NBN launches FttC network

NBN has launched its fibre-to-the-curb network, with around 1,000 premises in Coburg, Melbourne, and Miranda, Sydney, now able to order services capable of 100/40Mbps speeds.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor
(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) company has launched its new fibre-to-the-curb (FttC) network, with the service bringing fibre closer to the home for 1 million premises by installing it in pits at the end of customers' driveways.

Switching the network on in Miranda, New South Wales, on Sunday, NBN said the network is capable of delivering wholesale speeds of 100/40Mbps, which will be made faster to the tune of around 1Gbps upon the launch of G.fast technology by the end of 2018.

"Fibre to the curb is the latest technology to be used in the NBN rollout, and over the next few years, 1 million premises around the country will be connected to high-speed broadband using FttC," Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said on Sunday.

"FttC can deliver the same 100Mbps speeds as fibre to the premise (FttP) technology but at lower cost, in much less time and with far less disruption to people's property."

Around 1,000 premises in Miranda and Coburg, Victoria -- both of which were originally within the Optus HFC footprint -- can now order an FttC service from their retail service provider (RSP) ahead of a larger footprint release in the second half of this year.

NBN chief engineering officer Peter Ryan told ZDNet that G.fast will be launching later this year, but that it won't be available at all 1 million premises in the footprint.

"In order to get the G.fast, we will need to get access to the next generation of the distribution unit, which is the DPU, so where that's in place, we'll be able to offer the G.fast," Ryan told ZDNet.

Ryan said that NBN is constantly reviewing what technologies to use where, and it's "possible" it will look to extending FttC.

According to one home owner in Miranda, moving to FttC NBN has increased their average home broadband download speeds from around 10Mbps to 80Mbps.

"We will continue to gain insights as we navigate the complexity of the build as well as potential issues which can arise when people connect to the network," NBN chief customer officer Brad Whitcomb explained.

"We are committed to working with internet providers to optimise the customer experience of people who connect the network using the NBN FttC access technology before we make services available to a larger footprint."

Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison told ZDNet that the government is still not looking to write down the NBN, saying a report last week from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) "addressed that issue fairly plainly".

"We said at the time that that was not a view that we had held as necessary. It's not our advice, and it's still no longer the issue, and we continue to maintain I think a very sound commercial footing for the NBN and the assumptions it's based on," Morrison told ZDNet.

"And of course it has to pass muster on those issues when it comes to identifying and defining the nature of the debt and other finance that's going into the project, so I mean these aren't arbitrary decisions that are made, they are subjected to standards on the accounts, and they're meeting those standards and we expect they will continue to."

Australian telecommunications technology company NetComm Wireless' new FttC network connection device (NCD) will be used for the network in conjunction with its FttC distribution point unit (DPU).

"NBN's a great customer for us, because there's a lot of liaison between them and us in making sure they get exactly what they need," NetComm Wireless CEO Ken Sheridan told ZDNet on Sunday.

"So we're not in the business of making just products and then hoping to sell them to someone else; we say, 'how would you like it?' and make sure it's a 100 percent fit. So we have a lot of dialogue and we obviously first started with fixed-wireless [with NBN], then moved into distribution point units and into the NCDs ... so we've actually had a great working relationship with these guys."

NetComm's NCD incorporates a G.fast and VDSL modem and is able to monitor and report diagnostics on the performance of the line going into a premises, and includes a reverse-power feed allowing the DPU to be powered via the customer's premises.

NetComm CTO Steve Collins had previously told ZDNet that its NCD brings FttC solutions up to the same point that FttP is at, in that it powers the DPU and provides the modem to the end user, with retail service providers then simply connecting them.

NBN had signed NetComm Wireless to supply its FttC one-port and four-port DPUs and related services in November 2016, initially using old VDSL technology. The contract was as a result of NetComm directly tendering for FttC after NBN specifically asked it to take part, Collins told ZDNet last year.

NBN had in October announced that its first activated FttC premises in Coburg had attained speeds of 109/44Mbps during initial testing across a 70-metre copper line.

NBN commenced building its FttC network in June last year, starting with a trial of its construction and installation process in Coburg.

NBN had moved 1 million premises from fibre to the node (FttN) and from Optus' "not fully fit for purpose" hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network over to FttC, signing new fibre construction contracts with Fulton Hogan, Downer, and Service Stream in December 2016 covering around 525,000 premises throughout Sydney and Melbourne, "most" of which would be connected by FttC.

HFC remediation

When asked how the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) remediation is proceeding, Ryan told ZDNet that the company is "very happy with some of the earlier results we're seeing out of the areas that we have remediated".

"I can tell you that we remain on course to start to release new footprint back into the market, in that average six- to nine-month time period, which puts it in the back half of this year," Ryan said on Sunday in an interview with ZDNet.

"We hope to start testing our new processes around about the middle of this year as we seek to relaunch a little bit of footprint as part of a business test in the May-June period."

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