Telstra backs out of Melbourne’s Chancellor Estate

Ry Crozier | Aug 7, 2009 3:03 PM
Copper rollout stalls after rival gets fibre deal.

Telstra will not roll copper into the Chancellor housing estate at University Hill near Melbourne despite deploying copper to about 60 percent of the suburb.

University Hill's development's project director, MAB Corporation's Jason Woods, told iTnews that Telstra was engaged to provide a copper network to the community.

Telstra rolled out copper to an office building and the first two stages of the town centre.

But MAB's decision to allow Opticomm to lay fibre in a separate conduit in the community allegedly led Telstra to change its tune.

"We have a 400-lot residential subdivision within University Hill called the Chancellor Estate, which is being developed by our partner Sunland Group," Woods said.

"When we decided to go with [Opticomm] fibre in there, Telstra decided not to provide copper into that particular aspect of the [University Hill] project."

A Telstra spokesman confirmed "no Telstra network has been built in the Sunland part of University Hill.

"[But] we are currently deploying conventional network into the remainder (MAB portion) of University Hill," the spokesman said.

The story appears to mirror that of the Prince Henry estate developed by Landcom NSW. Pivit revealed last week that Telstra had "elected not to deploy [copper] infrastructure in the estate" once it was clear Pivit had won the right to roll out fibre.

Unlike Landcom NSW, MAB didn't dig dual conduits of its own accord for "flexibility" but rather because the City of Whittlesea council - which covers University Hill - required it.

The council claimed to be "the first municipality in [the year] 2000 to require property developers to lay empty conduit in new developments ready for the day when fibre optic cable could be pulled through it".

"At that stage it didn't mean a lot to us and probably still doesn't mean a lot to many developers," Woods said.

"We started to educate ourselves and understand what fibre was about and what it meant for MAB and residents."

Woods said MAB "didn't want to be locked in with any one retailer". It chose open access network builder Opticomm to lay fibre in the second set of pits and pipes.

"All new buildings in the estate will have fibre-to-the-premises," Opticomm's general manager Phil Smith said.

"There's also a fibre over-build for that 60 percent [that have access to Telstra's copper] but we expect and find the majority of people take up the newer fibre services."

Woods said "only a small proportion of houses" would have a choice of fibre and copper. Most would be fibre-only - but that opened residents to consumer services from the likes of Internode, iiNet, Adam Internet, iPrimus, Exetel and Cirrus Communications.

University Hill was particularly challenging because it was already partially built before a fibre builder was engaged.

"We had several office buildings already up, along with a couple of stages of the town centre and we were well on the way to completing a residential block of 41 apartments [when we engaged Opticomm]," Woods said.

Smith said the estate's complexity was also a result of the different needs of its "mixed bag of customers".

"At a residential level, we're going to be providing a bitstream service off a gigabit passive optical network but when it comes to business there's going to be a mixed bag of wholesale access services," he said.

"They want either open access lit fibre services on a point-to-point basis or to light up their own network with their own provider, which means we also have to have a dark fibre service offering [in the estate]."

Uecomm, Nextgen, Pipe and Nextep all had agreements with Opticomm to provide business-grade services.

Michael Johannessen, principal management consultant at NEC Australia, which supplied the passive optical network to the estate, said there was "a lot of political interest" in University Hill that he said highlighted issues the NBNCo might face in future brownfields fibre rollouts.

Read parts one and two of iTnews investigation into FTTx greenfields estates.