NBN Co goes live with fibre-to-the-building product

Construction has been completed at the first 2,000 premises ready to be connected to the NBN via fibre to the building.

NBN Co's commercial product for fibre to the basement (FttB) will be available from Tuesday, with just under 2,000 premises now able to connect to the service.

The company announced in January that 43 apartment blocks with 6,000 premises in total across Sydney, Melbourne, and the Australian Capital Territory would be the first connected to the National Broadband Network (NBN) via fibre to the building.

NBN Co set a target of 2,000 multi-dwelling units (MDUs) to be connected by the end of March, and NBN Co's chief customer officer John Simon told ZDNet that NBN Co will have just under 2,000 ready for service as of Tuesday.

The trial premises, as well as sites in Carlton, Footscray in Victoria, and some in the ACT and New South Wales, will be ready for connection from Tuesday, he said.

The 6,000 apartments in total are located in suburbs including Civic in the ACT; Carlton, Keysborough, and Brunswick in Victoria; and Sydney City, Haymarket, Rushcutters Bay, Elizabeth Bay, Potts Point, Balmain, Pyrmont, Randwick, Erskineville, Mascot, Alexandria, and St Leonards in NSW.

Trials of the service have so far seen an average download speed of 90Mbps and upload speed of 36Mbps. Simon said that NBN Co would continue to offer its existing speed tiers of 12Mbps/1Mbps up to 100Mbps/40Mbps.

"We've seen good results from the test program we've run there," he said.

Simon said the learnings from the FttB build would be brought across as NBN Co begins rolling out fibre to the node (FttN).

"We've seen the speed of build is quite good, given we're not having to deploy new infrastructure into the building. We're using the existing copper plant. I think it puts us in a good position for our FttN build, because a lot of the systems build for FttB is similar to FttN," he said.

"While there is a bit more complexity around FttN, it does put us in a good position for our Q3 launch of FttN."

One concern raised during the trial was over the size of the frames NBN Co had been rolling out into certain basements that were not able to handle the size of that frame. Simon said that NBN Co would look to get smaller frames in the future.

"I'm not aware of any issues ... but most MDUs don't have basements, so one of the challenges here is that you have a range of technology mixes of different sizes to suit the different MDU structures there, and that's exactly what we've got," he said.

"Clearly, we've got the initial launch on a certain frame size, we will be deploying, and we are in the process of finalising a range of different smaller ones and ones that can be broken up into different modules so you don't necessarily need contiguous facing on the wall to put everything next to each other.

"And that gives us more options to deploy to MDUs that aren't necessarily large, and don't always have the ideal infrastructure for telco equipment."

Eventually, around 1 million homes will be connected via fibre to the building, Simon said, but added that the rollout would be flexible, so if a street was passed by the HFC cables, it would be more likely that those multi-dwelling units would get HFC, rather than fibre to the basement, unless the cost of installing lead-ins was more than fibre to the basement.

"We'll take each MDU on its merit, but we can lead in with HFC. It has been done all around the world. Particularly where an MDU only has four or five or six premises," he said.

"We have got it up our sleeve, we can roll out FttB. We will take it as we need it."

It comes as NBN Co is facing stiff competition in the fibre-to-the-basement market from TPG, which is connecting up to 500,000 apartments across Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. The company already has 19,000 customers on its FttB and NBN services.

Despite the revenue threat posed by TPG going to high-value areas first, Simon said that NBN Co's rollout would not be completely determined by where TPG is connecting customers.

"We've got it rolling out in our core footprint ... we're not carving out any particular cherry-pickers, TPG or not, but we do recognise and have called out the need for us to accelerate the rollout in high-value areas," he said.

"They're areas we would have gone anyway, but we will accelerate the rollout there."