NBN Co eyes new ways to fend off mobile challenge in apartment blocks

NBN Co executives say they are examining ways to address challenges faced by short-term renters, including potentially introducing an arrangement for broadband services similar to that offered by utilities for electricity.

Chief executive Stephen Rue said the company is “working on something” that may help boost the take-up of NBN services in so-called multi-dwelling units (MDUs), such as apartment blocks.

NBN Co chief customer officer for residential, Brad Whitcomb, last night told a Senate Estimates hearing that the company doesn’t have a minimum term commitment for services, so the retail service providers (RSPs) that sell services to end users are able to provide contract-free offerings to short-term residents.

“However, if we look at multi-dwelling unitshellip; which tend to have people coming in and out more frequently, we are looking from a product perspective of how we could make it easier when an end user comes in and have an always-on NBN service or something like that mdash; so it’s easy to come in and out,” the NBN Co executive said. Such an arrangement may make it easier for RSPs to sell services to apartment-dwellers, he said.

Whitcomb said that NBN Co had so far seen a lower-than-average take-up rate of services in MDUs. “The hypothesis is part of that is due to the transient nature of people that come in and come out, and to the extent that they need some connectivity it’s reasonable to assume more of those people are using mobile,” he said.

Offering the “ability to connect easier” is a way that NBN Co, which is a wholesale-only network operator, can potentially boost MDU services, Whitcomb said.

Rue said the company is in the early stages of developing a product to address the lower penetration of NBN services in MDUs. “We’re not quite at the stage where it is formulated enough into a clear plan thoughhellip; we’re still working on it,” Rue said.

Whitcomb said NBN Co was contemplating having services available when a new resident comes into an apartment, potentially offering two or three days of service free and unmetered to give them a chance to go online and sign-up to an RSP’s offering.

Rue said NBN Co will be discussing the idea with RSPs.

In-home wiring

Rue told the committee that NBN Co had made “significant progress” on improving customer experience. The chief executive said that the “next step change in customer experience” would involve addressing issues found in people’s homes, including wiring issues.

NBN Co’s responsibility for a connection and network performance ends at the boundary of a premises; however, the CEO said that since October the company had been running a trial involving installing a central splitter in selected homes to address problems with wiring.

“These were homes where we could see speed or reliability issues in all likelihood being caused through in-home issues,” Rue said.

“Initial results are promising,” he added. “After installing the splitter, for these selected homes, we have seen an average increase in attainable line rate of 11 megabits per second downstream and 3Mbps upstream. And for a subset of premises that were reporting instability in their service, approximately 70 per cent became stable after the work was completed.”

The trial has been extended until the end of March 2019.

Rue said NBN Co would use the data it gathered to “further refine the way we identify these premises while also sharing it with our retail partners, so they have the ability to improve the overall customer experience.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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