Tasmanian towns trial NBN fibre extension

The seven stage 2 National Broadband Network sites in Tasmania will be first to trial a community-funded extension of the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) footprint beyond the 93 per cent currently mandated by government.

Network wholesaler, NBN Co, this week awarded the construction contract to Lend Lease subsidiary Conneq, with staged building across the seven sites between May and October this year. A total of 11,150 premises were chosen for the second stage of building on the island with coverage areas of between 500 and 2200 premises at each site.

However, in some areas, the fibre serving area has excluded nearby properties, relegating them to either fibre connection at a later date, or wireless technologies.

Coverage maps released this week by NBN Co subsidiary NBN Tasmania indicate which built-up areas are likely to be included as part of the fibre rollout.

The trial, endorsed by the Federal Government in its statement of expectations, would allow individuals, groups or surrounding councils to pay for an extension of the fibre footprint beyond the area specified, rather than receiving the fixed wireless and satellite access technologies.

Elements of the trial are still in development, but the cost of extending the fibre footprint is likely to depend on provisioning further exchange space, as well as rolling out additional fibre.

NBN Co chief executive, Mike Quigley, noted to a Parliamentary inquiry the frustration felt by those living close to, but outside, the fibre boundaries set in planning for the network rollout.

“They see a fibre they say ‘there it is, why can’t they just drop it in to me' ... you just can’t do that in an engineering sense,” he said.

However, he said the cost per subscriber under the fibre rollout escalated exponentially after the 93rd percentile currently under NBN Co’s remit for the $36 billion network.

The network was initially designed to reach 90 per cent of Australian premises with fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) technology when first announced, but was later extended prior to the federal election last year to meet an additional three per cent - or approximately 600,000 premises - based on recommendations in the $25 implementation study by McKinsey Co with KPMG.

Calls for extension of the fibre footprint in some areas has come as a result of increasing frustration from Tasmanian communities over the lack of communication from NBN Co.

In particular, the areas of Bell Bay, Meander Valley and the East Tamar region in the mid-north of the state were vocal in their issues with the rollout, particularly as they were close to George Town, one of the towns selected as part of the second stage rollout.

George Town mayor, Doug Burt, told Computerworld Australia that the council had received assurances Bell Bay and nearby Low Head would receive fibre as part of NBN Co's initial plans. As a result, the council hadn't needed to consider funding footprint expansion.

"Our information was that Bell Bay will follow on from the George Town rollout, there'll be two separate stages after the completion of George Town," he said.

Quigley was forced to defend the benefits of the fixed wireless and satellite technologies on offer to those outside of fibre serving areas, which have been identified by some as inferior solutions for the bush.

“What we’ve developed over the last seven per cent ... these are radically improved services over what people would be getting today,” he said.

“People in the bush, in the seven per cent, will get services that are at least equivalent to what people can get in cities on ADSL2 connections today.”

Where fibre services are guaranteed to reach speeds of 100 or more megabits per second (Mbps), both fixed wireless and satellite services would likely peak at 12Mbps, roughly equivalent to the peak speeds experienced by many ADSL2+ users.

In contract to current services, however, Quigley said the wireless offerings would be dimensioned to handle much higher bandwidth rates during peak use than ADSL.

Where the copper-based internet technology is currently dimensioned for average busy hour throughput of 70 kilobits per second, fixed wireless and satellite would be dimensioned to operate at 500 kilobits and 300 kilobits per second, respectively.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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