NBN Co is planning a major re-tuning of its fixed wireless network, cutting back on the uplink in order to push maximum possible downlink speeds out to 75Mbps.
The plan was presented to industry on Wednesday afternoon as part of a briefing on new fixed wireless pricing, which comes into effect Monday.
The change could occur in as little as a year, iTnews can reveal.
During the presentation, NBN Co revealed a three-year roadmap to dozens of industry representatives for how it plans to turn around issues on its fixed wireless network.
The network builder has been under pressure to fix performance problems for the past year, and has been particularly dogged with criticism over the way it addresses congestion - largely acting only when all users in a cell receive an average 6Mbps down or less in the busiest hour.
NBN Co is currently investing in remediation work to decongest the worst-performing cells.
But in the mid-term, the company is hoping that major changes to its fixed wireless speed tier structure - and to the fixed wireless network itself - will have the biggest impact.
CEO Bill Morrow revealed the substance of the speed tier structure change during an earnings call yesterday.
Within a year, the company is proposing to create a new product offering called ‘Fixed Wireless MAX’.
Unlike the current wholesale structure, where users pay for standard 12/1, 25/5 or 50/20Mbps tiered services, MAX would be a best-effort service offered to all users.
This would have the effect of making the fixed wireless network operate like a standard mobile network, where speeds between users can vary wildly.
NBN Co is proposing some safeguards: Morrow said there would be a performance “minimum” set, though what this is hasn’t been explained.
MAX would, however, top out at peak wholesale speeds up to 60/20Mbps based on the current configuration of the fixed wireless network.
It is understood that MAX is proposed to come in at a wholesale cost of $45 a month and come bundled with the standard 2Mbps of connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) bandwidth.
However, iTnews can reveal that MAX is not the endgame for fixed wireless.
Rather, the endgame that was presented to industry on Wednesday afternoon involves a restructure of the fixed wireless network itself.
After the network configuration is changed - which is given a timeline of being between 12 and 36 months away - it will be expected to support wholesale downlink speeds of up to 75Mbps.
However, this will come at the expense of the uplink, which will shrink to a maximum of up to 10Mbps.
Current 50/20 product to be axed
A direct consequence of this will be that the current top tier on fixed wireless - which has a 25-50/5-20Mbps profile, aka the 50/20 product - will cease to exist.
NBN Co outlined to industry that the 50/20 plan would stop being supported and that the company ultimately hoped to withdraw it.
One reason it wants to do this is because it considers the MAX plan to be an appropriate replacement, given MAX will theoretically be possible to attain a similar speed profile (depending on conditions in the cell).
New $45 plans to go ahead
NBN Co will still move ahead with the introduction of new fixed wireless plans on Monday August 20.
iTnews has confirmed with an NBN Co spokesperson that the company will offer new wholesale bundles for fixed wireless for users on all existing tiers - 12/1, 25/5, and 50/20Mbps.
This is slightly different to the picture painted by NBN Co executives at a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday night, where the bundles were presented as only being for 50/20Mbps users.
The new bundles will now be available to both existing and new fixed wireless customers.
The wholesale cost will be $45 a month for everyone, and they will come with 2Mbps of included CVC (with extra CVC priced at $8 per Mbps).
Dumped $65 was a done deal
The industry briefing at which the new $45 plans were presented, along with the three-year roadmap, was held on Wednesday afternoon and had been scheduled about a week in advance.
About four hours after the briefing wrapped up, NBN Co’s chief financial officer Stephen Rue and chief network engineering officer Peter Ryan fronted a parliamentary committee hearing, at which they revealed the new $45 bundles.
Rue told the hearing that only existing fixed wireless users would be eligible for the $45 wholesale bundle price, and that new sign-ups would have to pay $65 a month for exactly the same service.
The revelation caused outrage, not only because it divided fixed wireless users, but it also drove a wedge between fixed line and fixed wireless users - or, more importantly between city and country users.
By lunchtime Thursday, the government had intervened to shut down the $45/65 price plan with NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow confirming on an earnings call that the $65 price was now “off the table” due to the negative reaction.
Morrow said the $65 price was a proposal that had simply been out for consultation.
"I think it’s important to understand that when we put out a consultation paper, it’s just that. It’s seeking consultation," Morrow said.
"It’s not a decision, it’s not a forgone conclusion of what it is that we’re going to do.
"What Mr Rue was referring to and talking about is, 'Alright, we’re going to take the current 240,000 customers that we have on the fixed wireless base today and offer a bundled package that will be at $45.
"Now, we at time said, 'what do you think about not using that to promote in this interim period the higher speed products because this is a scarce resource and has some limitations?
"Therefore we would have the price for those that need it at the $65 level rather than this grandfathered approach of everyone that’s there on $45.
"And again this was meant for nothing more than a consultation to say ‘how do you feel about that’."
But the presentation to industry tells a different story.
There, the $65 charge was unequivocally presented as applying to new 50/20Mbps services and coming into effect on August 20 - supporting the version of events presented before parliament.
iTnews understands the $65 price was presented to industry as a done deal.
Before the political kerfuffle and sudden axing, industry were told they would be sent paperwork Thursday to finalise months of closed-door consultations that led to the $45/$65 structure being determined.
That paperwork would have formally closed off the consultation and allowed NBN Co to introduce the $65 charge for new sign-ups on Monday.
Those users now have a reprieve and will pay the same $45 a month wholesale input that any NBN user - fixed line or fixed wireless - pays for a bundled service.