NBN Co to vet vendor skeletons

The government-owned fibre-to-the-home builder and operator, NBN Co, will over the coming months pore over the capabilities, skeletons and local presence of vendors to create its shortlist of five to 10 suppliers.

The government-owned fibre-to-the-home builder and operator, NBN Co, will over the coming months pore over the capabilities, skeletons and local presence of vendors to create its shortlist of five to 10 suppliers.

Following the NBN Co's "request for capability" document issued this week as part of the plan to weed out suppliers, nearly all major telco networking vendors are expected to prepare statements for the largest project in the sector for the next decade.

The tender for Australia's $43 billion NBN will, when it is released, become one of six national fibre-to-the-home projects along with New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Greece and Qatar.

Australia's fibre-to-the-"premises" network will include GPON (gigabit passive optical network) and point-to-point technologies, the NBN Co specified, with the latter expected to cater to large enterprise, and the former to households.

According to several industry sources, expect more than just the giant telecommunications networking companies to report their five-year track records. Datacentre and IT networking companies, such as Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Juniper Networks, Nortel and others are also expected to submit their capabilities.

In responding to the NBN Co's request, Swedish vendor Ericsson, French company Alcatel Lucent, China's Huawei, Japan's local arm of NEC, and Finnish-German joint venture Nokia Siemens Networks, will all be able to point to major deployments the NBN Co wants to hear about.

However, pointing to examples identical to Australia's plan — wholesale-only, open-access and across a massive, varied geography — won't be a simple task, according to Ericsson's Australian NBN lead, Colin Goodwin.

"It's not a question of which one is like Australia's NBN. They're all unlike each other. It's one of the fascinating characteristics — they're all unique," Goodwin told ZDNet.com.au.

Ericsson will be able to point to AT&T's US fibre-to-the-home project for greenfield estates, which complemented its otherwise "to the kerb" network. It will also be able to point to deployments with three Chinese telcos, and in Saudi Arabia where Ericsson is building the King Abdullah Economic City FTTH network.

Goodwin said most of the open access networks Ericsson has contributed to are in fibre-rich Scandinavia. However, in the case of Sweden, it followed what the New Zealand Government is attempting with its federated local fibre company (LCS) operating model rather than Australia's single company.

Huawei's Australian chief technology officer, Peter Rossi, pointed to its work on FTTH deployments in Singapore, Malaysia and the UK with telecoms giant BT.

"Although Singapore is highly urbanised, it is a fully open-access, wholesale network, and will deliver to all the country's service providers," Rossi told ZDNet.com.au. "There is also the [UK] BT Open Reach program where Huawei is the sole FTTP provider."

Rossi explained that while the BT Open Reach network was not open-access, the physical roll-out was across greenfield, brownfield, and urban and regional areas, making it similar to Australian conditions. "But Australia obviously has some unique geographic and distance requirements," he said.

Alcatel-Lucent will even be able to point to a US IPTV network that was headed up by the NBN Co's chief, Mike Quigley. It's believed to be the closest architecture to Australia's NBN, but was initially a fibre to the node rather than premises network.

NEC, meanwhile, has historically invested heavily in Australia and designs its broadband access products locally, while manufacturing is sent off-shore. Recent greenfield deployments give it local examples to refer to in Park Ridge, NSW, University Hill in Victoria and Northgate in South Australia. NEC can also point to large FTTH deployments in Hong Kong and Japan.

As part of the capability assessment, the NBN Co will be poring over a range of non-project factors, including each would-be supplier's corporate skeletons.

"Provide details if your organisation is being, or has within the last five years been, investigated by any agency, authority or regulator in connection with improper business practices," the NBN Co asked of vendors. It has also asked for each company's environmental and waste policies.

It's unclear how or whether being the subject of an investigation will affect the NBN Co's shortlist.

Vendors have until 21 December to lodge their statements, with shortlisted candidates expected to be announced on 3 February 2010. NBN Co intends to issue its request for proposals on 15 February.


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