NBN Co sneaks out gigabit speeds

NBN Co is now offering gigabit services to its retail customers, but never announced to the public that the service is now available.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

NBN Co delivered on its promise of making 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) download speed services available on the National Broadband Network (NBN) fibre network before the end of 2013, but the company did not announce the availability of the service until questioned about it by a Senate Select committee.

The 1Gbps down, 400Mbps up service sells at a wholesale price of AU$150 per month, excluding the connectivity virtual circuit capacity charge. NBN Co executive chairman Dr Ziggy Switkowski revealed that NBN Co had met its April promise to have the plans in the market by the end of 2013. He said the services were made available to retail service providers this week, but that he had not made any announcement to the public.

"I'm not aware that we've made an announcement. We're not expecting to be bowled over," Switkowski said.

The connectivity circuit charge will likely lead to a higher cost for the service per month than the basic AU$150 per month. NBN Co has been waiving the fee charged to ISPs for the first 150Mbps of capacity required at each point of interconnect.

ZDNet has asked a number of ISPs whether they plan on offering 1Gbps services in the near future. Optus has said that it has no plans to launch 1Gbps plans in the market. Telstra also said it had no current plans for 1Gbps services.

iiNet's chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby said iiNet had no launch date but was looking to offer a range of services including 120Mbps down, 10Mbps up; 250Mbps down, 50Mbps up; and 500Mbps down, 200Mbps up.

"We have no launch date for an iiNet Gigabit service but we expect demand for a range of services using the Gig port, from our business customers if NBN Co get the CVC pricing right," he said.

NBN Co will also not guarantee that end users will receive the full 1Gbps service at their premises, with Switkowski stating this morning that speed guarantees are only for the retailers, and not the end-user premises.

In response to hours of questioning from committee chair and former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy on the decision to write down a forecast brownfields target for June 2014 from 450,000 premises down to at least 357,000 premises, Switkowski fired back, stating that the former minister's vision for 93 percent of premises to be passed by fibre was not realistic.

"The reality is that trying to get to 93 percent of the population in a reasonable time was always a really big stretch," he said.

"At the end of this year, the fibre rollout will have passed 260,000 fibre premises. We have 1 million out of 13 million passed by the end of 2014; 1 million of the remaining are meant to be in the satellite and fixed footprint. That still leaves 11 million premises to be passed.

"[Over] 10 years, that's 1.1 million premises passed per year. That's 100,000 premises per month. How is that going to happen from where we are today?"

It is not possible to meet a run rate that high, he said.

"It's not going to happen. It was never going to happen."

Despite his pessimism, the executive chairman said he hopes to return to the committee early in the new year, and report that more premises could be passed by fibre by the end of June. He said that much of this will depend on NBN Co negotiating with some of the existing construction partners where he believes the relationship has been damaged.

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