to fail with their plan since 25mbps is more than enough for anyone, I mean who the hell in a MDU needs more than this? Copper fanboys and node nerds can't even name one app that can't already be done on ADSL2+ so clearly they are wasting their time here. Mark my words, white elephants be stomping on kangaroos everywhere all over the country I tell you!
    Hubert Cumberdale
    • No use for fast internet?

      The iPhone was launched in recent memory. According to there are now 700,000 apps in the Apple app store. Is there any possibility ubiquitous fast internet might give birth to a small percentage of this number of applications which need more than 25 mps?

      That number will probably be more than one.
      • "Is there any possibility ubiquitous fast internet might give birth to a small percentage of this number of applications which need more than 25 mps?

        That number will probably be more than one."

        Would you personally say the same for speeds between 100mbps & 1000mbps too?
        Hubert Cumberdale
    • Things that cant be done on my ADSL

      Streaming video greater than 240p.
      Skype Video.
      Multi User online gaming... if more than one person plays a game, hello 500+ ping. Oh yes, thats to AUSTRALIAN servers.

      So... there is more than one off the top of my head.... The average ADSL connection in the country is now hovering near 2500kbs. As more and more people get ADSL the speed drops as the trunks of copper going back to the exchange get more and more noise bleeding across and interfering with the other lines slowing down the connections to maintain stability.
    • Life under a rock

      Hubert, you amaze me. There are tens of thousands of businesses based in MDUs. Many of these have multiple computers and less than adequate business continuity, which can be addressed with sufficient bandwidth. Offsite backup and restore will use whatever bandwidth is available. Especially post-disaster restoration. Creative businesses often need to move very large high-res video resources quickly, sometimes several times in the same working day. Premises with a few kids will choose high bandwidth when available as part of their normal budget to get access to entertainment (indeed this is a large part of the user revenue bonus which cost-recovers FTTP).

      The days of reading the text edition of the Sydney Morning Herald over a dialup connection with pictures turned off in the Netscape browser to save bandwidth are behind us.
      • "Offsite backup and restore will use whatever bandwidth is available."


        So you would say this activity is more practical on speeds between 100/40mbps & 1000/400mbps? Or does it reach a point of diminishing returns somewhere in the FttN VDSL2 zone?

        "The days of reading the text edition of the Sydney Morning Herald over a dialup connection with pictures turned off in the Netscape browser to save bandwidth are behind us."

        Indeed :-)
        Hubert Cumberdale
        • a subject

          Remembering that under the FTTN model the guaranteed upload was only like 5-6mbps. Too slow for proper online backup. How much exactly is needed will depend on the customers dataset, but really anything under 10Mbit upload is useless.

          How about another scenario. I want to start a micro-business with a colleague. It could be a design firm, or an engineering firm, or even a media or advertising company. With the FTTP/H platform we could both work from home, share work files easily. With FTTN that would depend on where we lived, the state of the copper etc. Remember that our effective network is the combination of our upload speeds, so we might end up with a 6/6 network between us MAX. Under FTTH we could be guarnteed a 400/400 as long as we were willing to pay for it.

          I've done lots of work with SMB's in the manufacturing and retail sector, and a lot of htese guys can only afford DSL based connections today. Which means their branch offices are working over 1/1 connections. It really does limit what they can do - voice, printing, even terminal services can suck over these connections. These guys are screaming out for more bandwidth (even if they don't know it) to help them compete on the world stage.
    • Domestic use that could easily exceed 25Mb/s

      Let's use a "hypothetical stereotypical bogan" family with 2.1 children for some simultaneous Full-HD video streams:
      1. Dad wants his Footy in real time without the glitches that happen on FTA broadcasts, or he's news/current affairs-surfing in order to get out of domestic duties (Yes, my father was definitely a bogan. He would have qualified as a High Priest in the Divine Order of Bogans.).
      2. Mum wants Coronation Street and other associated get-a-life programs, and probably watches two at once. (No, my mother wasn't.)
      3. Teenage daughter is simultaneously Skyping and FB-chatting with several dozen people, none of whom she's ever met in real life.
      4. Teenage son is simultaneously Warcrafting with 150+ other people, none whom he has met either.
      5. The ".1" child, who has by-passed all security and nanny-state filters, is streaming so much hard-core pornography that the computer needs a 1PB cache just to keep up.

      I, as a "bush-dweller", pay a premium price for a sub-premium ADSL2+ service which, on some days, is comparable to 2400 baud dial-up. Back in the BBS days, when 9600 was extreme luxury, I was quite happy with 2400. Graphical web-browsing is what started the necessity for increased bandwidth and, just like roads, hard drives and garages; the amount of cars, "data" and junk will increase to use up the available capacity.

      My "business" is primarily the maintenance of secure documents that would never be stored in the cloud anyway. Every time there is an update (which is at least monthly) there is a minimum of FOUR files that have to be forwarded to Sydney.

      Because of the difference between upload and download speeds (for which I have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation) it can take several hours to upload those files to the relevant server, during which I have no available bandwidth.

      I paid good money to download an informational video file. Thank the Divine Order of Bogans for download manager programs! A mere 20min file turned out to be 20GB in size. That's about the same size as torrenting an entire TV series. Without resumable download support, I would have been offline for at least a week and with dropouts in ADSL and in electricity, I shudder to think how long it would have taken if I had to completely restart the file each time.
  • What a mess

    The coalition missed a great opportunity during the inital Telstra sell-off to not properly split the wholesale and retail segments. Labor under NBN was on a path to putting us on a solid footing, now we are heading for another convoluted and complex mess.
  • Foxtel Optus rerun

    It's going to be a another huge clusterfuck, as 5 Telco's race down Harris St, Darlinghurst Rd and all through Green Square with competing cable up of the big MDU's in dense areas. Meanwhile all the other saps have to put up with Malcolm's Fraudband DSL patch up.
    We've been here before with Foxtel vs Optus it wasn't pretty. Malcolm is just going to resuscitate OPEL for the saps that aren't cabled up in the big street race.
    Kevin Cobley
  • Great

    Here we go, back to the same mishmash of providers only doing "lucrative" areas like we had in the 90's...
  • Truth is stranger than fiction

    Now Turnbull, the minister for communications, is discovering much to his dismay, exactly why the Labor government legislated against private sector doing exactly this. The coalition will deploy a solution that will be a drain on the taxpayer for years to come because anywhere money can be made you can bet the private sector will be there in spades. The only NBN he will get to build is the one that will be in unprofitable regions and as a result vacuum large sums of money from the public purse. Strange how Labor's solution returned 380 million a month to government coffers when it was completed. Even stranger how the logic behind the NBN becomes clearly visible.