NBN's build-it-first approach for wireless wrong: Vertel

NBN Co building a fixed-wireless network without knowing where exactly the fixed-wireless customers are located is one reason for the delay in the rollout, according to fixed-wireless provider Vertel.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Delays to the rollout of the fixed-wireless network as part of the AU$37.4 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) can be partially blamed on not knowing where the customers will be, according to Vertel managing director Andrew Findlay.

As part of the NBN rollout, 4 percent of Australian premises will be serviced by a fixed-wireless long-term evolution (LTE) network currently being built by telecommunications network vendor giant Ericsson.

The work is scheduled to be completed in 2015, and while NBN Co had hoped to reach 70,000 premises for the fixed-wireless network by the end of June, it came up short, at only just over 27,300.

The government-owned company has previously blamed poor property location information and line-of-sight obstacles such as tall trees as hindering the progress of the wireless network construction.

Vertel, which operates hundreds of point-to-point microwave links for business and government agencies across the country, had been initially approached by NBN Co to use its towers, according to Findlay. He told ZDNet that when the company investigated the way NBN Co was constructing the network, the company was treating it more like a mobile network rollout.

"A lot of our towers were initially targeted by NBN Co, and when we started to get information about it, it became clear they were using some pretty basic RF engineering tools to work out what would be the best candidate site, which, in a mobile environment, you can get away with because it's not based on line to sight," he said.

"They basically outsourced the delivery of a lot of it to Ericsson, who have a lot of experience in delivering mobile networks, but the mobile networks are inherently based on technology and frequencies that don't require line of sight."

Findlay said that fixed-wireless operators normally wait for a customer to order a service before working on getting the physical line of sight in place. NBN Co's challenge is that the company has to roll out the network for customers who haven't ordered a service yet.

"Doing it on the mass market without having any idea of where your customers really are, it's always going to be a difficult scenario to get that right," Findlay said.

"I think it comes back to, if you look like something like the NBN, they've been so focused on the engineering exercise of delivering something like fibre, and I really think the wireless component has been something they've really looked at as being just the other thing they've got to do to make the story right."

An NBN Co spokesperson denied Findlay's claims, and told ZDNet that the approach taken to the construction of the fixed-wireless network is not at all like a traditional mobile network.

"The fixed-wireless network has been specifically planned, designed, and rolled out in an optimal sequence to integrate with the broader NBN infrastructure," she said.

"The fixed-wireless rollout set some ambitious targets and has faced challenges, including the availability of transit and construction in remote locations."

An Ericsson spokesperson also rejected Findlay's assertion that the vendor lacks experience in fixed networks, stating that it has broad experience in rolling out networks similar to Vertel's.

"Ericsson has extensive experience rolling out large-scale wireless networks in Australia and around the world, including a number of fixed-wireless projects," the spokesperson said.

"We are a world leader in point-to-point microwave solutions, and have vast experience with line of sight. Ericsson has deployed over 2.7 million MINI-LINK point-to-point systems, which are used within the NBN fixed-wireless network."

Yesterday, Parliamentary Secretary for Broadband Ed Husic announced that fixed-wireless services are now available to more than 6,300 premises in 19 rural and remote areas of Tasmania. The Tasmanian component of the NBN rollout is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

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