NBN to be a landmark: Alcatel-Lucent

The Australian government's push to make the National Broadband Network a mixture of technologies will likely become a landmark that is followed by other countries, according to Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes.

As the company looks to win some lucrative contracts to provide hundreds of thousands of nodes for the "multi-technology mix" National Broadband Network (NBN), Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes has said that other countries may now look to follow in Australia's footsteps.

Alcatel-Lucent is currently trialling its fibre-to-the-node cabinets and technology with NBN Co in Umina as part of the company's shift to the predominantly fibre-to-the-node rollout. The trial is being conducted under Alcatel-Lucent's existing AU$1.5 billion contract for optical and Ethernet equipment signed with NBN Co in 2010, when the plan was fibre to the premises.

NBN Co would likely need to form a new contract with Alcatel-Lucent, or one of its competitors, when the full fibre-to-the-node rollout commences. NBN Co said in a statement on Thursday that existing premises not covered by hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) or the current fibre deployment would likely get fibre to the node instead of the full fibre to the premises .

Combes said he is optimistic that the new implementation of the NBN would be successful, and that other nations may follow the approach taken by the Coalition government in using existing infrastructure for broadband upgrades.

"I am extremely excited by this project, because I think it will be successful and it will be a landmark for the rest of the world," he told journalists at Alcatel-Lucent's Technology Symposium in New Jersey on Thursday.

One reason for his optimism is that NBN Co is now led by fellow Vodafone alumnus Bill Morrow, with Combes leaving the Vodafone Europe CEO role in 2013 in a similar circumstance to Morrow to become a turnaround CEO for a struggling Alcatel-Lucent .

"We are family. We have strong connections, and I have a lot of respect. He's not only CEO of NBN Co, but he's also a friend," Combes said.

He said that Morrow's role is now to not choose between copper or fibre, but to determine how to use both copper and fibre effectively. He said that this means being a demanding customer for Alcatel-Lucent.

"He is very strong in telecommunications, he knows what it is about. He is a very demanding partner, but it is great for us," he said.

Combes said that when Morrow arrived in Australia to turn around Vodafone, the company at that point "was a disaster". He said that Morrow was able to bring the merged Vodafone and Hutchison company together, and set in the right plan to bring Vodafone back to growth under new CEO Inaki Berroeta, who Combes first appointed as the CEO of Vodafone Romania.

"I made a bet on Inaki when he went to Romania, and he did a super job," he said.

"I think it was a really good choice for Vodafone Australia to get Inaki."

Alcatel-Lucent has played strongly in Australia in fixed technologies, network cores, and IP, but Combes admitted that the company has struggled to win any major wireless contracts in Australia, with primary telcos Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone picking Ericsson and Huawei for much of their LTE deployments.

Combes said that the company will look to win contracts for small cells as the telcos look to reduce congestion in their networks in metro areas.

"On wireless, we have been less successful in Australia. We believe we can come back with small cells," he said.

He said that in particular, Alcatel-Lucent needs to be looking outside the service provider sector for new customers.

"The aim of the game is diversification of our customer segments. Service providers, yes, but cable operators, web-scale players, large tech enterprise, and some dedicated segments such as governments, public safety, transportation, and utilities," he said.

"On top of that, it is in this region we are starting to have our first success [in] oil and gas."

Josh Taylor travelled to New Jersey as a guest of Alcatel-Lucent.