NBN plan sparks new facility for fibre specialists

 

The announcement of a homegrown National Broadband Network (NBN) has spurred on local fibre optics company Warren and Brown to build a $4.1m R&D and distribution facility in Melbourne.

Warren and Brown manufacture and distribute optical fibre termination products - "everything that sits between the telephone company and the house" in an FttH network, according to managing director Neil Domelow.

The company has supply contracts with telcos such as Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and AAPT, plus fibre optic manufacturers such as Corning.

Domelow says the $4.1 million investment is "sizeable, especially for an SME" with just 55 staff.

"Some people have said to us, we've either got big balls, or we're stupid," he joked. "I'd prefer to think it's the former."

Domelow said the company originally decided to expand into larger facilities "while the economy was powering ahead" and didn't anticipate the slowdown in business activity.

But market slumps aside, the company chose to take a risk.

"We saw that in the end, fibre to the home had to happen," said Neil Domelow, managing director at Warren and Brown. "We thought, if we're not in it, we won't get the pay off."

The company says the Rudd Government's ambitious plan to build its own National Broadband Network will create such high demand, the Australian fibre optics industry barely has the means to fulfil it.

Nor does Australia have enough of the necessary skills to build it, Domelow said.

"Four of our guys are experienced ex-Telstra engineers," he said. "The other three are experienced engineers from overseas. We had to poached from telcos overseas as they downscaled. There's going to be an enormous shortage in skills, that's inevitable."

Domelow's brother John, a member of the regional FttH Council, said the timing of Australia's FttP rollout will also be competing with optical fibre roll-outs in Malaysia and Singapore.

The new Warren and Brown facility is being built without any Government assistance.

"I'm down on my knees every day pleading with the [Victorian] State Government," said Neil Domelow. "We're always hopeful."

The new facility, based in the Western Melbourne suburb of Maidstone, is scheduled to open on June 29.


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