NBN 3-year construction plan: 9.5M premises by September 2018

NBN has released its three-year construction plan, revealing that it aims to cover 9.5 million premises with fibre, HFC, and fixed wireless by September 2018.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The three-year construction plan for the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout has been released, outlining plans for when construction will reach each region in Australia.

The report details the construction plans for 3 million premises across metropolitan areas in six cities, with NBN claiming its rollout will speed up once it begins utilising the existing hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) and copper network infrastructure.

The plan, released on Friday morning by freshly minted Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield, involves readying NBN access or having construction under way by September 2018 to: 2.8 million premises in New South Wales; 2.5 million in Victoria; 1.9 million in Queensland; 970,000 in Western Australia; 750,000 in South Australia; 72,000 in the Northern Territory; and 134,000 in the Australian Capital Territory.

The NBN rollout is due to be completed within Tasmania by this time, according to the report.

Following the Coalition's election at the end of 2013, NBN moved away from Labor's full fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) rollout to the present so-called multi-technology mix (MTM), which proposes to cover 20 percent of the population with FttP; 38 percent with FttN and fibre to the building (FttB); 34 percent with hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC); 5 percent with fixed wireless; and 3 percent with satellite services.

The MTM NBN is expected to cost up to AU$56 billion in peak funding, and is due to be completed in 2020.

The wide-scale rollout of HFC and FttN services was approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in June, with a revised AU$11 billion deal allowing NBN to take ownership of Optus' HFC network and Telstra's HFC and copper assets.

The new construction plan says it will provide FttN, FttP, or FttB NBN to more than 5.6 million premises; HFC to approximately 3 million premises; and fixed wireless to more than 540,000 premises.

NBN switched on its FttN network last month, claiming that trials in Belmont have seen customers achieve download speeds of up to 100Mbps.

Customers whose premises are located in an FttN-designated area will see fibre-optic cable rolled out to a node nearby, with copper lines then delivering the broadband into their premises.

"So far, in our FttN deployment, we have not had to replace any copper or perform any substantial remediation work to the copper running from our street cabinets to end-user premises," Tony Brown, the public affairs manager at NBN, said in a blog post on Thursday.

There have long been criticisms that the FttN would be a slower-speed network than FttP, with Shadow Minister for Communications Jason Clare arguing that the copper being used for the network is so old that it is having to be replaced.

"I have been talking to some contractors in the field recently to get a feel for how good the copper network is, and how much of it needs work or needs to be replaced. They have told me that NBN's working assumption is that 10 percent of copper pairs in fibre-to-the-node areas will need remediation," Clare said at the CommsDay Summit in Melbourne on Wednesday.

"But in places like Newcastle and the Central Coast, closer to 90 percent of the copper pairs have needed work. In some places, the copper is so bad it has to be replaced. One contractor told me in Newcastle and the Central Coast 10 to 15 percent of the copper lines are having lengths replaced.

"And this is not just happening in Newcastle or the Central Coast. Another contractor told me in Campbelltown in Sydney that NBN has had to recently replace almost 3 kilometres of old copper with new copper."

According to Brown, however, claims that the copper is in a poor, aged state are "misleading, or just plain wrong".

"To date, we have not had to replace substantial lengths of existing copper with new copper; what we have been doing is necessary work compressing copper at the street pillars (located next to our street cabinets) in order to enhance network performance," Brown explained.

"Conducting this type of work does not constitute 'replacing the copper' -- the lines themselves are being left in place -- all we are doing, for example, is replacing two lots of 100 pair cables with a 200 pair cable in order to free up ports."

The Australian Senate recently called for the government to reveal NBN operating plans and financial forecasting out to 2022, particularly in regards to how much an FttP rollout would have cost.

NBN also launched the first of its two new AU$620 million Ka-band satellites at the start of October as part of its long-term satellite solution for those living in rural and remote areas.

The satellite won't be providing commercial services until April or May 2016.

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