Tassie NBN chooses network vendor

Tasmania NBN, the arm of the NBN Company that will build and operate the state's wholesale fibre telco, has directly contracted a "active network" equipment supplier, but chief Doug Campbell is staying tight-lipped over its identity.

Tasmania NBN, the arm of the NBN Company that will build and operate the state's wholesale fibre network, has directly contracted a "active network" equipment supplier, but chief Doug Campbell is staying tight-lipped over its identity.

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Doug Campbell, chief of NBN Tasmania
(Credit: Liam Tung)

Campbell told ZDNet.com.au last week at the Realising Our Broadband Future conference in Sydney that the subsidiary would not release a request for "active" network vendors to submit capability statements as its mainland counterpart had last week.

"We're actually going to be working with a company that we've chosen," Campbell told ZDNet.com.au "In Tasmania we're looking at a different process which we haven't announced yet," he added.

Campbell later clarified in an email to ZDNet.com.au that the supplier's deal would be limited to the three areas selected for activation in mid-2010: Smithton, Scottsdale and Midway Point — the same suburbs for which the Corning fibre-cable deal will serve.

Aurora Energy, which Campbell also said was not a joint venture partner of Tasmania NBN, had not issued a tender for the contract as it had for other deals related to the early deployment suburbs in Tasmania, including last week's announcement that Aurora had awarded a contract to Leighton construction subsidiary, John Holland, and earlier to Corning for its fibre cable requirements.

"As this is small piece of work covering only the three small communities, and a learning experience without any implications for future tenders for Tasmania or the mainland, NBN Tasmania intends to contract for this work directly with a qualified and experienced contractor," he wrote in the email.

Campbell would not divulge the name of the company but said it could draw from a variety of suppliers. He said the company may even have leeway to pick the supplier(s) itself. Potential suppliers include Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia Siemens Networks, NEC and the NBN Co chief's former employer, Alcatel-Lucent, amongst others.

"They may themselves determine who they want to work with... Time will tell," said Campbell.

NBN Tasmania's tenders have been awarded without the usual levels of public scrutiny subjected to Federal Government contracts, for reasons believed to be in part due to the deals being made via Aurora Energy — the Tasmanian state-owned utility which was initially meant to jointly-own the Tasmanian network. But that plan was deferred in order to expedite construction in the state, according to Campbell.

Campbell said the relationship between Tasmania NBN and the company would be conducted as a "trial", which would inform it and the NBN Co's mainland operations on how to set up and operate the wholesale-only telco.

"We're trying to determine how we'll set this activity up, how we're going create a wholesale company, how we're going to handle customers from retail services providers, what the process should be, how we're going to determine how activate those services, manage the services," he said.

Campbell was confident it would not face interoperability challenges when asked whether multiple suppliers would pose a challenge. "We understand the equipment we're using, we work with them on it, we know what our options are," he said.

Campbell also revealed that the NBN Tasmania's network operations centre (NOC) would be located in Cambridge, Tasmania, near Hobart. He said it would later be migrated to the NBN Co's NOC, the location for which has yet to be determined.

He went on to explain that Tasmanian experience would closely inform the mainland's NBN Co and that it was the mainland's test-bed on a range of issues.

"We're learning in Tasmania. And we will put a system in place that we think is a good model and that we think will be, by and large, similar to what we'll do in the mainland. We will learn what works and doesn't and what's cheap and not and we will take what we learn and move that into the mainstream of Australia."

Tasmania NBN last week announced that it had selected another Leighton company, John Holland. It also recently awarded a $250 million contract to fellow Leighton subsidiary, Nextgen Networks, to construct backhaul links across regional mainland Australia.

The contract awarded to John Holland includes the delivery and construction of backhaul between Port Latta and Smithton on Tasmania's north-west coast; Georgetown on the north coast and St Helens on the east coast; and the Hobart suburb of Midway Point and the lower east coast town of Triabunna.