NBN should pause fixed-wireless sales to fix congestion: Aussie Broadband

Much like NBN's HFC pause, Aussie Broadband has said the fixed-wireless rollout could be halted in order to repair congestion among towers in certain areas.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Aussie Broadband has called on the National Broadband Network (NBN) company to potentially pause its fixed-wireless rollout in the same way it halted sales on its hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network earlier this month, saying it needs to repair issues with congestion.

These issues caused the network technology to be quietly excluded from NBN's new wholesale pricing structure unveiled last week, Aussie Broadband argued on Monday.

"Prolonged tower congestion in some areas of the NBN fixed-wireless network ... would negate any increases in speed that would be offered by the new pricing," Aussie Broadband MD Phillip Britt said.

"As a result, rural and regional Australians in NBN fixed-wireless areas will most likely be paying more for a lower-quality service when compared to their city counterparts.

"We are disappointed NBN has not yet publicly acknowledged the issues with its fixed-wireless network, despite complaints from providers such as ourselves for over 12 months.

"Aussie Broadband would like the NBN to commit to fixing the fixed-wireless network in the same way as it recently committed to fixing the HFC network in metro areas, including implementing a stop-sell on congested fixed-wireless towers if necessary."

Once the issues are repaired, fixed-wireless should be subject to NBN's new wholesale pricing, Britt added.

"Fixed-wireless should be included in the new pricing structure along with the other access types to ensure the current digital divide between metro and regional areas is narrowed, not widened, by the NBN rollout," he said.

An NBN spokesperson told ZDNet that it would engage with industry on fixed-wireless pricing initiatives in 2018, and that there is already a system for working through any congestion issues.

"The vast majority of our fixed-wireless network is uncongested, and the vast majority of fixed-wireless end users are receiving a great service," the spokesperson added.

"We have a program of work in place to resolve fixed-wireless congestion issues. Work is well under way to remediate cells on towers to provide for more capacity.

"NBN does not intend to implement a stop-sell on congested fixed-wireless towers."

NBN last week set up 50Mbps as the flagship speed for its services, unveiling a new fixed-line wholesale pricing structure designed to provide discounts for retailers offering services on its 100Mbps and 50Mbps speed tiers.

Under the changes, NBN's access and bandwidth charges will be bundled together across connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) and access virtual circuit (AVC) for the two top-tier plans.

The 50Mbps wholesale bundle will cost retail service providers AU$45 per month -- a 27 percent discount -- and include 2Mbps of bandwidth, while the 100Mbps wholesale bundle will be reduced by 10 percent to cost AU$65 for 2.5Mbps of included capacity.

"Aussie Broadband welcomes the concept of wholesale bundled offers which includes a certain amount of CVC per user at a lower cost than the current pricing, as well as lowering the price of additional bandwidth for these bundled products," Britt said.

"We believe these elements will assist in encouraging providers to provision adequate CVC to customers, as well as levelling the playing field between large and small RSPs."

In order to improve its fixed-wireless network, NBN last week spent AU$4 million on mobile broadband spectrum, involving AU$2.1 million on 3.5MHz in the 3.4GHz band in Hobart and Launceston; AU$1.6 million on 35MHz in the 2.3GHz band in Cameron Corner and Geraldton/Kalgoorlie; and AU$326,000 on 98MHz in the 2.3GHz band in Delamere.

The fixed-wireless network is slated to connect 600,000 premises in regional areas by using a 4G-like service where it is considered uneconomical to roll out fixed-line access, and will next year launch a 100/40Mbps product.

NBN has also shown the network being capable of speeds of up to 1Gbps when utilising a combination of carrier aggregation, fibre backhaul, multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), and quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) technology.

Aussie Broadband's call for a halt to the fixed-wireless rollout follows NBN's decision last month to cease sales on its HFC network for between six and nine months while it remedied customer experience issues. This followed Aussie Broadband telling ZDNet back in July that it was escalating 30 percent of its HFC connections to NBN due to such issues.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield described the HFC repairs as involving the taps connecting the cable in the street with the cable inside the home and an issue involving spectrum frequency causing network dropouts for some customers.

With 3.1 million premises in the HFC footprint, NBN CEO Bill Morrow told ZDNet that 370,000 are already connected and an additional 50,000 are queued to be connected. All remaining premises slated to be connected by HFC will see delays of between six and nine months.

The delay will taper down over the next 18 months, he explained, and as a result "will not jeopardise the rollout being complete by 2020".

According to Telstra CEO Andy Penn, the HFC network is working well for existing Telstra and Foxtel services, and the issues cropped up during NBN's works.

Penn also said the HFC pause will cost Telstra AU$600 million in EBITDA, AU$700 million in total income, AU$200 million in free cashflow, and AU$600 million in net one-off NBN receipts over FY18.

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