NBN technicians

Nextgen’s NBN aggregation closes: should we reconsider 121 POIs?

As a wholesale service provider for NBN Co’s “tails”, Nextgen finally fallen to its knees after they announced order halts, price increases and encouragement to their RSP customers to migrate their customers off its “Virtual Connect” product – in essence, they are closing.

As one of the first providers to provide aggregated wholesale products to Layer 3 retail service providers, Nextgen initially gained footing as a wholesale platform for providers who wanted a mix of UNI-V products as well as data. They sold fixed quota plans to service providers who also marked up the price for a fixed profit. A pretty good deal to dive into the NBN service provider business with little overhead or risks.

As customer numbers grew, however, Nextgen struggled to scale their network to cope with the demand. No doubt the high cost of transit to the multiple NBN points of interconnect and CVC/NNI charges would have played a massive role in this. From the people I’ve spoken to, the network’s quality continued to deteriorate over the years. I suspect for most areas, they didn’t have the numbers or the capacity to purchase CVC and transit above that of the 150Mbps “CVC credit” provided by NBN Co.

However, as the market for wholesale service providers grew (especially with the rise of AAPT’s Layer 3 National Wholesale Broadband product), many Layer 3 providers began to shift to this alternate platform which gave them control over contention and network capacity. The AAPT product is a whole different ball game with the risk of contention falling right at the hands of the service provider. Also, AAPT’s recent introduction of their “NBNPhone” product meant that Layer 3 providers no longer had to rely on Nextgen to get provide UNI-V services to their customers.

What now?

Well, what now? It’s obvious that without solid customer numbers, a network provider would struggle to get into the game of wholesale service for NBN. With the investment required to get transit and CVC/NNI at each of the 121 Points of Interconnect, it’s unlikely that this will change in the near future.

While I know providers like Telstra Wholesale and Optus Wholesale all provide Layer 2 products for resellers, I don’t know if they provide the all-in-one “Layer 3” product that many start-up RSPs need in order to get started. Start-up providers rely on these Layer 3 products and simply don’t have the funds or resources to buy and set up their own co-lo equipment and their own upstream bandwidth at the IX level.

Final thoughts

With Nextgen now out of the game, this leaves AAPT and (I think) M2 Wholesale in the running to attract RSPs for Layer 3 products. Despite ACCC’s intentions, the 121 POI decision has actually led to decreased competition at the wholesale aggregation level. Oops.

NBN Rollout Map: Newcastle (FTTN)

NBN Co releases FTTN map: but doesn’t distinguish between FTTP

A few minutes after midnight, on a dark and cold Monday morning — NBN Co released their latest update to the NBN rollout map showing areas that are part of the Fibre to the Node deployment trial. This was a long awaited update — speculated for a whole week before the map update. A full list of CSAMs can be found at the end of this post.

However, one of the striking issues when you first look at the map is… there’s no way to distinguish between an FTTN and an FTTP area. The following screenshot of the rollout map shows both an FTTP and FTTN rollout. The area labeled “B” is in build phase, and happens to be FTTP… but can you distinguish which technology is used in the other “P” sites?

NBN Rollout Map: Newcastle (FTTN)
FTTN or FTTP? The sites shaded green are a combination of both technologies!

Hopefully, NBN Co will eventually fix it up and let us know which technology is being rolled out in which areas 🙂


NBN Co’s irrational love for PDF

For a Government that criticised the former NBN Co management for not being transparent enough while in opposition, NBN Co is faring quite poorly to date under this new Government and new management… especially in the accessibility of information.

We’ve seen improvements and streamlining of metrics – moves I’m truly supportive of and commend. At the same time, however, we’re seeing a massive shift in information culture from NBN Co… and for the most part, it has left my head scratching. While I’m supportive of the publications of the weekly rollout metrics and the monthly rollout regions list, they’re both published in such a way that’s completely inaccessible and non-manipulable.

Take the 82 page long monthly rollout regions list, for example. For a list of that magnitude, NBN Co chose to publish the information in a PDF document… of all formats. If you compare this to other telecommunications providers, be-it Telstra (locally) or BT/Openreach (UK), they all use formats that make sense in the context. Long lists will always be published in an accessible format like an Excel spreadsheet or a CSV (comma-separated values) spreadsheet. The whole point of having these files is to be able to do quick filters, quick calculations and a quick understanding or overview of the rollout. But NBN Co’s illogical choice to use the PDF format defeats the whole purpose of the file. The irony in all of this is that the PDF file was exported from Microsoft Excel… yes, it was an Excel document to start with!

nbn™ publishes their weekly communities in rollout spreadsheet in PDF to annoy the shit out of people
nbn™ publishes their weekly communities in rollout spreadsheet in PDF to annoy the shit out of people

Likewise, the weekly rollout metrics is published in a PDF file – again. Having a grid of figures in a closed and inaccessible format is another layer of inconvenience deliberately designed by NBN Co for people who actually want to make use of the data. Your ordinary Australian is not going to go onto the NBN Co website to see how many premises were activated last week… that information is intended at analysts and for meeting Government objectives. But how is a PDF document of numbers a convenient format for analysts and followers of the NBN? The answer: it isn’t.

What we’re seeing from NBN Co is something quite unusual (in industry terms). On one hand, Government directives want them to be more transparent… on the other, they make it as inconvenient and as hard as possible for anyone to get anything useful out of the data they publish.

I still haven’t covered the data they’ve removed from their website, or the completely closed off spatial for network boundaries. Transparency at NBN Co can be improved so much if they just made data available to people in the format that is most logical for the intended audience… and PDF is clearly not here.

In my honest opinion, the culture of transparency has worsened at NBN Co, and I’m worried that it will only continue to deteriorate.

Senator Conroy SSCNBN

NBN hearing, now less of a cat-fight

The latest public hearing for the Select Senate Committee on the National Broadband Network convened in Canberra yesterday, and for the first time – the entire hearing seemed relatively productive and much less like a cat fight.

If you remember at the last Senate Budget Estimates hearing, the NBN Co hearing was abruptly stopped before its designated time slot had finished after the chair Senator John Williams insisted to end the session that had started earlier than scheduled.

While the makeup and the dynamics of this Select Senate Committee is vastly different from a Budget Estimates hearing, both NBN Co and the opposition senators are beginning to “give way” to one another.

NBN Co, under the leadership of 10 week new CEO Bill Morrow, has become far more open and helpful in these hearings compared with previous hearings where interim CEO Ziggy Switkowski led the way. Executives are beginning to loosen up, trying to find answers for Senators during the session rather than leaving everything “on notice”. They’re even throwing in the occasional joke for the public record. Perhaps too, the executives are beginning to settle into their roles and are being increasingly accustomed to the vigour and detail explored in these hearings – especially the questioning from Senator Conroy.

The tides are turning too, with opposition senators from both Labor and Greens recognising that Fibre to the Node has become a reality that is likely unstoppable for the near future. There appears to be a shift of questioning from continual criticism of the MTM NBN to a more technology-centric discussion about the “new” rollout technologies. Neither Conroy nor Ludlam agree with the MTM shift (they’ve simply accepted it as a fact); however, the friendlier side of both sides were definitely on show during this hearing.

Far more was learnt about the proposed product constructs for the NBN Copper Access Service (NCAS) and about the rollout trials than previously. The fact that the executives are opening up to more detailed questioning is great news.

It’s also been great to see Senator Ludlam step up his questioning for the executives. Recent appointment of Renai LeMay (founder of independent technology news site, Delimiter) as Parliamentary Business and Communications Advisor to Senator Scott Ludlam has certainly seen increased vigour in questioning by the tech-savy Greens senator who has always taken a unique perspective on questioning. I look forward to more questioning from Senator Ludlam.

Embedded below is a quick highlights reel of yesterday’s hearing:

Fibre pit hauling

Malcolm, FTTP was apolitical…

Despite repeated claims of by Minister of Communications, Malcolm Turnbull — the choice of the 93% Fibre to the Premises plan as chosen by the former Labor Government was not a “political” choice.

In a recent opinion piece by Minister Turnbull on ABC’s The Drum, he writes:

But it is critical to remember one very big difference between our Government and Labor’s on this matter. Labor made a thoroughly political decision to use FTTP for 93 per cent of the country – heedless of the economic consequences.

But anyone who remembers the original plan for the National Broadband Network was actually an Fibre to the Node network.

The original plan was to undergo a tender process to ask companies like Telstra, or Optus to propose a network construction. The proposal was that the Government would contribute $4.7 million dollars (by selling off the Government’s remaining Telstra shares) to the construction of the network.

Six companies submitted proposals, including six Acacia, Axia NetMedia, Optus on behalf of Terria, TransACT and the Tasmanian Government. However, the Government announced on the 6th April 2009 that they did not find any of the proposals satisfactory. “Deterioration of the economy” during the global financial crisis (GFC) was cited to be the root cause of this failed request for proposal (RFP) by then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Instead, it was announced that a Fibre to the Home (FTTH) network would be constructed by a Government-owned company, soon to be known as NBN Co.

How, I ask Malcolm Turnbull, is a failed request for proposal due to the global financial crisis a political decision? This one has seriously left my head scratching…