NBN, the company rolling out the national broadband network, has defended the capabilities of fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) technology.In a blog post, Tony Brown, NBN public affairs manager, stated the NBN is “supercharging existing copper network lines and pay-TV cables”.
“NBN is also working to deliver high-speed broadband to Australia up to eight years sooner and for $20 billion less of taxpayers’ money than if we had continued down the path of a predominantly all-fibre network,” Brown wrote.
“And yet in some circles there remains scepticism about the ability of fibre-to-the node (FTTN) in particular to deliver on that promise.”
Yesterday, Shadow Minister for Communications Jason Clare told attendees at the CommsDay Melbourne congress that the NBN’s FTTN technology “will be gone”, with it being a question of when not if it will happen.
“Decades from now I am sure we will look back and wonder what this debate about fibre and copper was all about,” Clare commented.
“And that’s because the network we will be using will be essentially a fibre network. Fibre-to-the-node will be gone. It’s not a question of if this will happen. It’s when it will happen and how it will be done.”
While Labor had envisaged 93 per cent of Australian premises being connected via fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), the current version of the NBN has 20 per cent of premises connected via FTTP, 38 per cent via FTTN or fibre-to-the-basement, and 34 per cent via hybrid-fibre coaxial.
“I have been talking to some contractors in the field recently to get a feel for how good the copper network is, and how much of it needs work or needs to be replaced,” Clare stated. “They have told me that NBN’s working assumption is that 10 per cent of copper pairs in fibre-to-the-node areas will need remediation.
“But in places like Newcastle and the Central Coast, closer to 90 per cent of the copper pairs have needed work. In some places the copper is so bad it has to be replaced. Replacing old copper … with new copper.
“One contractor told me in Newcastle and the Central Coast 10 to 15 per cent of the copper lines are having lengths replaced. And this is not just happening in Newcastle or the Central Coast – another contractor told me in Campbelltown in Sydney that NBN has had to recently replace almost 3 kilometres of old copper with new copper.”
Brown, however, wrote that arguments about the performance of FTTN often boil down to “anecdotal evidence about the state of the existing copper lines in the street”, with much of this evidence “misleading or just plain wrong”.
“The reality is that even in our FTTN deployment we are already replacing the majority of copper running from the exchange to end-user premises,” he wrote. “Yet the copper that runs from the street cabinet to the home is being left in place.
“So far, in our FTTN deployment we have not had to replace any copper – or perform any substantial remediation work – to the copper running from our street cabinets to end-user premises with new fibre.
“All we have had to do so far is very basic work in removing bridge-taps – basically redundant copper lines – in order to optimise network performance.”
Brown added that having to carry out very little remediation work “is the beauty of the technology”.
“To date, we have not had to replace substantial lengths of existing copper with new copper, what we have been doing is necessary work compressing copper at the street pillars (located next to our street cabinets) in order to enhance network performance,” he wrote, adding that “conducting this type of work does not constitute ‘replacing the copper'”.
Brown wrote that the lines themselves are being left in place, with NBN, for example, “replacing two lots of 100 pair cables with a 200 pair cable in order to free up ports”.