FttN complaints are not caused by the technology: NBN CEO

NBN CEO Bill Morrow has told Senate Estimates that the technology used in the fibre-to-the-node (FttN) rollout across Australia is not to blame for customer complaints about FttN services.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The company responsible for rolling out the National Broadband Network (NBN) across Australia has dismissed concerns that the technology used in its fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network is the cause of customer complaints.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow told Senate Estimates on Tuesday night that NBN has evaluated and inspected each complaint received from FttN customers, and in all cases, FttN was not a factor in lower speeds.

"People that are experiencing a peak hour reducing of speed, that is more likely to do with CVC capacity that has been purchased by the RSP (retail service providers), the provision in the network size by the RSP, or if there are other points of contention within the network," Morrow said.

"Not one of them has actually been a speed issue that was related specifically to the fibre-to-the-node technology."

The CEO said the problems encountered so far have been bugs due to rolling out a new product, and the company is working through them, but issues will continue to appear.

"I am certain, unfortunately, there will be many more problems on every one of these technologies," he said. "And all I can do is commit to this committee, and commit to the public of Australia, is that we will fix it."

Morrow also said the company would investigate the case of one NBN user who had a pit installed in their driveway.

During the hearing, NBN could not confirm the number of nodes it would need for the rollout, nor how much copper the company has purchased.

At a previous Estimates hearing in October, NBN said it planned to spend AU$14 million on acquiring 1,800km of copper to be used in its so-called multi-technology mix network rollout.

Responding to Questions on Notice on Tuesday, NBN said that prior to commissioning a node, it looks to remove all pair-gain systems, as they cannot carry VDSL signals.

"All pair-gain systems within the fibre-to-the-node footprint are removed prior to commissioning the nodes and taking asset ownership of the copper network," the company said. "Following the commissioning of a node and retail service providers taking up NBN broadband services, further remediation is determined as required on an individual service basis."

The company said it had removed 160 small pair-gain systems, and had found 12 interfering special services, 10 of which were migrated, with one pending and one irresolvable case.

"Yes, one of the options is retrofitting copper," NBN said. "When pair-gain systems are replaced, services are usually transferred to circuits in the copper cables. This at times means installing lengths of copper cable."

"To date, NBN has retrofitted cable for one Interfering Special Services line."

By June this year, NBN expects to have one in four premises able to order a service on the network, and by June 2018, it is targeting that number to increase to three in four premises. Morrow said that half the nation's homes and business are either in design, under construction, or ready for business.

Contradicting predictions made by then-Shadow Communications Minister cum Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2011 that 4.5Mbps was fine for streaming video services, Morrow said NBN has seen download data increase due to video.

"Typically we find the residential family environment is a multi-device house ... and they could be streaming to their individual devices, and it may be three, it may be four," he said."We find that after-school period is when we see this spike -- naturally, the children come home and jump onto Netflix to see whatever their program is, or maybe they are jumping onto YouTube."

In response to Questions on Notice, NBN said brownfields users downloaded an average of 93GB per month as of June 2015, compared with Australian Bureau of Statistics numbers, which pegged fixed broadband download volume data for the three months to June 2015 at 68.9GB each month.

However, the company is not seeing a similar jump in uploading data.

"We've not seen so much on the upside; originally, we thought there would be uploading of data content, but we are not really seeing that grow."

In its first-half results announced last week, NBN grew its revenue by 152.3 percent to AU$164 million, but with a net loss of AU$1.24 billion for the six-month period.

The results revealed that customers are increasingly choosing 25/5Mbps connections. For the fixed-line network, 33 percent have 12/1Mbps, down 5 percent; 45 percent use 25/5Mbps, up 7 percent; 25/10Mbps is installed on a steady 1 percent of premises; 50/20Mbps has 5 percent, up 1 percent; and 100/40Mbps is chosen by 16 percent of premises, down 3 percent.

Above 100/40Mbps speeds, NBN CFO Stephen Rue told Estimates that there are 28 250/100Mbps connections, three customers on 500/200Mbps, and 23 premises on 1,000/400Mbps fibre.

Although NBN has refused to break down its FttN, FttB, FttP, and FttDP numbers within the specified 5.6 million premises to be connected via one of these technologies, Morrow praised FttDP in his opening remarks.

"Trials with FttDP are showing that it will be an important upgrade path in the future," he said.

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