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Average FttN line capable of 68Mbps but will never hit 1Gbps: NBN

40 percent of Australia will not be capable of 1Gbps broadband speeds thanks to a combination of fibre-to-the-node, fixed-wireless, and satellite technologies, NBN CEO Bill Morrow has said.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Although Australians are currently opting to sit on the slowest two speeds tiers available on the National Broadband Network (NBN), even the much-maligned fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network is capable, on average, of supporting a higher tier.

Speaking at Senate Estimates on Thursday night, NBN CEO Bill Morrow said the average speed capable for FttN lines currently sits at 68Mbps, while the technically similar but shorter-run fibre-to-the-basement lines are capable of 102Mbps on average.

However, Morrow made clear that FttN would lag behind almost all of the other technologies NBN in using in its rollout as it pushes towards 1 gigabit per second.

"FttN, by itself, with the copper loop lengths we are building with, will not give you gigabit per second," he said.

"When we can upgrade them to FttC, and we use G.fast capabilities with this little DPU [Distribution Point Unit] that we put into the pit in front of your home, then that will give you up to a gigabit per second speed."

The CEO said fixed-wireless has the potential to surpass 1 gigabit per second once 5G arrives, but satellite would always lag behind.

"Satellite is not going to deliver that anytime in our tenure here," he said. "It was never designed for, even under the previous regime and previous policy, 8 percent of the nation was never going to see anything other than 25Mbps."

NBN is currently deploying DOCSIS 3.1-capable modems for its HFC network, and will look to turn it on in early to mid next year, Morrow said, despite NBN previously stating that it would launch DOCSIS 3.1 in the second half of 2017.

Meanwhile, fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) users already have the option for gigabit speeds.

"FttP, the million and a half [users], can do it today, if the RSPs wanted to sell it," he said.

Morrow has consistently maintained that there is a lack of demand for gigabit speeds in Australia. Earlier this week, the CEO claimed that NBN's pricing structure is not to blame for the lack of high-speed uptake.

"The reality is that very few Australians have a use for gigabit speeds today. The fact is, the very few applications that demand this amount of data simply aren't at scale yet," Morrow told the American Chamber of Commerce.

"In our own uptake patterns, people are gravitating to speeds that meet their needs; 83 percent of all our activated homes have opted for 25Mbps or less. In other words, only 12 percent have chosen the top tier.

"And contrary to what some may think, this is not due to price premiums imposed by NBN; those higher speeds are only slightly more, at AU$8 per month over the billing period, which is around AU$2 per week."

NBN chief customer officer John Simon told Estimates that it is an anathema that industry considers and promotes 12Mbps plans as being super-fast.

"In fact, it could be slower than what you get today," the COO said.

Simon said NBN would look to spend an increasing amount of money on educating the public about the network, rather than promoting it.

The company's recent "Gen NBN" campaign has so far cost it AU$7.8 million excluding GST.

Simon also said NBN has reduced the number of outages on its Sky Muster satellite service from 250 incidents a month to 14, with the mean maximum time to repair reduced to 20 minutes.

NBN also revealed last night that its tech choice program collected a healthy AU$157,000 to move a commercial premises from the fixed-wireless network onto FttP.

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