NBN Co's Hackett continues to back all-fibre NBN as first choice

NBN Co board member and Internode co-founder Simon Hackett has said that his first choice for Australia's National Broadband Network would have been 100 percent fibre.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

Internode co-founder and NBN Co board member Simon Hackett has taken a swing at the Australian government's fibre-to-the-node National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout model, saying that his first choice for the network would have been end-to-end fibre.

"Ideally, the NBN would have been built with 100 percent fibre," said Hackett at the Communications Alliance's Fast Forward/Rewind event in Sydney on Wednesday. "[But] it's not my money."

However, Hackett was also keen to point out that given NBN Co's mandate of ubiquitous access, the current model, which leans heavily on the government's "multi-technology mix" approach, was a small improvement in the network builder's ability to roll it out sooner and to more Australians -- even if it will still cost the country billions of dollars.

"What is happening is that the NBN is building fibre closer to consumers in a variety of ways, and that is at least an improvement. From my point of view, we get an incremental improvement," he said.

"A million homes have got access to the NBN at this point. That means a customer base approximately the size of iiNet, for only about AU$11 or AU$12 billion dollars," he said. "There's an awful lot of startup cost in there."

The NBN was announced by the previous Labor government as a predominantly fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) network, but was subsequently switched to a default fibre-to-the-node (FttN) methodology by the incoming Liberal government in a bid to roll it out faster, to more people, at a lower cost.

However, the approach has met with criticism from some industry quarters, and, of course, the federal Labor opposition, whose members suggest that the FttN model policy would result in a much slower network that will require more maintenance in the future than an all-fibre alternative.

Hackett, who joined NBN Co's board to help make it "as least worst as possible", said that over time, he expects the NBN to become predominantly fibre, despite the current policy.

"Fibre, as far as I can see, is where we land. The reason for that is, fibre itself is not a technology; it's a conduit to carry light, and the light keeps getting smarter," he said. "The NBN will be marvellous, and I think that in 10 years' time, there will be more fibre in that network than is currently predicted to be, because, in the end, the end state winds up being fibre."

He also suggested that any large network could be considered an FttN network, saying that it simply depends on the economics dictating where one technology begins and the other ends.

"The base point is that every large-scale network is a fibre-to-the-node network; it's just a question of where the node is, and where the node is, is an economic decision," he said. "It's a matter of where the economic pressure points come in between the cost of laying fibre ... and the cost of using existing infrastructure will be that switch point."

While Hackett said that there are other promising models that could eventually be used in a network like the NBN, such as "fibre to the curb", he ultimately expects to see less and less copper in the network in the years to come, even under the current methodology.

"The future of what the internet looks like is a symbiosis of glass and wireless, with less and less copper in the middle over time," he said.

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