Morrow says NBN Co to get detail on Telstra's copper quality

NBN Co will have access to reports on the quality of Telstra's copper network and where pits have been flooded in the past, as part of the revised NBN deal, CEO Bill Morrow has said.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

NBN Co will be able to have a rough estimation of which premises have copper lines that are not suitable for fibre to the node under information to be shared as part of a new deal with incumbent fixed-line provider Telstra.

Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

The deal, which Telstra has said has a framework in place, would see NBN Co gain ownership of the copper and hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks progressively as required for the NBN rollout.

As part of NBN Co's first trial of fibre to the node in Woy Woy, NBN Co rolled out 10 nodes connecting to premises using spare copper lines to existing premises. NBN Co said today that the initial tests on those lines were delivering between 95Mbps and 97Mbps down, and 28Mbps and 34Mbps up.

In an interview with ZDNet today, Morrow said that the speeds quoted would be close to those achieved as the rollout is expanded to other locations, including the 1,000-node trial with Telstra, because the spare copper line would be the same quality as the line used for ADSL services today.

"I think it'll be reflective. They're just spares," he said.

Morrow said that issues with copper will come around where it has not been adequately maintained.

"The issue around the copper where there is some validity is there are places where the copper has not been adequately maintained," he said.

"All it has to start with is someone pulling off the sealed cover, doing some work, slopping it back on, throwing it into the pit, and then it rains, floods, and they didn't do the seal right, water creeps in floods everything in, it gets brittle.

"That's why if you don't routinely go out and rip it all out and put brand new in, and you leave it, which has been done in some cases, that could change the reactants and attenuation factors where the signal quality can deteriorate."

As part of the deal with Telstra, NBN Co will conduct "pre-qualification checks" on premises to determine whether the copper line is suitable for fibre to the node.

"That's what we need to look at. That's the pre-qualification check we need to do when we're going out there to check whether the copper is good enough to put fibre to the node in, or do we say we're going fibre to the premises, or fixed wireless or other solution," Morrow said.

Telstra would also provide historical detail on where issues in the copper network are known to the company.

"I think they're being quite cooperative. In the agreements, we'll have access to trouble ticket information that is a good indicator, how many times did these homes have problems that implies there is an issue with copper. They have resolution codes that it was because of a wet splice or a pit that was flooded," he said.

"So that will help us, and they don't seem to be resisting on giving that to us when it is needed, when it is ready."

Despite being almost a year since the election, with only around 55 premises connected using the technology methods preferred by the new government, Morrow was upbeat for delivering on the new NBN policy.

"People don't realise that the cycle time, there's an 18- to 24-month cycle time. Any change you want to do to the outcome of premises being turned on, you've got to do 18 to 24 months ahead of schedule," he said.

"So even though it was December last year that the strategic review was done, we're looking at eight months. In that eight-month time, you've got to flush out a whole number of things."

He said that tenders are out for providing HFC equipment, and NBN Co has commenced the fibre-to-the-node and basement trials.

"Right now, I'm not worried."

Despite the Coalition pledge to equip Australian premises with 25Mbps download speeds before the next election, Morrow said his goal is completing the NBN by 2020.

"I'm shooting for 2020, not 2016 on that objective."

This week, Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare has accused NBN Co of slowing down the rollout of the NBN, stating that on a 10-week average, NBN Co has only passed around 2,707 premises per week.

Morrow said that this is related to a decision in April to stop declaring a premises as being "passed" by the NBN until 90 percent or more of a fibre-serving area module is completed.

"We think that this misunderstanding is related to how it was counted in the past, versus how we're counting it going forward," he said.

"I think people have different motives for reviewing the data, and from my point of view, I think the end users need to see if they have something that is going to impact them that is NBN based," Morrow said, indicating that he would like to move to a stage where the only metric that matters is when a person's house is being connected to the NBN.

"Ideally, what we'd like to be able to do is say, 'your home will come on in this rough time frame', and that ultimately is where we should get to, but we're too early on the prediction with all the uncertainty."

NBN Co would also like to be able to tell customers which technology will connect them to the NBN in the next corporate plan, but admitted that this would be difficult.

"When we can issue a corporate plan that has a multi-year projection, we'll try to break out how many homes we think we'll build within each technology, and area by area," he said.

"The problem is that will be fluid, because you don't do that deep, deep diligence until you're in that real preparation phase."

A KordaMentha review into NBN Co's governance released this month stated that the former board under the previous government was often bypassed by former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who would often deal directly with then-CEO Mike Quigley. Morrow said this isn't the case with Turnbull, though he admitted that he often speaks with the minister.

"I directly communicate a lot with [Turnbull], but he's very careful. I mean, if he has an instruction or order, he sends it to the board. I think he's following the way it should be done," he said.

"He has more frequent conversations with [NBN Co chair Ziggy Switkowski] than with me. But Malcolm is Malcolm, I think Malcolm has talked to everybody in the country at one point. He's just an active brain."

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