NBN: Lengthy wait for outcomes of FTTB, FTTN trials

So far no end users connected via FTTN

The outcomes of NBN Co's trials of fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) technology will shape the future of the National Broadband Network rollout, but what exactly those outcomes are won't be known for quite some time, according to the government-owned company's CEO.

No end users have been connected in NBN Co's trials of FTTN technology, the company's executives revealed today at a hearing of the Senate's NBN committee .

It's also "early days" for NBN Co's trial of fibre-to-the-building technology, according to Bill Morrow, although there are end users on the network connected via FTTB. NBN Co has been running the FTTB trial in conjunction with iiNet, M2, Optus and Telstra in eight high-rise buildings in Melbourne.

"We're still formulating the data right now," NBN Co's CEO said when pressed for information on the outcomes of the FTTB trial. NBN Co announced the FTTB trial in March this year.

Morrow told the hearing that in the case of the 1000-node test of FTTN that the NBN wholesaler is conducting in conjunction with Telstra, it could take six to 12 months before NBN Co has a well-rounded picture of how the technology will fare when rolled out nationally.

Similarly, it's "early days" for the FTTN trials in Umina and Epping, NBN Co COO Greg Adcock said.

Despite standing up a number of nodes, no end users have been connected during those two smaller FTTN trials (although NBN Co has conducted its own limited speed test in Umina, achieving download speeds of 105 megabits per second and upload speeds of 45Mbps).

Those two deployments "were very early construction trials", Adock told the committee. Getting access to Telstra's copper loops and power for the nodes had taken a considerable length of time Adock said.

"I don't believe that there has been any end user connected yet though I believe that is well advanced and is imminent," the COO said.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said that "it's remarkable" given the Coalition's long-standing support for FTTN and the election federal election in September that "it's now mid-July and you don't have a single customer on the grid".

In response NBN Co chief customer officer John Simon said that "before we could even really start building too much product, you want to make sure that you've got a deal with the people that own the copper, which is Telstra, so those deals are clearly being negotiated".

"Now that we feel more confident, in parallel we've started doing architecture work on fibre-to-the-building – that product has been through trials with end users connected so we understand how that's working.

"We are now building out our OSS and our IT systems and that will be ready for commercial launch, as we've communicated to the industry, for RSPs to be able to connect and use and sell that in February."

The software and IT systems built as part of NBN Co's FTTB offering will act as the "fundamental underpinning" for the FTTN product, Simon said.

Consulting with industry on the product architecture, service qualification around the copper and other issues meant that "it would be unlikely that you would ever get a product launched within 12 months of announcing such a fundamental change" to a project like the NBN.

FTTN is a "much larger project" than FTTB, Morrow said.

The 1000-node FTTN trial will take "six to 12 months for us to understand exactly how the planning, the design, the construction will go, what sort of IT systems need to be put in place," the CEO said.

"From that we can derive therefore what the economics would look like, but that's going to be far greater timeframe than fibre to the building," Morrow said.

"At this point we don't see any reason why we can't stick with the strategic review projections," Morrow told the hearing.

"There's nothing saying that we cannot meet those. However, until we get through the details associated with the [FTTN and FTTB trials] we cannot give you accurate information."

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