The company rolling out Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) has switched on its commercial fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network, claiming that customers on this network will be able to achieve download speeds of up to 100Mbps.
Customers whose premises are located in an FttN-designated area will see fibre-optic cable rolled out to a node nearby, with copper lines then delivering the broadband into their premises.
Belmont, in the Newcastle area, was the first to be switched on, with 43 customers there having undergone a trial FttN service delivered by retail service provider (RSP) Telstra. Premises had attained speeds of 100Mbps/40Mbps when 400 metres or less from the node; customers who were located more than 700 metres from the node had achieved speeds of around 60Mbps/20Mbps.
By comparison, the customers in these areas that are currently serviced by ADSL see download speeds of only 20Mbps.
"Overseas experience in markets like the UK and Germany has proven the value of FttN in delivering fast broadband services to millions of premises both quickly and cost effectively," said NBN chief architect Tony Cross.
"Our own FttN end-user trials have been hugely encouraging in showing that FttN can deliver great speeds to Australians, with most end users on the trial getting wholesale speeds of 100Mbps (download) and 40Mbps (upload)."
NBN is planning to connect 500,000 premises with FttN by mid-2016, growing this to 3.7 million by June 2018. More than 20 RSPs, including Telstra, Optus, TPG, M2, Exetel, AAPT, SkyMesh, and Harbour ISP, have already signed wholesale broadband agreements to sell FttN NBN services to end users.
NBN CEO Bill Morrow recently claimed that adding FttN to the stable of technologies being used in the network would improve broadband speeds and reliability in Australia, saying that once the rollout is complete, the NBN will put Australia "on an equal if not better footing than most of our global peers in terms of broadband delivery speeds".
"The good news is that most FttN trial subscribers are getting speeds of around 100Mbps for premises up to 400 metres away from the node, and 50Mbps for premises as far as 700 metres from the node," he said, speaking at the ASTRA conference in Sydney.
In June, NBN had said that it could only guarantee speeds of up to 12Mbps while customers are being transitioned from ADSL services to FttN; on Monday, however, NBN chief customer officer John Simon refuted this, saying that speeds would be much faster, and certainly faster than the current ADSL speeds.
"There has been some rumour -- quite incorrect, I might point out -- that this service will only deliver a speed of up to 12Mbps during the coexisting period. That is incorrect. Services will be delivered at a much higher rate," said Simon.
"We do, during this period, employ what we call 'power back-off', so that basically doesn't send as strong a signal as we can or need to. It basically allows for a coexistence of ADSL services with VDSL services. So during this period of 18 months, there'll be both coexistence of traditional ADSL2 services and VDSL services, and we employ power back-off.
"Even with power back-off employed, the speeds you'll hear about today is what we're getting. So obviously, when we turn the power fully on, those will actually be able to have deeper reach into the network as well. But ... access speeds of 50/20 will certainly be delivered upon."
The Coalition's so-called multi-technology mix (MTM) NBN aims to cover 20 percent of the Australian population with fibre to the premises (FttP); 38 percent with FttP/B; 34 percent with hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC); 5 percent with fixed wireless; and 3 percent with satellite services.
Communications Minister cum Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed that despite the escalating amount of funding needed for the project, it would cost less and be delivered faster than Labor's full FttP rollout.
"The corporate plan shows that the multi-technology mix remains the most cost- and time-efficient means of completing the NBN, delivering upgrades six to eight years sooner, and at around AU$30 billion less cost than an all-fibre to the premises alternative," Turnbull said in a joint statement with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann in August.
"The government's broadband policy is technology agnostic. NBN Co is free to use whatever mix of technologies is required to get the job done as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. The company therefore has, in the light of its extensive experience building FttP, determined what the peak funding requirement and time to complete would be for an all-FttP build.
"The company's conclusion is that an all-FttP approach, as proposed by Labor, would have a peak funding requirement of $74 billion to $84 billion and would not be finished until as late as 2028."
However, the Australian Senate last week called for the government to reveal NBN operating plans and financial forecasting out to 2022, particularly in regards to how much an FttP rollout would have cost.
ISP consumer group Internet Australia added its voice to the call, saying that the government -- both under the Labor or Liberal party -- has been too secretive over the costs associated with rolling out an FttP network.
"Our expert members have serious concerns about the long-term viability of using the old and ageing Telstra copper network to provide a 21st century service," CEO Laurie Patton said.
"We need to see the current figures on what NBN Australia has estimated to be the rollout costs for FttP, to ensure that we and other industry experts can provide analysis and advice about whether the planned rollout is technically and financially appropriate in the long term.
"We know that the Abbott government had little interest in the internet. We trust that Prime Minister Turnbull will look at things with a more informed eye."
Telecommunications equipment provider Alcatel-Lucent, which is providing the fibre technology for NBN's FttN, has lauded the switch-on of the FttN network, with Oceania president and MD Sean O'Halloran saying that it will bring high-speed broadband infrastructure to more people at an accelerated pace.
"This is a significant step forward as NBN continues to accelerate its deployment and product strategy, pushing fibre further into the network and bringing more broadband to more people," said O'Halloran.
"Advances in copper technologies are changing the paradigm all around the world, allowing operators to offer higher speeds and generate service revenues, as well as increasing capacity faster."
Contractor Service Stream on Friday announced that it had signed a Multi-Technology Master Agreements (MIMA) with NBN to plan and build out FttP, FttN, and fibre to the building (FttB) for the next five years.
The contractor will begin construction in December in Victoria, with works to take place during FY16 to be worth between AU$8 million and AU$10 million.
"Service Stream is proud to expand our role in supporting NBN as they undertake one of the nation's most significant infrastructure projects to provide better broadband to all homes and businesses," said Leigh Mackender, managing director of Service Stream.
"This MIMA provides an opportunity for our business to grow our program of works with NBN, and to increase work volumes across subsequent years."
Prior to this, Service Stream had secured a AU$70 million extension on its contracts to build out the fibre network in new housing estates in New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory in May last year, and in the following month won a AU$140 million two-year extension to its NBN contract to connect fibre to premises.
"Our Multi-Technology Master Agreements greatly improve our relationship with the construction industry," an NBN spokesperson added on Friday.
"The new contracts are an improvement on the old commercial model as they create competition, where successes from our delivery partners can be rewarded with more volume if they meet targets on quality, speed and safety."