NBN: 1,500 fixed-wireless users download over 1TB in a month

NBN had forecast just 1.4 percent of fixed-wireless users to take up its 100Mbps service, with the company also pointing the finger at more than 1,500 'extreme' users who individually downloaded more than 1TB during May.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) company has revealed in answer to a Joint Standing Committee on the NBN Question on Notice that more than 1,500 fixed-wireless cells had at least one service downloading more than 1TB of data during the month of May.

Despite this, NBN said in response to another Question on Notice that it had forecast to have less than 1.4 percent of fixed-wireless users on the 100/40Mbps speed tier by 2022, before the company ripped up plans to offer such services.

Following debate during Senate Estimates back in June about plans to throttle "extreme" fixed-wireless users, with former CEO Bill Morrow at the time calling out "gamers predominantly", NBN also provided a vague description of such users.

"A heavy fixed-wireless user increases the likelihood that their cell will exceed capacity, impacting the speed of services for other end users relying on that cell at that particular time," NBN said in response to another Question on Notice.

Back in June, Morrow had said fixed-wireless users could be subjected to a Fair Use policy capping their download allowances.

"Our average consumption across the NBN network is just under 200 gigabytes per month, and when you look at the fixed-wireless network it's substantially less than that, so these aren't as heavy of users; however, in the fixed-wireless there's a large portion that are using terabytes of data," Morrow said.

"One of the things that we're evaluating ... [is] a form of Fair Use policy to say we would groom these extreme users ... the grooming could be that during the busy period of the day, when these heavy users are impacting the majority, that they actually get throttled back to where they are taking down whatever everybody else is taking down, and during the non-congested or busy periods, they're free to go for as much data as they want to pull down."

Morrow further claimed that the 100Mbps fixed-wireless product was always more aimed at businesses than residential users, arguing that it was killed off because it could cost AU$1 billion to offer, due to requiring additional towers, backhaul, and spectrum.

NBN retailer Aussie Broadband in August used its submission to the regional telecommunications review to call for "retrofit funding" to move entire fixed-wireless regions over to fibre, arguing that 18 percent of the fixed-wireless network is experiencing "severe congestion" and 12 percent "what NBN defines as unacceptable congestion".

NBN amended its network design rules in July to reduce the number of premises able to connect to each fixed-wireless cell, as well as updating the maximum bandwidth capacity available.

The new Network Design Rules [PDF] see maximum bandwidth move from 900Mbps to 4Gbps, and maximum connected premises per sector be capped at 56, down from 110. The largest wireless serving areas will have up to 24 wireless serving area modules connected to a FAN, while the maximum number of end users in an access aggregation region is now 25,000.

During the unveiling of its 2019-22 Corporate Plan in August, NBN chief engineering officer Peter Ryan told ZDNet that the company "absolutely" still considers 5G part of its fixed-wireless technology roadmap.

"It provides us with better spectral efficiencies, it allows us therefore as the advancement of technology to drive better performance in terms of capacity etc out of the evolution of that technology, so just like all our technologies, we look at the advancement in the world of fixed-wireless, we look at both the antenna technology and its development as well as the evolution of the underlying technology 4G and 5G," Ryan told ZDNet.

"So absolutely, we're looking at that."

NBN had in April revealed that it would be undertaking 5G trials in Melbourne, using 100MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band as well as Ericsson's 5G New Radio (5G NR) equipment.

Read also: Fibre to the curb: How NBN is delivering its new network

New NBN CEO Stephen Rue in August revealed NBN's new wholesale fixed-wireless pricing -- AU$45 for existing customers and AU$65 for new customers on the 50/20Mbps speed tier -- during a joint standing committee hearing; however, after backlash the company retreated.

During NBN's full-year FY18 financial results call, Morrow told media that the fixed-wireless pricing is still in consultation with industry.

"Looking at the reaction behind this ... I'll just take it off the table right now, so we won't do that for the interim product. We'll work with the RSPs on consultation for other means to work through this interim to work out how we can get to that max product and still allow those RSPs to convert their CVCs on the fixed-line technology," Morrow said.

"So consider the AU$65 price for new 50-meg customers on fixed-wireless off the table. Again, it's a consultation, not a decision."

As of June 30, NBN had 240,084 active end users on fixed-wireless, with the network contributing revenue of AU$70 million during the year after spending AU$353 million in capex, at a cost per premises of AU$3,757.

Northern Territory fibre vs. NBN satellite

NBN also used its Questions on Notice to respond to the Northern Territory government lobbying both NBN and the federal government to make use of the existing fibre-optic infrastructure in 39 communities "rather than the technically inferior satellite solution".

"NBN does not simply acquire existing networks; there needs to be negotiations with and payments to infrastructure owners," NBN said.

"The fibre backbone is only part of the cost of building and operating a network. NBN also needs to analyse the cost of providing the access network and the necessary infrastructure. These costs need to be balanced against the available capacity on the satellite beams in particular areas."

Instead of waiting for better services from NBN, the NT government said in April that it is now relying on its own AU$30 million co-investment program with Telstra to deliver mobile and fixed coverage to 17 remote communities.

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