NBN Co charts course in uncertain waters

NBN Co forecasts 480k active users on the National Broadband Network in 2015

NBN Co has used its updated corporate plan, dated 11 November but released for public scrutiny today, to outline ambitious targets for the rollout of the National Broadband Network in its 2015 financial year. But it has also noted significant areas of uncertainty as the government-owned corporation continues its transition to a new model for the NBN rollout.

The 2014-17 corporate plan (PDF), which covers the period from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2017, forecasts the number of premises with active fixed line and satellite services to more than double in FY2015 compared to FY2014.

In the 2014 financial year there were 210,628 premises activated (that is, premises where NBN Co has received a provisioning order from a service provider); that figure itself was three times the previous year's total.

In FY2015, NBN Co is forecasting 481,000 premises activated and 1.03 million premises serviceable. CEO Bill Morrow inititally outlined the goals in late August when he delivered a report on NBN Co's full year results.

However, the corporate plan notes that NBN Co is dealing with a number of 'known unknowns': Those include the outcome of negotiations with Telstra, striking agreements on achieving access to Optus and Telstra's hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) networks, the ability to ramp up rollout of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and fixed wireless services, the deployment at-scale of fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) services, and government reaction to the Scales and Vertigan reviews.

Although NBN Co has now officially scrapped the FTTP-based NBN blueprint of the former Labor government, the company has acknowledged it still has a significant amount of work to do on the detail of the so-called 'Multi-Technology Mix' (MTM).

"NBN Co is not yet in a position to generate projections with a reasonable level of confidence for FY2016 and FY2017," the corporate plan notes.

Implementing the recommendations of the two NBN Co strategic reviews — one focussing on the fixed line rollout and the other on the deployment of fixed wireless and satellite — as well as the government's statement of expectations "requires making assumptions about future outcomes that carry high levels of uncertainty at the time of publishing the 2014-17 Corporate Plan," the document states.

As a result, the current plan, "should be viewed as a transition plan for NBN Co".

An updated plan to be released next year will fill in some of the blanks.

Because of the significant areas of uncertainty, outside of forecasts for the next 12 months NBN Co has relied on the assumptions in 'Scenario 6' in the fixed line strategic review — the scenario the government has instructed NBN Co to implement.

For example, for the number of premises covered by each type of technology in the multi-technology mix, NBN Co has just listed the strategic review's projections.

"NBN Co will undertake further planning during the course of FY2015 to inform the mix of technologies covering the period of this Corporate Plan," the document notes.

"This baseline will be periodically reviewed and learnings integrated as more information becomes available.

"It should also be noted that the mix of technologies deployed under the MTM will likely be influenced by a range of factors, including the outcomes of the current negotiations with Telstra and Optus with regards to the Copper and HFC Cable Networks, industry and regulatory outcomes, the condition of the Copper and HFC Cable Networks, construction resources and NBN Co’s capabilities.

"Given the complexity associated with projects of the size and scale of the NBN, and the stage of progress in the project to date, it is possible that the technology mix will be different as the project progresses."

As part of implementing the new vision for the NBN, NBN Co has already begun pilots of FTTN and fibre-to-the-basement technology rollouts.

NBN Co is still in the process of developing new products based on FTTN, FTTB and HFC. Earlier this year the company began industry consultation on FTTN and FTTB and it will carry out a similar consultation on HFC.

In FY2015 NBN Co is planning "Pilots / Trials of the FTTN/B and HFC product variants, as well as the initial releases of these products".

"The exact launch timings for the FTTN/B and HFC products are still being decided and will be presented to the industry as soon as possible," the plan notes.

"The launch timings will be dependent upon concluding negotiations with a number of third parties and executing a number of agreements."

The publishing of the new corporate plan follows from the release last week of the broad principles that will guide NBN Co's rollout of an MTM NBN. That plan killed off the rollout of FTTP except for greenfields and those areas where FTTP construction is significantly advanced.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p