NBN picked up steam through the back end of 2013

After a couple of years of wheel spinning, the NBN has finally started going through the gears towards a theoretical ramp-up speed that will never be reached.

One of the key tenets of Malcolm Turnbull's communications policy going into last year's election was to shine a light into the darkest corners of the National Broadband Network (NBN) and expose more of the government-owned corporation to increased transparency .

No sooner had Turnbull been sworn into office than we started to see the first fruits of this promise in the form of weekly NBN rollout statistics. Whereas under former Labor Communications Ministers Stephen Conroy and Anthony Albanese, the throngs of voters interested in the NBN were left hanging quarter to quarter, the new Turnbull regime has instead followed a strategy of delivering information on the country's largest infrastructure project with monotonous regularity.

From week to week, but for the notable exception of the addition of state-by-state breakdowns last month , the numbers inch along and little information is gleaned from looking into them.

For a government that is obsessed with keeping information out of the news, the Department of Communication's "death by information overload" strategy appears to be much more effective than other ministers responsible for certain "operational matters" are able to boast.

Last week's release of the NBN rollout stats — which took the form of a PDF appearing on the NBN Co site without any fanfare or alert — marked the completion of six months' worth of rollout statistics, from which it is possible to see how the rollout stacks up against its previous performances .

For a network that has its proverbial head sitting on the executioner's chopping block, the rollout of the network continued at pace during the latter half of 2013.

The table below details the rollout's progress for brownfields premises. In the NBN rollout definitions, Service Level Zero denotes "a premises passed by the active network, but for which a service cannot currently be ordered from a telephone or internet service provider because additional work is required, for example because there is cabling required for an apartment block". These were not included for the first two years reported.

Week ending Passed Serviceable Service Level Zero Activated
June 30, 2011 10,575 10,575 620
June 30, 2012 28,860 28,860 3,364
June 30, 2013 163,515 107,791 20,441 17,077
Dec 31, 2013 273,174 188,082 85,092 52,531

During the second half of 2013, the network more than doubled the number of brownfield premises activated on the network while increasing the footprint by 67 percent and adding 74 percent more serviceable premises. In fact, the rollout added more serviceable premises in the six months to December 31 than it added in the entire 2012-13 financial year: 80,291 additional premises against 78,931 in FY2012-13.

It was a similar story for greenfields premises, with the network more than doubling its number of activated services in the last six months of 2013. In pure statistical terms, the largest increase in coverage arrived in the wireless services area for communities deemed too small or remote to receive fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) services — the network's wireless footprint grew from 27,256 premises to 65,860 premises, with the number of active wireless services more than tripling from July to the end of December 2013.

Week ending Greenfields passed Greenfields activated Wireless covered Wireless activated Satellite activated
June 30, 2011 166
June 30, 2012 4,163 503 8,885 91 9,578
June 30, 2013 44,028 13,145 27,256 1,874 34,640
Dec 31, 2013 77,872 27,546 44,170 65,860 6,512

With the company's interim satellite service becoming saturated, the number of satellite services has reached a plateau that is unlikely to change until the NBN Co's Ka-band satellites are launched next year.

Looking at the rollout as a whole, in the latter half of 2013, NBN Co surpassed the total number of new services activated on the network during FY2012-13 so that it almost doubled the number of activated services. For premises passed, the footprint in FY2012-13 reached out to include 192,891 new premises, which was almost matched at 182,107 new premises added from July to the end of December 2013.

Week ending Total passed Total activated
June 30, 2011 10,575 786
June 30, 2012 41,908 13,536
June 30, 2013 234,799 70,100
Dec 31, 2013 416,906 130,759

In the realm of uptake, a clear trend of increasing penetration of the NBN has emerged as the rollout of the network has continued — and one would certainly hope so, for a network that was designed to replace Telstra's outmoded copper network where copper retirement is already occurring.

Week ending Greenfields uptake Brownfields uptake Wireless uptake Service Level Zero status
June 30, 2011 5.86%
June 30, 2012 12.08% 11.66% 1.02%
June 30, 2013 29.86% 18.96% 6.88% 34.08%
Dec 31, 2013 35.37% 27.93% 9.89% 31.15%

The ramp-up of the FttP NBN rollout that we were long promised appears to be happening. The NBN was not without its share of obstacles in 2013: The rollout stalling due to issues with asbestos , Syntheo walking away from its contracts , and the entire future design of the network cast into doubt following the installation of Turnbull as communications minister and the series of reviews he commissioned.

Despite the improved numbers, the rollout of the NBN is still far behind the rollout projections found in the company's 2012 corporate plan, but the good news for FttP proponents is that the network is set to continue on its FttP designs for at least the remainder of 2014, and should do so at a rate faster than ever before the executioner's axe falls.

Show Comments