Opinion: No more Telstra copper complicates ‘fibre-ready' plan

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Opinion: No more Telstra copper complicates ‘fibre-ready' plan

Don't make wireless broadband the new RIM.

Telstra's decision to stop deploying copper has substantially weakened a concession made by the Federal Government to the housing developers just a fortnight ago.

iTnews reported then that the Government had introduced a ‘fibre-ready' status option for greenfields estates that effectively handed Communications Minister Stephen Conroy discretion to exempt estates of his choosing from the expense of deploying fibre networks.

"A strong message from our consultations has been that if fibre cannot be immediately installed, there is benefit in having fibre-ready infrastructure installed so that fibre can be more readily and cost-effectively rolled out in the future," Senator Conroy told a gathering at Whittlesea Council in Victoria.

It meant estate developers would need only to deploy "ducting, pits and plinths for splitters" rather than pay an installer to lay the fibre.

But estates granted that exemption can no longer fall back on Telstra to get phone and internet services over copper in the interim in the wake of Telstra's decision to stop deploying it.

Residents will instead have to turn to wireless services - and potentially invest in femto or pico-cell technology that works over small areas to strengthen the signal - until NBN fibre is deployed in the empty pits and pipes in the estate.

"[Wireless] is effectively treated as a variant of the scenario of providing a copper solution and fibre-ready infrastructure with this to be later retrofitted with fibre," the Government said in explanatory notes attached to its greenfields legislation.

Interim wireless

In the absence of copper, it's unclear how favourable fibre-ready estates with interim wireless will now appear to the Government.

There is no doubt that phone services could be provided wirelessly.

Telstra already meets its universal service obligation in estates where a rival had already deployed fibre by offering a 'fixed' phone service that runs on its Next G network. (The obligation does not specify technology.)

But the same could not be said for broadband, which suffers speed degradation in congested wireless cells.

And the Government was wary of this potential outcome in its legislative explanatory notes.

"It is estimated that the per premises cost of [interim wireless] would be less than that of an interim copper solution but it would not be able to support high demand for high-speed broadband services over an extended period," the Government said.

Minimum option

Another reason for concern is that the figures aren't good when it comes to developers doing more than the minimum asked of them from a telecommunications perspective in greenfields estates.

For developers, deploying fibre-to-the-home is about $2500 a lot. Prior to Telstra's announcement, copper was free.

In its explanatory notes, the Government wrote that about 11,000 dwellings had fibre-to-the-home connections as of last December but they were in the minority compared to the 150,000 houses and 60,000 other buildings built each year.

Without free copper, the new minimum for developers is to apply for an exemption from the greenfields fibre mandate rules due to come into effect on July 1, have Telstra dig fibre-ready pits and pipes and leave residents to use wireless until NBN Co comes into the estate.

The question is, how many developers who previously chose copper over fibre and who face the reality it is no longer free will go with the new minimum option?

Answer: as many as are granted an exemption by the Communications Minister.

Granting too many exemptions could condemn another swathe of broadband users to the same fate as those stuck on remote integrated multiplexers or RIM systems. That is, waiting for the NBN before they get broadband.

Telstra's decision to end copper before the NBN is available is, at the least, reason for the Government to clarify the fibre-ready proposal and the extent to which it operates when the only access technology is wireless.

What do you think? Would you buy a new home if the only telecommunication option was a wireless network?

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