Nine Armidale residents have been offered free broadband services over the National Broadband Network with unlimited downloads as part of Vodafone's first trials of the fibre network.
By Christmas these customers, current mobile customers with the telco, will be testing Vodafone Australia's first fixed-line broadband product.
The company has spent seven months since signing NBN trial agreements establishing the necessary internal infrastructure and undergoing on-boarding tests with NBN Co to prepare the trials.
Vodafone will ultimately use the network to provide both fixed-line services and operate a backhaul link to mobile base stations.
Over the next three to four months, the telco hopes to expand the trial to 30 or 40 volunteers across Armidale, Kiama and Brunswick before deciding how to price services and install connections for customers.
The telco will test the network at each of the NBN's four speed tiers, plus a unicast version of fetchtv IPTV services.
The company also plans to trial its Vodafone Expand femtocell service over the network, which combines femtocell devices to expand indoor mobile coverage with a fixed-line residental broadband connection acting as backhaul.
Vodafone joins Telstra as the only two service providers offering services in NBN trial services for free since wholesaler NBN Co turned on commercial services in October this year.
Vodafone's head of broadband strategy, Klaas Raaijmakers, said the company had already learnt significantly from the process.
"We're used to people buying a mobile and walking out working," he told iTnews.
"In Armidale, with the first group of customers, we're doing the [customer premises equipment] installation ourselves, whereas in Kiama in January we're looking to provide a self-install option."
The company will continue to use much of the back-end infrastructure already in place for mobile services for the fixed-line services, but Raaijmakers said some additional infrastructure would ultimately be required as its customer base grows.
Customers will be supported by a small, trained team of support staff from Vodafone's call centre in Kingston, Tasmania. Raaijmakers would not be drawn on how many more would be employed.
Communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy was supportive of Vodafone's move.
"Contrary to claims that the NBN is anti-competitive, Vodafone’s decision to enter the fixed line services market demonstrates that structural reform is increasing retail service competition leading to a more dynamic and innovative market," he said.
“Attracting a new fixed line operator demonstrates the value of the NBN as an open access, wholesale-only provider."
Mobile backhaul trials next year
The NBN is also expected to provide a cheap backhaul option for Vodafone's mobile base stations, replacing microwave backhaul where possible.
Raaijmakers said the company has been working with NBN Co on tailoring the wholesaler's planned business-grade services.
"For us to be able to use an NBN service for backhaul, we have different requirements than a consumer-grade product," he said.
The telco would effectively purchase a small business or enterprise retail service for each connected base station. The first set of services are expected for trials mid-next year, providing higher service level guarantees over residential services as well as committed bandwidth.
By 2013, the NBN plans to offer enterprise and point-to-point ethernet services boasting symmetric services up to 40 Mbps and a separate, peak speed capability of burst bandwidth.