NBN Co to trial faster fixed wireless in May

NBN users in regional areas are set to get faster speeds on the fixed-wireless network, with a trial of up to 50Mbps download speeds to take place in May.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Customers on fixed-wireless services on the National Broadband Network (NBN) will soon be able to trial 50Mbps down, 20Mbps up speeds on the long-term evolution (LTE) network, Australian Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced.

Close to two years after NBN Co began offering 25Mbps download speeds on the network, the company is set to double the download speeds, commencing a trial in May for customers already connected to the network on a 25Mbps plan to get up to 50Mbps download speeds, and up to 20Mbps upload speeds.

"This pilot will be available to all customers on the 25Mbps," Turnbull announced at the CommsDay Summit in Sydney on Monday.

"The commercial launch is planned for late 2015."

In March, NBN Co and Ericsson announced a successful trial of 50Mbps download speeds on the fixed-wireless network using spectrum in the 3.5GHz spectrum band.

Turnbull said that currently, the fixed-wireless network is available to close to 200,000 premises and would be halfway completed by June 2015. This comes despite the original completion target for the fixed-wireless network being the end of this calendar year.

Turnbull rejects Netflix capacity complaints

Turnbull also rejected suggestions that recent capacity issues with iiNet and Optus in particular, blamed in large part to the popularity of streaming video service Netflix since its launch in March, proves the need for a full fibre-to-the-premises rollout instead of the multi-technology mix utilising legacy copper and hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks.

According to iiNet, Netflix accounts for close to 15 percent of the company's traffic, but Turnbull said that the link between the volume of data downloaded in Australia and the line speeds required in the access network "is generally very poorly understood".

"Many people still mistakenly think that it as data volume increases, last mile line speeds will need to increase in a linear fashion," Turnbull said.

"They don't, and they won't. The launch of Netflix once again provided a soapbox to those who claim fibre to the premises will unlock the benefits of the digital age.

"What a pity the facts don't support their contention."

Turnbull claimed that a 50Mbps download speed on a fibre-to-the-node (FttN) connection could support two UHD streams "with overhead to spare", and said that any contention would be between the node and the core of the network, rather than on the copper line.

"In an FttN network, a customer has a dedicated copper line from the node, and from the node to the point of interconnection customer's traffic will travel over a shared fibre channel. Contention on that channel is possible, but much less likely than the most common source of contention, which is in the transit or backhaul network from the point of interconnection -- so in other words, outside of the NBN Co's network," he said.

The choke point, Turnbull said, would be far more likely in the backhaul of the network where retailers make choices about contention ratios, but admitted that the last mile can have an impact on streaming speeds.

"The reality is that, and I am so far away from being an expert ... but I do understand the architecture of the internet is of enormous interdependency," he said.

"Obviously, there are special cases. If you need 3Mbps or 4Mbps to stream a high-definition video and you've only got 1Mbps, well, it is not going to work, but increasingly, the problem is in managing the transit."

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