Australian fiber: A tale of two NBNs

Dylan Bushell-Embling
11 Apr 2013

A debate is raging in Australia over whether FTTN technology is a suitable replacement to the government's planned A$37.4 billion ($39.4 billion) FTTH national broadband network (NBN).

Opposition communications minister Malcolm Turnbull this week announced his long awaited policy proposal on an alternative NBN plan for if his party wins office in this year's election.

The plan involves using mostly FTTN in place of FTTH, with the last mile to be served by incumbent operator Telstra's existing copper network.

The network would provide speeds of at least 25Mbps to households. This compares to the 100Mbps-1Gbps to be offered via the current NBN.

Premises would be able to pay “several thousands” of dollars to replace the last-mile copper connection with fiber.

Turnbull estimates that this rollout would cost around A$20.4 billion and be completed two years earlier than the NBN's projected completion date.

The opposition has bundled its policy with a claim that the government's NBN project could cost as much as A$90 billion, contingent on certain cost overruns. It should be noted that Turnbull has for some time been asserting that an FTTP NBN could be built at a fraction of a cost of the FTTH NBN plan.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy fervently denied the A$90 billion figure, calling the opposition coalition a “fact-free zone,” Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Regardless, a number of technology experts have publicly asserted that Turnbull's plan would be inadequate for future broadband demands, and would likely end up costing far more than budgeted for, as the ageing copper last mile would have to be replaced eventually.

Turnbull has countered that it's more appropriate to build a network to support current broadband demands, and to upgrade based on future demands later, AAPreported.

But various other factors, including a requirement to re-negotiate Telstra's A$11 billion NBN deal, could also blow out the eventual costs of the Turnbull NBN network. It therefore seems disingenuous to compare the A$20.4 billion figure with the opposition's claimed A$90 billion estimate for the cost of the government's NBN plan.

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