Sydney to Brisbane and back: NBN has 1,800km of copper to last five months

NBN has admitted that it is planning to spend AU$14 million acquiring copper to be used in its so-called multi-technology mix network rollout.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The company responsible for rolling out the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Australia is building up a copper cache to be used in the deployment of its fibre-to-the-node (FttN) rollouts, and has has placed orders for AU$14 million to acquire 1,800 kilometres of copper, enough to last the company five months.

During Senate Estimates on Tuesday night, NBN CEO Bill Morrow said the company is seeking copper from two suppliers, with the main supplier being Prysmian, in order to ramp up its operations to cope with demand.

"It's 100-pair and 200-pair type cables, depending on the size of the node," Morrow said. "It's about on average 350 metres of copper per node in the FttN environment."

Using the company's numbers, that equates to enough copper for over 5,100 nodes.

Earlier in the day, Morrow admitted that NBN needs to deploy copper lines between the node and the pillar. While ideally the company would prefer the node and pillar to be next to each other, that is not always the case.

"There's a feeder copper cable that goes into our neighbourhood entry point, where a pillar stands up out of the street, usually near the footpath," he said. "We want to access that pillar, because it has a distribution network that goes to each one of our homes. Now, we want to access it with our optical technology that we're delivering with fibre to the node, but ... if it is across the room or down the block, we have to put copper to be able to get to that node," Morrow said.

Morrow told Estimates that the company is pleased with the condition of the cable that it has come across so far.

"So far, in our FttN deployment, we have not had to replace any copper -- or perform any substantial remediation work -- to the copper running from our street cabinets to end-user premises with new fibre," NBN public affairs manager, Tony Brown, said in an often amended blog post originally posted last Thursday.

Customers are so impressed with FttN, Morrow said, that some are cancelling orders to purchase an FttP fibre extension.

"Once they turned on FttN service and they saw the speeds that they were getting from it, they cancelled that order," he said.

The company also said that it expects Telstra to shortly join M2 and iiNet in offering FttN broadband packages to customers.

"They are all just ramping up ... You do this in a way to study your processes, refine them, and the RSPs [retail service providers] come on gradually," Morrow said.

Under questioning from former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, Morrow said that out of the 1 million premises that are able to be hooked up with fibre and order a 1Gbps service, only 37 have done so.

"I'm shocked there's that many," Conroy said. "But you'll have the names and addresses of those fibre zealots now."

"I love fibre zealots," Morrow replied.

"They don't feel loved, I can assure you," Conroy retorted.

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