Labor hints at FTTdp NBN election policy

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Labor hints at FTTdp NBN election policy

Full fibre too hard.

The Labor Party's recent positioning on the NBN indicates it is preparing to release an election policy centred on the rollout of fibre-to-the-distribution point technology.

Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare fronted the CommsDay summit in Sydney today to continue his party's attack on the Coalition government's multi-technology mix NBN.

While citing the recent multitude of leaked documents coming out of NBN Co that reveal issues with the MTM rollout, Clare hinted that his party's yet-to-be-released election policy would favour fibre-to-the-distribution point technology.

Under the original, Labor-led version of the NBN, Australian homes and businesses were to receive fibre directly to their front door.

However, the network has changed to a mix of access technologies - made up predominantly of fibre-to-the-node/basement and hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC), alongside FTTP, satellite, fixed wireless and now FTTdp - since the Coalition came to power in 2013.

NBN last month revealed it would undertake a 30-premises trial of FTTdp - coupled with skinny fibre - in order to iron out any issues ahead of a planned longer term deployment to potentially 300,000 premises.

Unlike FTTP - in which fibre is run all the way to an end user's premise - an FTTdp deployment involves fibre being run to the front of a home or business, using an existing copper cable for the lead-in. A distribution point unit, powered by the premise, connects the fibre to the copper. 

Yesterday, speaking at the same summit, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield claimed Clare in recent times had been "softening up" the public for a change from Labor's FTTP stance to FTTdp.

Without directly addressing the comments, Clare today pointed out that NBN's trials of FTTdp had shown the cost difference between that access technology and FTTN was minimal.

"NBN Co has conceded that the cost of rolling out fibre to the pit out the front of your house is now almost the same cost as fibre to the node,” Clare said.

“The difference is currently about $400. According to NBN Co, fibre to the node is now $1600 per home and the cost of fibre to the pit out the front of your house is $2000 per home."

He argued that while seemingly cheaper, the $1600 figure per FTTN premise did not take into account copper maintenance, electricity costs and potential future upgrades - concerns that wouldn't need to be addressed with FTTdp.

“Fibre to the driveway provides download speeds that are up to 10 times faster than Malcolm Turnbull’s fibre to the node network,” Clare said.

“Given this, if NBN Co can roll out fibre almost to your front door for almost the same cost as fibre to the node and give you much higher speeds – why aren’t they doing it?”

Clare said the FTTN rollout should be stopped as soon as possible in favour of FTTdp, "or even better, fibre to the premises".

In a March interview with Sky News, Clare similarly stopped short of commenting directly on Labor's impending NBN election policy but said FTTdp could deliver faster internet speeds at almost the same price of FTTN deployment.

Clare did not respond for requests for detail on his party's NBN election policy.

FTTP too hard

Analysts say the rollout has progressed too far for Labor to try to go back to a full-fibre network, but argue fibre-to-the-distribution point could help the party save face and costs.

"When you look at 2016 and beyond, FTTdp makes perfect sense," telco analyst Paul Budde said.

"Anything that is already FTTN they obviously can't change overnight - that will need to run its course - but where FTTN has not yet been implemented and where it's possible, my guess is they will pursue some sort of FTTdp policy."

"If they got into power and went straight back to FTTP, there'd be a year or two of delay," telco analyst Ian Martin of New Street Research said.

"All the work that's been done - area by area design, preparations, contracts and so on - are on the basis of FTTN and HFC. To go back and redesign each area for FTTP will be a very long lead time."

Budde said an FTTdp setup allowed for the easy extension of fibre to the house and provided more than sufficient speeds while avoiding some of the costs of building out an FTTP network.

"If you've got a few billion dollars spare, great, but there are clearly costs involved and money is an issue," Budde said.

"If you want to reduce the amount of money you spend, you can not block the road to FTTP and provide 50Mbps to 100Mbps speeds and allow people to link fibre to their home [through FTTdp]."

However, Martin was less convinced that FTTdp was the golden bullet.

"It's not commercially demonstrated yet, it's still in its infancy. These things needs to be established globally before you get economies of scale. It won't figure in until 2018 or 2019," he said.

"I think along the line it's an aspiration and a quicker upgrade path to FTTP, but to get to 2020 [the NBN] will need to be a mix of FTTN and HFC."

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