iiNet prepares devices for fibre-to-the-node NBN

Australia's third-largest internet service provider is preparing its customer hardware for proposed changes to the NBN.

iiNet is developing the next stage of its modem hardware for the National Broadband Network (NBN) world, preparing a device that can handle ADSL, VDSL, and fibre connections.

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 4.35.51 pm
The back of the new iiNet device Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

The company is currently testing out 15 of the devices in Melbourne as part of NBN Co's VDSL fibre-to-the-basement trial and in iiNet's own fibre to the node network in Canberra, iiNet's research and development technical sales manager Simon Watt told ZDNet.

"We're doing fibre to the basement trials, and fibre to the home trials. We're testing it in Melbourne. We do have our own VDSL network, so it is in Canberra, but we use Huawei DSLAMs in Canberra," he said.

 "I'm not sure what NBN Co will use, but we have this in test sites with NBN Co in Melbourne."

iiNet's existing hardware for connecting its customers, the BoB 2, and the BoB Lite are nearing the end of their lives, Watt said, so iiNet began developing this new, as yet unnamed, device that would work across a variety of networks and technology types.

The new device comes with a portable Android-based handset, and will work on ethernet NBN connections, VDSL, and ADSL, Watt said.

iiNet began developing the VDSL-compatible hardware once it became cheaper to source the required chips for the device. 

"Up until about a year ago, VDSL just wasn't used anywhere in the world. And the chip was very, very expensive. There was about 5,000 units built, but since the US has started rolling out VDSL DSLAMs, the price has come down," Watt said.

"The price of a VDSL chip is about AU$15 now. It used to be around AU$35."

The advantage of the new device is that should the government opt to begin rolling out VDSL for the NBN, then iiNet's existing customers on the ADSL network can switch over to VDSL without replacing their modems.

"Even if you're not a VDSL customer today, you get it, and when or if you get the NBN VDSL, then as a customer you don't even have to do anything," he said.

"You could power cycle it. You could go from ADSL today to VDSL tomorrow morning. When you wake up in the morning just turn the power off, and then on again and you'd be on VDSL."

Customers that would still get fibre would just need to plug in the ethernet cable from their NBN network terminating device into the modem, he said.

Watt said that the new device would cost the same as a BoB 2 today, which costs AU$199 on a 24-month contract, or AU$279 to buy outright.

Rather than rushing the device to market, iiNet will soon be seeking a broader trial of the device, Watt said.

"We've taken a step back to get it right. We're going to get 500 units out. Out of those 500 modems we want to give it to a whole raft of people, from people who don't know how to turn on a computer to people to people who work with computers for a living," he said.

"We want to get all the extremes."

He said the goal would be for the modem to require as few firmware updates as possible.

Josh Taylor travelled to the Gold Coast as a guest of MediaConnect