NBN will be cheaper than $43b: Nextgen chief Phil Sykes

The National Broadband Network (NBN) will cost “significantly” less than the proposed $43 billion price-tag, according to the head of the company responsible for the fibre rollout in regional 'blackspot' communities.

Nextgen networks was awarded the $250 million NBN regional backbone blackspot deal to rollout over 6,000 kilometres of fibre to regional areas with poor broadband infrastructure, one of the first stages of construction of the NBN project.

Since construction started on 17 February almost 3,000 km of fibre has been installed, according to Nextgen managing director, Phil Sykes.

The blackspots project is due to be completed by next September, and Sykes said that Nextgen's experience demonstrated the full NBN rollout could be completed for less than the initial $43 billion cost proposed by communications minister, Stephen Conroy and the Labor government.

Sykes could not provide an exact figure but said it would cost “significantly less”.

“It's not going to cost $43 billion. The engineering and design capability of this country will bring it in much under that, I can guarantee you,” Sykes said. “The technical capability to get the fibre in the ground in this country is really strong."

Nextgen is on track to complete the rollout by next September Sykes said, and has already mobilised thousands of people including 200 fibre designers, has three fibre optic cable plants are operating at full capacity, and has signed 2,200 land access agreements with councils, Indigenous groups and “sometimes unfriendly farmers”.

“That collection of expertise, is something we mobilised very quickly and my comment about the NBN being built very quickly, I think that sort of expertise - not just ours - but when the industry's been mobilised, we'll see some great outcomes.”

However he admitted there are different requirements for the fibre rollout in the metropolitan areas.

“The backhaul is easier, there's no question, we have 200 fibre designers designing this now, yes that needs to be backed up by a factor of ten," he said.

Sykes made the comments yesterday at the Nextgen's Melbourne headquarters yesterday, when the networking company demonstrated capability to transfer data at 100Gbps (gigabits per second) over fibre.

The technology essentially works by using a new technique to manipulate the lights beams transmitted over fibre, which allows more bits of data to be sent down with each packet.

The building blocks for this technology are being installed as part of Nextgen's blackspot rollout, but initially only the 10Gbps capacity will be available. This can be upgraded to 100Gbps as demand grows, Sykes said.

The blackspots rollout will provide an improvement in infrastructure before the NBN rollout reaches the regional areas, Sykes said, and Nextgen has already signed a number of ISPs to deliver services.

“We've already signed some ISPs to go places where we haven't turned fibre on yet. They're going to be DSLAM in there maybe three to four years before radio or fibre gets there, and they will have then got the customers and cut them over to NBN.

“It's a modest investment to get fibre into Australia, it has this multiplier effect to those regional communities,” he said.

Sykes hopes that Nextgen has proven its credentials to handle the more lucrative which will come during the construction of the $43 billion NBN.

“There's a huge number more [of blackspots]," he said. "This was probably a bit of a test, the government wanted to test itself, could it get something delivered through the industry."

"It was a test for us to make sure we deliver on the timeframe and capability that's required, and hopefully that will keep us and governments in good stead to take a further step and roll out competitive infrastructure."


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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