Western Australia wants 100Mbps minimum NBN speeds and CVC canned

Sandgropers call for triennial reviews of the definition of 'very fast broadband' in NBN's statement of expectations.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor
(Image: NBN)

The government of Western Australia has said 25Mbps is no longer considered fast, and the company responsible for rolling out the National Broadband Network (NBN) across Australia should up its mandated minimum peak speed to 100Mbps.

In a submission [PDF] to the inquiry into the rollout of the NBN in rural and regional areas, WA called for a review every three to five years of the definition of "very fast broadband" to allow for future changes to technology and demand.

The minimum peak speed NBN is mandated to provide is contained within the Statement of Expectations from the federal government.

The state also called for NBN's connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) charge to be removed.

"Much of the existing NBN Fixed Line network is currently artificially-constrained where there is often vast capacity available and unused," the submission said.

"This constraint is imposed (primarily) by the NBN Co CVC pricing model, which makes access to available capacity over-costly to service providers who are in turn unable to supply sufficient capacity to users in regional Western Australia and still make a profit. Consequently, in many parts of the regional network, a vast quantity of wholesale capacity goes unused simply because it costs too much."

A number of the nation's telcos -- including Vocus, Vodafone, MyRepublic, and Macquarie Telecom -- have said in the past that the only reason retailers are not offering gigabit speeds to consumers is NBN's CVC pricing structure.

Western Australia further called for the ending of the fibre to the node (FttN) rollout, in favour of fibre to the curb (FttC) or fibre to the premises (FttP).

"It is unlikely that the copper network is readily maintainable in the future except over the short distances that FTTC offers," it said. "FTTN expects too much from ageing copper cables whose condition is highly variable."

Of particular interest to WA is the fixed wireless footprint, with the state calling for alternative plans and partnership with commercial fixed wireless operators to skirt what the state said were design faults in the network due to a cost-cutting approach.

"The performance of the NBN Fixed Wireless Network is limited by design, land topology and network architecture," WA said. "In addition, the choice of carrier equipment (Carrier-Grade LTE) and a decision to serve 90 percent of towers with radio-microwave limited backhaul capacity rather than optical fibre backhaul."

Theoretically fixed wireless could do the job, WA said, but with NBN's approach, current problems would likely worsen.

"With a maximum of 100Mbps Committed Information Rate backhaul per tower, shared amongst up to 300 premises, the service will almost inevitably suffer network congestion on fully-populated towers and cannot be significantly improved without costly upgrades across nearly all equipment."

In recent weeks, NBN has ditched its plans for 100Mbps, citing the exponential cost of increasing capacity on the technology, and floated the idea of throttling heavy users connected via fixed wireless.

"Our average consumption across the NBN network is just under 200 gigabytes per month, and when you look at the fixed-wireless network it's substantially less than that, so these aren't as heavy of users; however, in the fixed-wireless there's a large portion that are using terabytes of data," outgoing NBN CEO Bill Morrow said on Monday.

"One of the things that we're evaluating ... [is] a form of Fair Use policy to say we would groom these extreme users ... the grooming could be that during the busy period of the day, when these heavy users are impacting the majority, that they actually get throttled back to where they are taking down whatever everybody else is taking down, and during the non-congested or busy periods, they're free to go for as much data as they want to pull down."

Morrow also said on Monday that NBN is improving the fixed-wireless cells that are providing users with speeds of just 3Mbps in peak times.

"We had to be quite innovative about how we're going to relieve some of the congestion ... we took basically profit away from the company, which is modest to begin with, and applied that profit towards the fixed-wireless area, to spend enough to move that minimum of 3 megabits up to a minimum of 6 megabits," he said.

"The number of cells that we have experiencing 6 megabits per second or less is now less than 6 percent, and 3 megabits ... that's less than about 0.4 percent of the cells.

"We don't have the money to invest in this to take it above 6 megabits per second, but we feel that at least is an improvement from where it is, given this uneconomical area to serve and the user-pays business model that we have."

Western Australia said in its submission that costs had led NBN to extend its satellite footprint -- saying in some cases that one side of a street has FttN, while the other can only be offered satellite -- and some residents were worried about losing their ADSL connection.

"In the majority of cases, with a few exceptions, neither NBN Co nor Telstra have provided guidance to government or communities as to whether these regional communities will eventually be involuntarily disconnected from ADSL services and forced onto Sky Muster or have the option to retain ADSL services," the submission said.

The Sky Muster satellites -- which were purchased by the former Rudd Labor government and that the party now wants reviewed -- have copped criticism for rain fade and for being technically inferior and inequitable.

Due to the satellites not being designed to carry voice services, meeting universal services obligations for voice services in remote areas that are without mobile coverage is being considered by the federal government.

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