Two years until NBN hits peak roll-out

It may still be two years before NBN Co begins rolling out fibre to 6000 premises a day, according to chief operating officer Ralph Steffens.

It may still be two years before NBN Co begins rolling out fibre to 6000 premises a day, according to chief operating officer Ralph Steffens.

Following Thursday's announcement of NBN Co's three-year roll-out plan to reach 3.5 million premises, NBN Co has entered the volume phase of its roll-out. However, Steffens told journalists yesterday that the company expects it will take between 18 and 24 months to reach the estimated peak roll-out speed of 6000 premises a day.

Steffens re-iterated comments by NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley, saying the main objective was to ensure that there would be a continuous roll-out over that time.

"The worst thing you can do with infrastructure projects is starting and stopping, so the last piece of work we did was we ensured we had continuation in the program. That means if we start somewhere in the region, we keep going until we're finished. That's incredibly important," he said.

"That also means that some of the parameters we put in are marginally off. Like equal share between the states. The reason for that is to ensure where we start, we keep going until we finish and that means smaller regions like the Northern Territory ... will finish much earlier than the 10 years."

The company will stay at peak roll-out speed for the remainder of the 10 years, Steffen said, as it would scale down quickly towards the end of the roll-out.

Now the NBN Co has the job of renegotiating construction contracts to see the company through to the end of the three-year roll-out. The contracts that have been signed to this point only last for two years. Tasmania is the only state for which NBN Co has signed a contract already for the entirety of the state's roll-out, to be completed in 2015.

"Our current contracts on the mainland are two-year contracts, which are due to be renegotiated in the not-too-distant future, but we have partners to work everywhere," Steffens said.

Although NBN Co wasn't working to a timetable of getting contracts locked down before the next federal election, where a coalition win may see those contracts change, Steffens indicated that he expected these contracts to be sorted before June 2013, and likely before the next election.

Steffens also rejected Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's prediction that the amount of premises passed by 2015 will be much lower than NBN Co has forecast.

"In terms of the numbers, we are confident we have an executable plan," he said.

Kieren Cooney, chief communications officer for NBN Co, said that it was "odd" to compare trial construction numbers with the main roll-out.

"The fundamental comparison is odd," he said. "One is a trial set of sites that were not to move at scale ... to see how it rolls out with temporary arrangements and the other is a full roll-out. To extrapolate the trial which was never built for anything other than a trial situation into a full-scale roll-out misses what the trial was about."

Steffens said that since NBN Co now had its construction supply chain in place and the $11 billion Telstra contract signed, it could roll-out in scale.

While the plans currently indicate where construction will begin rather than where it will be completed, Cooney said that when construction begins is more important to the community than when it's ready.

"To local communities, understanding when work is commencing in the community and what that means is very, very important."

Although NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley had indicated that Telstra was keen for the copper line to be switched off when fibre was ready in a community earlier than the 18-month time frame set out in the Telstra deal, Cooney said that the 18-month buffer was there to protect the community. Telstra would only switch off the copper quicker than that if retail service providers had already migrated all the customers onto the NBN.

Once the roll-out is completed, Steffens said he expects NBN Co to be upgrading Alcatel-Lucent's GPON equipment to handle faster speeds than the maximum 100 megabits per second available on the National Broadband Network (NBN) today.

"The world doesn't stop at 100Mbps," he said. "We are going to finish the project very different to how we started."

Towns opposing the NBN towers to get satellite

Residents in areas covered by the fixed wireless NBN where councils reject tower applications may face the prospect of only connecting via satellite, according to Cooney.

For four of the last 7 per cent of Australian premises not covered by the fibre roll-out, NBN Co will be providing a long-term evolution (LTE) "4G" fixed-wireless network. NBN Co is seeking to co-locate in a number of existing telecommunications towers for this network, but the company will need to co-locate or build 2300 towers for the entire network to be completed by 2015.

Late last year, contractors acting on behalf of NBN Co began lodging a number of plans with local councils for a number of towers and ran into resistance from local residents. One tower application NBN Co had expressed interest in co-locating on in Buninyong, south of Ballarat, was rejected last month.

Cooney told journalists yesterday that NBN Co had a role to play in speaking with the community about why the company was rolling out fixed-wireless infrastructure to those areas, and to make sure NBN Co was talking with the local councils too, but he said ultimately it was the council's decision and NBN Co had to live with that if councils rejected tower plans.

Cooney said NBN Co could find alternatives, but for critical relay towers that propagate signal to other NBN Co towers, it could cut off whole areas to NBN Co's fixed-wireless service.

"By certain sites not becoming available what it means is whole areas of fixed wireless cannot become available. We face the reality of that's what the community's representatives have decided is the best thing for that community and then we don't face a lot of options," he said. "We can go and come back, of course, [and] we'll look for other options or it'll be served by satellite."

This month NBN Co has also begun trialling its fixed-wireless network in Armidale, where ZDNet Australia understands a handful of customers are already connected. iiNet announced yesterday that it had successfully trialled customers in Armidale, and iiNet subsidiary Internode would also trial customers this month. iiNet has unveiled pricing for its commercial plans to be launched next month starting at $49.95 per month for 20GB on-peak and 20GB off-peak. Internode has plans ranging from $49.95 per month for 30GB up to 1TB for $139.95.


Although Huawei has been banned by the government from tendering for the NBN, Huawei Australia chairman John Lord told ABC1's Inside Business on Sunday that there were non-core parts of the NBN that would be more suitable for Huawei to tender for in the future. Steffens said that NBN Co "has completed [its] tender process at this stage" and was not in the market to tender.

Despite this, Lord said that Huawei was in Australia for the long term.

"NBN's not the only game in town. Our future in Australia is long term. We're here to stay and we believe there's bigger markets. What hangs off a national telecommunications infrastructure is where the real market is in the future."


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