NBN fibre-to-the-node trials delayed

A trial of fibre-to-the-node technology on the NSW Central Coast and Epping in Victoria has been delayed by issues in getting hold of Telstra's copper and securing adequate power.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

NBN Co was due to commence live trials of fibre-to-the-node technology in Umina in New South Wales, and Epping in Victoria at the start of May, however neither trial has yet commenced.

As part of the shift to the multi-technology mix model proposed by the new Coalition government, NBN Co first announced its fibre-to-the-node pilot in February, with the company planning on accessing Telstra's spare copper pairs in the two locations serving up to 100 premises each in a trial that was set to commence at the start of May, and run until the end of October.

In the first test run in Umina, the company boasted a single test speed of 105Mbps down, and 45Mbps up on a copper line that was around 100 metres long. The trial was supposed to commence at the beginning of May, however no customers are yet on the service, with NBN Co only signing an agreement with Telstra to access the copper last week.

Speaking at a Budget Estimates hearing last night, NBN Co's chief operations officer Greg Adcock did not address the delay, but said that the Umina trial was "progressing well".

"The 11 nodes in Umina have now all been built. The access to the spare Telstra copper pairs — the agreement to facilitate that — was signed late last week. All the right instruments are in place now for Telstra to come in and hook a node up to the Telstra copper pairs, and for NBN Co to engage with RSPs [retail service providers] so that we can start to provide trials to end users in that area," he said.

The Epping trial was, however, more delayed.

"The Epping trial in Victoria has slowed down a bit, while we work with the utility there to find a power solution. We're working through that," he said.

Negotiations for a wider trial of fibre to the node technology were still underway with Telstra, Adcock added.

"We continue to negotiate with Telstra, and principles have been agreed, good progress has been made, and we believe we will be able to commence that trial in the coming weeks."

It comes as reports suggest Telstra and NBN Co will miss the mid-year target for the completion of the negotiations to overhaul the existing AU$11 billion agreement to allow NBN Co to access Telstra's copper and cable networks as part of the multi-technology mix model NBN.

NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow also revealed that the company is pushing to be able to make deals with RSPs for bulk discounts for broadband requirements, but this would require a legislative change that would allow NBN Co to discriminate. The company has observed that the average downloads per user can vary greatly from RSP to RSP. While the overall average per user is 65GB per month, it can be as high as 90GB or as low as 40GB with some RSPs.

NBN Co's head of product and sales said the non-discriminatory clause in NBN legislation made it difficult to negotiate with RSPs.

"When you have a non-discrimintory type position, it gets very hard to promote the right type of pricing plans for different RSPs for them to then come up with their plans to promote, and get more broadband usage out there," he said.

Morrow said this was something the RSPs had asked NBN Co to address.

"We're at a checkmate situation. The RSPs cannot push higher volume expecting to have a lower cost structure, and we cannot offer up individual RSP-related usage-based services," he said.

Ultimately the decision would be up to the Federal Government, Morrow said.

Adcock also revealed that internally NBN Co has been using a different figure for the number of premises passed to the one available to the public through the company's weekly rollout figures.

According to the company's internal figure, the network had passed 365,378 brownfields premises as of May 26, compared to 349,555 brownfields premises passed as of May 25 on the NBN Co website. This discrepancy was due to NBN Co rounding up fibre serving areas as being ready for service when 90 percent of premises are passed.

Adcock said the figure on the website is more accurate, as the premises serviceable figure — now sitting at 258,418 premises — is representative of how many customers can order a service from a retail service provider.

The Coalition senators last night shut down the estimates hearing half an hour earlier than originally scheduled, amid complaints from former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who warned that NBN Co executives would be called before the Senate Select Committee for up to six hours to complete facing questions from the parliament.

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