Morrow rules out NBN using 5G to become a mobile player

The NBN CEO has said the company's plans for 5G remain contained to its fixed-wireless product.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor
(Image: Screenshot by Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

Do not expect the company responsible for deploying the National Broadband Network (NBN) across Australia to behave like Telstra, Optus, or Vodafone in the near future.

Speaking to Senate Estimates on Tuesday, NBN CEO Bill Morrow said the company has no plans, nor any strategic discussions, to offer a mobile service off the back of its 5G spectrum holdings.

"It's not an interest of NBN; our plate is full at the moment, and we have a clear remit to get this thing built by 2020, on time and on budget," Morrow said.

"Right now I would rule it out, unless the government came back and asked us to provide something else."

The CEO -- who is set to depart the company by the end of the year -- said that within its fixed-line footprint, almost all premises are either in the process of design or construction, or are already completed, and therefore using 5G as an alternate last-mile technology is improbable.

"The primary focus of 5G right now for us is in our fixed-wireless footprint," Morrow said. "We do believe that that technology could have some benefit to expanding the capacity without the need for incremental spectrum."

Earlier on Tuesday, NBN had announced it would be kicking off 5G trials this week in partnership with Ericsson in Melbourne.

"As with any new technology, there have been claims made about how 5G will impact the fixed broadband market," NBN CTO Ray Owen said.

"We know that 5G will enable much faster speeds than 4G, but at NBN we also know better than anyone about how much data end users are consuming, and some of the challenges on putting that data capacity onto fixed-wireless network.

"It is in this vein, we have a close interest in 5G for our fixed-wireless footprint in understanding the technology and economics of a 5G upgrade path."

The comment by Ryan led to Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland questioning whether the national wholesale broadband monopoly is planning a mobile network, while Australian telco entrepreneur Bevan Slattery said NBN could be an "amazing alternate provider" for wholesale 5G and 4G services due to the amount of fibre it has already deployed.

"I think it's a great opportunity for NBN Co to actually not just do fixed line and kind of fixed-wireless; I think what are the opportunities for them to provide a virtual MVNO product or an MVNO product for other carriers," Slattery told the CommsDay Summit in Sydney.

"It will happen in the next five years, and it will need to do that because 5G will absolutely eat its lunch if it doesn't."

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