The end of an era: FTTP rollout comes to an end

Multi-Technology Mix replaces the full Fibre to the Premises rollout

It’s been known for some time that the Fibre to the Premises rollout will come to a head. As expected after the introduction of the Multi-Technology Mix (MTM) rollout strategy as directed by the Government’s Statement of Expectations to nbn™, the FTTP rollout era is expected to end next month in June. According to the 18 month rollout plan released to service providers in March, there will be no more FSAMs (Fibre Serving Area Modules) expected to commence build beyond June 2015 encompassing a “pure” Fibre to the Premises rollout.

The past two months (March and April) saw a consecutive lows of 4 FSAMs entering into build preparation phase. The 19,900 lucky premises over the past two months are one of the final groups of communities to get the full FTTP rollout. Provided that nbn™ doesn’t remove them from the map again, these areas are expected to commence build within the next 2 months.

One final rollout region, somewhere in the Wollongong Fixed-Line Serving Area, is expected to be the final FSAM to enter into the build preparation phase this month and appear on the rollout map in June. From there on in, it is expected that nbn™ will transition to the MTM, dropping the word “Fibre” from “Fibre Serving Area Module”, releasing Service Area Modules (SAMs) that will encompass multiple technologies in a single module.

Table 1: Possibily the final 9 FSAMs entering build preparation before MTM rollout hits full swing

Fibre Serving Area Modules Localities Premises Preparation commenced
6APP-07 Bull Creek 2100 Mar 15
6MDR-09 Halls Head 2400 Mar 15
6VIC-10 East Victoria Park, Bentley 2000 Mar 15
8KTH-01 Emungalan, Katherine, Katherine East, Katherine South, Lansdowne, Uralla, Cossack 3100 Mar 15
2NWR-06 Cambewarra Village, Bomaderry 3100 Apr 15
2PTH-11 Cranebrook 2000 Apr 15
5CPK-02 Colonel Light Gardens, Lower Mitcham, Lynton, Panorama, Torrens Park, Clapham 2800 Apr 15
9QBN-08 Queanbeyan West, Jerrabomberra 2400 Apr 15
2WLG-?? ?? ?? May 15 (?)

The end of an era

The plan to roll out Fibre all the way to 93% of Australian premises would have put Australia in the forefront of the 21st century with ubiquitous, next-generation connectivity to homes and business around Australia. For once, a Government was crazy enough to think that Australia had a chance to lead in the 21st century.

But Governments change, and policies change with them. While each plan may seem to have their own merits, what we know for sure is that lowered rollout standards (set out in the current Government’s Statement of Expectations to nbn™) will mean that Australia’s Internet will again be limited by the actions of a nationwide fixed-line telecommunications monopoly.

With a fully fledged Fibre to the Premises rollout, a 10x, 100x, 1000x bandwidth upgrade is as simple swapping out the “exchange” and selected end user equipment. But now with FTTN/B and HFC in the Multi-Technology Mix, nbn™ will have the sole power to respond to increasing bandwidth requirements by investment, and we can only hope they don’t do what Telstra did in the past.

Not the original plan, but FTTP solved “the Telstra issue”

While it wasn’t the original plan of the first Rudd-government to build an FTTP network, an anti-competitive and less than cooperative privatised Telstra who monopolised fixed-line telecommunications in Australia forced the Government to be innovative. The Government ditched the original plan for an open-tender Fibre to the Node network, with a Government-owned company overbuilding the existing network to bypass Telstra.

With a new plan — the NBN, Mark II, the threat of a Government-owned Enterprise building a Fibre network across Australia, overbuilding Telstra’s copper network, forced the company to cooperate and finally structurally separate into a Retail and Wholesale company. The plan that forced Telstra to cooperate through the newly established NBN Co back in 2009 allowed the current Government to enact their current plan for a Fibre to the Node rollout. Regardless of whether you currently have the NBN, without the groundwork set back almost two election cycles ago, the current broadband landscape in Australia will be vastly less competitive and may still be dominated by Telstra retail. At least now, there is some competition in the ADSL2+ business.

Fibre still a part of the rollout

Fibre to the Premises is one of the many technologies that the MTM rollout will utilise. While nbn™ is unlikely to roll out entire areas with a pure-FTTP infrastructure, the company will commence a “patchy rollout” on an ADA-by-ADA basis (Access Distribution Area). Examples of these may include Greenfield (new) developments, areas where the copper is not up to scratch for Fibre to the Node, or industrial areas.

Depending whether or not you live in a Government-held seat or a politically expedient business area, you may also be considered for a full Fibre rollout. An example of this is the Norwest Business Park where the Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull recently announced a full fibre area. A quote from the website of the local member, Alex Hawke, said:

Under the nbn deployment principles, published in November, the company has identified areas with a high number of business customers to prioritise in the rollout.

What’s on the horizon

Fibre to the Node

Fibre to the Node is coming hard and fast. Over 130 thousand Fibre to the Node premises are expected to be switched on by the end of the year. At first, all these premises will be speed limited to reduce interference with existing ADSL and phone services. But once the services are turned up to “full speed”, nbn™ anticipates that most premises will be able to get at least 25 mbps download speeds with a target of 90% of premises getting at least 50 mbps. The variability in copper line length, signal interference, dodgy lines or rain is the main concern of any DSL deployment. The only way to solve it is replacing the copper and bringing the nodes closer to the end user’s house. These come at great costs to nbn™, and no doubt, they would be reluctant to invest any more than they need.

HFC (internet over cable TV)

HFC internet delivered over the cable TV network is coming early next year. Like FTTN, initially it will have greatly limited spectrum and limited speeds. After a few years when Telstra and Optus finally moves their customers over to the NBN, nbn™ will have access to a greater spectrum — hopefully opening up the a shared capacity of up to 1gbps using DOCSIS 3.1 amongst the entire neighbourhood. But herein lies the issue of shared capacity. With a whole neighbourhood, varying from 100 to 1000 premises, sharing a limited capacity… the increasing bandwidth requirements of a modern society will eventually break the technology’s limits again… and require another upgrade at great cost to nbn™. The question is: will they invest when there’s the need, or will Australia be left in broadband backwater again?

The great CVC debate

While it’s hidden away from most customers, one very important and upcoming concern with the NBN will be the CVC (Connectivity Virtual Circuit) charge that nbn™ charges service providers to deliver services to end users. The current pricing model is prohibitive and may lead to significantly higher costs for consumers thanks to the recent pick up of video streaming services like Netflix, Presto and Stan.

With nbn™ commencing phase 2 of their revised product pricing consultation, I’m anticipating major changes in the CVC front within the next 12 months. The current models are just not sustainable.

Kenneth Tsang

I'm the author of jxeeno™ blog and co-founder of I'm a bit of an #NBN and public transport geek. You can normally find me juggling work and my studies at UNSW where I'm currently completing a degree in Geospatial Engineering.