NBN hints at skinny fibre for FttN upgrades to FttDP

NBN has said that it could eventually upgrade FttN users to FttDP technology by using skinny fibre to lengthen the fibre run, with FttN cabinets to be 'repurposed' for other uses at that time.

The company rolling out Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) has said it could use skinny fibre to upgrade its fibre-to-the-node (FttN) areas to fibre-to-the-distribution-point/curb (FttDP/FttC) network technology in future.

"If we choose to deliver FttC in an area served by FttN, all we need to do is link into the fibre that is already serving the cabinet and then -- with a very small amount of work at the nearby pit -- we can run 'skinny fibre' from that pit through existing ducting into the streets to deploy FttC," NBN chief network engineering officer Peter Ryan explained.

"We run that fibre into the Distribution Point Units (DPUs) in the telecom pit in front of people's homes and connect into the existing copper line serving the home."

NBN CEO Bill Morrow had last year said, when announcing NBN's FttDP trials, that skinny fibre provides a more efficient way of bringing fibre closer to premises.

"Skinny fibre obviously is able to have a smaller diameter, so you can get it through the ducts a lot easier, it's not as complex, you don't have the cabinet that sits on the street," Morrow said in an interview with ZDNet.

"It goes underground, so there's far less civil works, and that's what enables us to do cheaper, and four weeks faster, than what typically it takes. When you then add this DPU ... that eliminates the need to do the most painful part of FttP, which is going up between the footpath to the side of the house."

According to Ryan, NBN cannot immediately change its FttN areas to receive FttDP, however, because it is too late to alter its 18 months of work on network design, planning, and construction.

"If we were to do this, to put it quite simply, we would have to tell residents in several million premises that were scheduled to get NBN services over the next 18 months via FttN that they would not now be getting connected for another two to three years, as we'd have to restart the entire design, planning, and construction process," he said.

"The NBN is like an enormously long train; you can't just bring things to a complete stop and change direction, it just doesn't work that way and never will."

NBN also said it remains uncertain on the cost of deploying FttDP until it begins its real-world rollout.

Denying that building tens of thousands of cabinets as part of its FttN rollout is a waste of money, Ryan said they are "an extremely valuable asset" that could in future be "used for a range of purposes by NBN".

"You only need to look at how many operators around the world have turned their old phone boxes into new Wi-Fi hotspots to see how in-field assets can be repurposed," Ryan said.

Ryan added that like BT in the United Kingdom and Deutsche Telekom in Germany, NBN will also use G.fast and super vectoring technology upgrades within its cabinets to deliver speeds of up to 300Mbps.

NBN last week revealed the areas that will be the first to receive FttDP network technology.

Included in these areas are Sydney suburbs Alexandria, Botany, Caringbah South, Cronulla, Denham Court, Erskineville, Gladesville, Horningsea Park, Hunters Hill, Lugano, Mona Vale, Peakhurst, Revesby, Tennyson Point, Woolooware, and Woronora Heights.

Melbourne suburbs Burnside, Brooklyn, Coburg North, Cremorne, Richmond Carolyn Springs, Derrimut, Frankston, Williamstown, and parts of Collingwood will also receive FttDP/C network technology, with Coburg North to be the first area built up thanks to hosting trials during the second half of 2017.

Commercial FttDP services are expected to be launched in the first half of 2018, with 100,000 premises able to connect at that point.

NBN announced in September that it would be replacing the Optus HFC footprint with its FttDP network, with up to 700,000 premises to be covered by the new network technology, after a leaked NBN draft in November 2015 revealed that Optus' HFC network is "not fully fit for purpose".

FttDP will also be deployed in some areas that were previously slated to receive FttN network connections.

ZDNet revealed in October that the FttDP network will be launched with old VDSL technology instead of G.fast technology enabling gigabit speeds, with Morrow recently saying that consumers don't need and wouldn't use 1Gbps broadband.

"NBN already offers a wholesale 1Gbps product to retail service providers, which RSPs can make available to more than 1.5 million homes, and has been on sale for around four years," Morrow said last month.

"Currently, there are no retail 1Gbps speed plans on offer from the retailers. This is, in our opinion, because there is still minimal consumer demand for these ultra-fast speeds -- especially at the prices retailers would have to charge for them."

Morrow added that after researching overseas markets, NBN found that consumers do not need or use 1Gbps speeds.

"Even if we offered it for free, we see the evidence around the world that they wouldn't use it anyway," Morrow had said a week earlier during NBN's financial results presentation.