THE national broadband network (NBN) will next month trial new technology that it hopes will help “provide a pathway to upgrade” when Australians require greater internet speeds in the future.
The new technology known as fibre to the distribution point (FttDP) could provide a cheaper alternative to fibre to the premises (FTTP) required for some homes unable to be serviced by a fibre to the node (FTTN) cabinet.
Labor’s original model for the NBN called for a near universal rollout of fibre to the premises which would allow far greater internet speeds and bandwidth capacity. However the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix which relies on the pre-existing copper and HFC cable networks owned by Telstra and Optus to make the final connection to the home, has been criticised because it’s likely to be obsolete by the 2020 rollout completion date.
NBN chief executive Bill Morrow hopes the new FttDP technology cannot only save costs in connecting the more challengingly properties to the NBN, but also hopes it can combat concerns over insufficient bandwidth capacity provided by the FTTN network.
The DPUs (distribution point units) are about the size of a bible and will be placed in street pits outside of properties and be used to connect fibre to the existing copper.
They will be connected with new “skinny fibre” technology that provides a cheaper fibre option — something that has been a topic of debate after internal NBN documents were leaked which detailed NBN trials of skinny fibre, causing some to accuse the company of blocking a cost comparable version of FTTP.
The NBN was spruiking the FttDP technology during a media event on Thursday and are hopeful that in conjunction with another slated technology known as G.Fast, future upgrades to the NBN will be cheaper and easier than critics claim.
“There’s an evolutionary path to deal with more than what is needed today,” Mr Morrow told news.com.au at the event.
“Now at some point we’ll reach the maximum. When that comes then hopefully we’ll have things like this DPU that’s further advanced, things like skinny fibre with techniques that are further advanced that further reduce the cost, and then we’ll push the fibre down the street to give people what they need, when they need it.”
The FttDP technology will be trialled at about 20 to 30 homes in Sydney and Melbourne in April but won’t be commercially available until 2017, by which time NBN hopes the price of DPUs will be about $300.
NBN execs also hold high hopes for G.Fast technology which is basically a new digital subscriber line (DSL) for local loops of under 500m that works by expanding the frequency range used by broadband signals.
Currently the FTTN network can provide customers with up to 70 to 100 megabits per second and by adding the G.Fast upgrade, Mr Morrow said they’ll be able to increase that to download speeds of 200 to 300 megabits per second.
“So that gives us the head room by simply changing the electronics in the cabinet and the modern in your house, and that’s far cheaper than digging up and trenching down the street or the side of the house,” he said.
However a number of experts have slammed the current rollout strategy that opts for using the copper network saying internet needs will one day eclipse what is currently expected.
“The risk that we do run, and I will admit is let’s say that the current 25 megabit per second level (the mandated minimum) today quickly escalates and suddenly we need a gigabit per second, just to draw out the extreme” then that’s something only fibre can provide, Mr Morrow said.
However after speaking with global telcos and ISPs, he doesn’t believe that kind of need is likely any time soon.
COALITION’S NBN UNDER ATTACK
Bill Morrow has maintained he and the company are “agnostic” when it comes to the technology and the politics behind it, but admits the emotional debate can be tough to avoid in such a politically charged project.
When asked by news.com.au if he feels held hostage by the government’s “sooner and cheaper” slogan which dictates the FTTN option, he dismissed such an idea.
As a part of a senate hearing held this past week, a number of industry experts testified against the Coalition’s NBN plan.
The country’s peak internet body, Internet Australia, was among the critics and has urged the government to re-adopt the FTTP option for the remainder of the rollout.
Rod Tucker from Melbourne University presented to the senate committee and summarised his testimony in The Conversation, writing: “Every way you look at it, FTTN is a bad idea.”
“Australia’s FTTN network will be obsolete by the time it is rolled out and will not be able to deliver the speeds that will be needed in the future.”
Another industry expert, Mark A. Gregory, from RMIT University said the project had been “hijacked by politics”.
“The government should accept the weight of international evidence and move back to fibre to the premises,” he wrote.
Meanwhile former independent MP Tony Windsor announced a return to politics this month citing, among other things, his desire to see the fibre to the premises model reinstalled.
However given the parameters of the job, Mr Morrow said the multi-technology plan will provide the best return on investment.
“It depends on what you’re trying to achieve,” he said. “If our objective — which the current government has given us — is to get broadband as soon as possible at a certain level of speed that has an upgrade path, then FTTN is beautiful,” he said.
He claimed that “no one can deny” the cost effectiveness of the current strategy.
“If in the future the cost continues to come down or the value that we see in using more speed goes up, and we’re willing to pay more, then we have head room to offer that with the technology,” he said.
Find out all about the National Broadband Network in this simple video / NBN Co