NBN remediating 3Mbps fixed-wireless cells

NBN is remediating nine congested fixed-wireless cells that provide speeds of just 3Mbps to users during peak periods, adding that it has seen greater uptake than expected across fixed-wireless and satellite.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) company has said it is targeting fixed-wireless congestion at priority cells where speeds are less than 3Mbps during peak periods, with nine towers targeted at the end of November.

As of April, cell remediation had been completed in Marian North, Millthorpe, and Woolgoolga, while Clunes North was due to be complete by April 2018. NBN is aiming to complete remediation in Bees Creek, Humpty Doo, Howard Springs, and Worrolong by July and Smythesdale by August.

According to NBN, in most cases only parts of the areas covered by a congested tower have been impacted.

"To avoid causing confusion for households and communities covered by non-congested cells on the same tower, NBN has not released tower locations," the company said, adding that it has instead "proactively" informed specific premises about cell capacity upgrades.

"The localities where pockets of congestion has occurred are spread across all states, and range from small communities in outback Queensland and farming areas of rural Victoria to the northern coastal fringe of Tasmania.

"Congestion has predominantly arisen within areas where the FW service has been available for several years, and reflects both high take-up and changing usage patterns. NBN is working systematically to provide capacity relief across the range of congested cells and expects these upgrades to be completed within the next six months."

NBN also admitted that it has seen greater uptake than expected across regional areas on both its fixed-wireless and satellite networks; the company had estimated 23 percent take-up in these footprints back in its 2012 Corporate Plan, but is now seeing average take-up of 40 percent -- "and up to 80 percent in some areas".

"This puts more strain on the network, and requires more advanced equipment, a change in the design, the construction of more towers, and potentially more spectrum," NBN said.

CEO Bill Morrow last week revealed during Senate Estimates that NBN had killed off its plans to offer 100Mbps fixed-wireless, and this week said it will undertake consultation on a new offering that "better aligns to the capability of the network" as well as on new wholesale pricing.

In answer to another Question on Notice, NBN also revealed building 208,338 new hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) lead-in cables between September 1, 2017, and April 6, 2018, saying it used the HFC cease-sale to continue building these out to minimise the wait time for customers. This is only partially inclusive of the 232,207 new lead-ins it built as of November 2017.

"NBN deployed specialised construction crews to complete the additional work required to connect these premises to the NBN broadband access network," the company said, referring to the pause in sales.

The HFC network was relaunched for sales last month, starting with 1,000 HFC premises in Sydney and Melbourne. This will be followed by 38,000 in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and the Gold Coast in June; and around 100,000 premises per month for the rest of the year.

The HFC pause also had the effect of "momentarily inflating" the number of Service Class Zero (SC0) premises, NBN said, although the total unserviceable number has dropped from 30 percent in 2013 to 13.7 percent as of April.

"The majority of premises in the 'paused' HFC footprint will be moved to other serviceable classes throughout 2018 and a corresponding fall in the HFC percentage can be expected," NBN said.

NBN added that by 2020, it expects around 80 percent of all HFC premises to be gigabit capable.

"This will rise to 100 percent after the end of the migration window when Telstra's existing broadband services are switched off and all required upgrades are complete," NBN said in response to another Question on Notice.

According to NBN, it is seeing noise ingress interference across the HFC network in the upstream spectrum between 17-39.4MHz.

Across its fibre network, meanwhile, NBN said it plans to spend AU$200 million per annum on long-range capex for greenfield premises, while also revealing that the "cycle time" between construction issued and ready for service across fibre to the node (FttN) is 221 days.

The fibre-to-the-curb (FttC) rollout is still too early in its deployment to determine an average cycle time as yet, NBN said, with the company not yet receiving any individual switch or area switch technology choice applications to shift from FttN to FttC -- although NBN has itself recently moved another 440,000 premises from the HFC and FttN footprint to FttC.

Fault restoration

NBN did not provide a breakdown of fault rates across each technology in response to Questions on Notice, and said it cannot provide "a list of standardised measures used to track fault rates" because this request has not been clearly defined.

"NBN tracks the number of faults on the NBN access network per 100 premises per month and provides these publicly aggregated across technologies," it said.

"NBN's internal reporting, including in relation to faults, is wide ranging and is often broken down by technology but not in all circumstances. However, NBN closely monitors a range of fault data, aggregated across all technologies, and reports fault rectification performance publicly."

While NBN said that as of February 28, it completed 91 percent of appointments as scheduled, this still amounted to around 80,000 premises missing out on their scheduled appointments, with NBN completing 870,000 of the 950,000 scheduled on time.

"The remaining appointments were not completed for a variety of reasons, including some beyond the technician's control, such as the weather, end-user non-attendance, and technical impediments," NBN explained.

NBN said it does not track the average time between a technician being booked and a technician attending, as it is not an "effective operational metric". It currently has 52 custom remediation cases open, but has not performed any Custom Remediation Solutions.

NBN additionally revealed during responses to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice that it spent AU$3.3 million on a "comprehensive campaign across a range of channels to make households and businesses aware of what to expect when connecting to and using services over the NBN"; and spent just shy of AU$40,000 on sending three executives to Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in February.

As of April 10, NBN has 6,120 employees and 689 contractors. Of its employees, 886 worked across the IT department and 69 in corporate affairs and public relations.

NBN denied evaluating any of its employees' performance with KPIs on how many social media posts they like and comment on.

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