Tasmanian NBN rollout will be completed with FttN: Switkowski

NBN Co's executive chairman, Dr Ziggy Switkowski, has confirmed that Tasmania will not have its FttP rollout completed.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Tasmania will not have a full and completed fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) NBN network, and will only have an all-fibre rollout until the end of the calendar year.

Dr Ziggy Switkowski, NBN Co's executive chairman until the end of next month, when Bill Morrow will take up the CEO position, took to ABC Local radio in Tasmania this morning to state that NBN Co would be looking to reuse existing copper in Tasmania where it can.

"There is a contract with VisionStream to connect 225,000 Tasmanian homes to high-speed broadband. It doesn't specify the technology, but obviously, in the previous model, the infrastructure was going to be an all-fibre infrastructure," he said.

"We've now agreed on a multi-technology mode, where we will seek to use existing copper network where we can."

Switkowski said that pure FttP work would continue until the end of 2014, after which the NBN would transfer over to its multi-technology approach.

Despite claims that the contract with VisionStream to construct the NBN in Tasmania stated that an FttP rollout would occur, the NBN Co chairman said no such clause existed in the contracts.

"There is a contract with VisionStream to connect 225,000 Tasmanian homes to high-speed broadband.

"I don't think that the contract specifies a particular technology, it certainly specifies a volume, and performance conditions on both sides."

The reduced bandwidth of a non-FttP network would not be an issue, Switkowski said, with modern technologies able to deliver "50Mbps-type experiences" and NBN Co expecting to double that speed over the next five or so years.

This afternoon in parliament, Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare tabled a petition of 272,000 signatures that called for NBN Co to continue rolling out only an FttP-based network.

However, this morning, Switkowski said that across the world, most countries have a mixture of technologies, and labelled arguments that copper is inferior to fibre as debatable.

"I can appreciate given the way the NBN was originally positioned and the discussion about speeds, but the reality is that using the existing copper network, in this case, will give most people a speed experience vastly in excess of what they can actually use, and under the current plan that's being developed, most Tasmanians will get access to higher speed earlier than would otherwise have been the case," he said.

"I can understand why you would say that [copper is inferior], but the speed experience that you have is really at the speed of the slowest link, and the highest-speed final link to the home, which, if you look only point to point, would be fibre, may not necessarily give you a good indication of what the overall experience would be depending on where the information is coming from. And particularly in Australia, where so much information comes from offshore, it'll be throttled by the various links in the global networks."

Commercial users aside, Switkowski said that copper would be able to meet the needs of over 99 percent of Australian users, due in part to the ability to upgrade the network.

"It's much better to build out a network today that has a clear upgrade path, providing that you're confident that the upgrade step is more than five years out. In other words, with today's technologies and today's infrastructure, we can get to speed and quality of service more than adequate for the next few years," he said.

"After that, all of these platforms are upgradeable. Whether it is to take you to the next generation of copper, which appears to be capable of hundreds of Mbps, or whether we stretch out the fibre network.

"I have no hesitation in saying that for the next few years, what NBN Co will deliver will be an infrastructure that is fit for purpose, it'll come earlier than might otherwise have been the case, and it'll be more affordable than the original plan was."

The NBN Co chairman said that based on the data available, Tasmania is the most progressed state in terms of proportion of homes passed and uptake of the network.

Looking at the latest instalment of rollout figures released by NBN Co this week, Tasmania is the state with the highest percentage of brownfields take-up, with 38 percent of premises connecting a service. However, including the territories, the Australian Capital Territory is highest, being able to boast of a 59 percent take-up rate in brownfields, and 57 percent take-up in greenfields premises.

Tasmania's mantle as the state with the highest penetration in brownfields could soon disappear as NBN services continue to be activated across Victoria, which claims a penetration rate of 36 percent across 50,581 passed existing premises. In contrast, Tasmania has 33,318 passed brownfields premises.

Despite low-balling its 357,000 brownfields premises passed target, NBN Co has to the week ending February 9 passed over 300,000 existing premises.

In the past two weeks, NBN Co has added 15,791 premises to its FttP and fixed-wireless network, while activating 5,167 new services in that time.

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