nbn says Telstra's copper in better shape than expected

Fibre-to-the-distribution-point trials for remote-ish users, also future-profing option

FTTDP distribution point unit

nbn, the organisation building Australia's National Broadband Network, says the copper network it acquired from Telstra requires less remediation than it budgeted for.

At a press briefing today the nbn CEO Bill Morrow said he ordered a review of the state of the copper network.

“I had a team do a survey of pits out there,” he said. “They said on a per cent basis that the per cent [of copper requiring remediation] is almost half what we estimated.”

nbn has set aside funds for copper remediation, he added, and is currently “so far under budget on remediation compared to what the strategic review called for.”

And even if nbn's copper survey picked a poor sample of the network and remediation costs rise, Morrow said “there is a lot of buffer even if we are wrong in our estimates of the copper remediation.”

Morrow also outlined the organisation's belief that copper will play a long-term role in its services, thanks in part to a new technique called “fibre-to-the-distribution-point” (FTTdp).

FTTdp involves a small device placed in a pit and spliced onto a passing optical fibre, then connected tot he twisted pair of copper wires emerging from a home. The FTTdp “distribution point unit” (DPU) delivers VDSL to the home. Power is provided by the home, thanks to a special power plug.

nbn will trial FTTdp in 30 premises and feels it will be applicable to about 300,000 premises that are too expensive to serve with other technologies. In the future, it hopes that the combination of FTTdp and “skinny fibre” - a new method that makes it easier to bring fibre to the kerb, will offer an upgrade path for the twisted-pair based sections of the NBN. G.fast DPUs are apparently already on vendors' and silicon-developers' roadmaps.

Morrow made repeated reference to G.fast and other emerging technologies offering a roadmap for copper and said his recent consultations with other telcos around the world suggest there is no market in which demand for gigabit-per-second services is foreseeable. A blanket decision to build fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) therefore makes no sense, he said.

Which is not to say nbn is opposed to FTTP: your correspondent was shown three semi-rural premises where FTTP was chosen over fibre to the node on the basis of lower cost and swifter rollout. ®

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