NBN refuses to break down FttN, FttB, and FttDP numbers

NBN Co will not reveal to Senators how much FttN or FttDP will be rolled out in Australia, citing commercial in confidence.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The company responsible for rolling out the National Broadband Network has refused to tell Senators the breakdown of the technologies used in its fibre to the node deployments, citing commercial in confidence concerns.

In its corporate plan released in August, NBN said it would deploy a combination of either fibre to the node (FttN), or fibre to the basement (FttB) to 38 percent of the Australian population, with fibre to the premises to be used for 20 percent, and 34 percent to receive NBN services via hybrid fibre-coaxial.

Responding to Questions on Notice today, from Senate Estimates in October, NBN would not clarify what percentage of Australians could expect FttN, FttB, or fibre to the distribution point (FttDP).

"Forecasts of this nature are included in the Corporate Plan 2016 Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN) numbers," the company said in response to questions asked by former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, and Labor Senator Anne Urquhart.

"To disaggregate these would reveal NBN's strategic business direction to potential infrastructure competitors, and are therefore commercial in confidence."

NBN CEO Bill Morrow told Conroy during October Senate Estimates that NBN had not broken down the FttN numbers.

The company also refused to state how much it is spending on new copper to be used in its FttN rollout.

Morrow told Estimates in October that while the legacy Telstra copper lines from the node to homes will remain in place, copper between the node and the pillar will need to be installed.

"We have to put new copper in to run to the pillar that serves all of our homes from our node to that pillar. And that could range in distance between right next to each other ... it is a short section, but it is new copper that has to go in the ground that doesn't exist today," he said.

The NBN CEO said that new copper was needed to allow the company to be able to gain access to the nodes to deliver broadband to the homes.

"So today, there's a feeder copper cable that goes into our neighbourhood entry point, where a pillar stands up out of the street, usually near the footpath. We want to access that pillar, because it has a distribution network that goes to each one of our homes. Now, we want to access it with our optical technology that we're delivering with fibre to the node, but ... if it is across the room or down the block, we have to put copper to be able to get to that node," he said.

In response to questions from Senator Urquhart, NBN said it currently uses a working assumption of 350 metres of copper needed to connect a pillar to a node, but that the cost was confidential.

"Due to ongoing supplier negotiations, the estimated cost and distance of new copper for the full FttN rollout is commercial in confidence," it said.

Yesterday, Nokia announced that it had partnered with Deutsche Telekom to demonstrate its latest XG-Fast technology is capable of delivering 11Gbps over a 50-metre run on two bonded pairs of Category 6 cable under laboratory conditions. Using a standard drop cable, Nokia said XG-Fast is capable of aggregate rate in excess of 8Gbps on 50-metre runs.

XG-Fast could be used in FttDP deployments, with Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare stating last year that he expects NBN to switch to FttDP soon.

"NBN has also recently revealed that they are about to trial G.fast in the lab," he said. "I think it is likely that sometime between now and the next election, the new minister will announce that NBN will be rolling out fibre to the curb -- using G.fast."

Morrow has already said premises that are more than 1km from the node and unable to reach speeds of 25Mbps using fibre to the node will be connected using FttDP.

"That's still fairly new, nascent technology only now starting to be deployed across the globe," Morrow said to Senate Estimates in October.

"What is new, senator, is the boxes that are just now commercially becoming available that are small enough to fit within the pit in the footpath, and that are reverse powered from the home to be able to make that possible."

NBN also said in response to questions on notice that it spent a total of AU$737,000 for all aspects of its rebranding from NBN Co to nbntm.

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