NBN Co's mixture of technology not set in stone: Morrow

NBN Co won't be forced to use a percentage of fibre to the node or fibre to the premises just because that was what the strategic review said, according to CEO Bill Morrow.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

NBN Co is likely to change the ratio of premises served by fibre, hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), and fibre to the node several times over the course of the rollout of the network, CEO Bill Morrow has said.

The strategic review released late last year said the multi-technology mix comprising 28 percent HFC, 24 percent fibre to the premises, and 41 percent fibre to the node would cost AU$41 billion to roll out by 2020, while the review claimed that the existing fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) rollout would take until 2024 and cost AU$73 billion.

The figure claimed for Labor's version of the rollout has been criticised for not taking into account time and cost savings that were being incorporated into the FttP rollout by former CEO Mike Quigley, which NBN Co has been revealed to have begun using in its fibre rollout this year.

Although there have been demands for NBN Co to continue a full fibre rollout, the company is moving to a multi-technology mix model of the NBN under the statement of expectations (PDF) issued by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in April that allows NBN Co to determine area by area what technology is best suited to deliver a minimum of 25Mbps download speeds, while allowing NBN Co to stay under the AU$29.5 billion cap on government investment in the network.

The flexibility, Morrow said at a Communications Alliance event today, will allow NBN Co to move away from the mix laid out in the strategic review.

"The strategic review is a guideline. That's the way I would look at it," he said.

"But I can already tell you I've swung the numbers on how many were originally in each of these technologies. And it is going to swing again."

NBN Co will also not know how much fibre to the node will be possible until it can access Telstra's copper network as part of a renegotiated agreement. Morrow said that much of the technology that NBN Co uses will change as the rollout progresses.

"When it comes to the technology that is going to be used for a neighbourhood, it is not that simple; you can't call it out now and do rough estimates," he said.

"We might say this area is for fibre to the node, but until you actually get out there and do the survey properly to see what kind of condition [the copper] is in, you're not going to be sure.

"The fact is, we're going to give you a technology that gives you what that minimum service level is. We commit to that, we're going to do it as soon as we can, and we're going to let you know as soon as feasibly possible."

Morrow said that in some situations, people have already been turning down NBN Co's offer for fibre, and flexibility on the technology used in the NBN would allow those premises to still get some upgrade.

"A lot of people say, 'if I have a choice, I want fibre'; we have other customers who would say, 'I'd rather you not deploy fibre'. We have cases in the existing deployment where they say, 'get out of my yard, I don't want fibre up to the side of my house'," he said.

"That's reasonable, but they still may say connect me through to a fibre to the node."

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