NBN Co is examining whether to widen environmental exclusion zones and add solar backup options for fixed wireless towers after a particularly devastating bushfire season.
The network builder told a parliamentary committee that it had reviewed its response to the recent bushfire crisis, which will see extra resilience measures for some of its network assets.
Chief network deployment officer Kathrine Dyer said environmental exclusion zones for fixed wireless towers could be widened to provide a greater barrier against damage.
“Around fixed wireless towers, if there’s a lot of foliage around that hadn’t been cleared, [we’re] looking at a further network area where we could make those towers more safe,” she said.
Chief development officer for regional and remote, Gavin Williams, said power resiliency “is also a consideration”.
“We’re doing some work on ... solar power for fixed wireless towers,” he said. “[It’s an] option we’re exploring.”
“We’re taking the initial findings from the investigations we’ve done [and] looking at multiple options which relate to network resiliency, so how potentially we could fortify our network for all sorts of potential disasters, including things like floods,” Dyer said.
“But also inevitably when these things do happen, how do we respond to those and provide connected services to those communities as soon as possible?”
Dyer said that NBN Co is “still assessing the full impact” of the bushfire crisis on its network and the planned completion of the so-called volume rollout in June 2020.
In areas where NBN Co relied on utility power poles to string aerial cabling, the company now faced some infrastructure access challenges, because utility workers had been diverted to repairs, and were less available to assist NBN Co.
“Resources we were counting on are being diverted onto other projects, which we understand,” Dyer said.
There are also more direct impacts in some of the hardest-hit areas to contend with.
Dyer said the company had lost a 60km aerial transit link that was to provide backhaul services to Mallacoota in Victoria.
She indicated it could be redeployed underground, but that could impact planned ready to connect timing.
“Whilst the local distribution network has all been built and is sitting there waiting for what we call our backhaul or our transit network, we’d almost completed a 60km aerial transit link to Mallacoota. Almost all of those poles were burnt down, as was NBN Co’s assets,” she said.
“So we’re actually looking at that at the moment, and rather than waiting for the aerial component to be rebuilt again, we are investigating other ways to deliver the transit such as underground which is more sustainable.
“That will impact being able to make that area ready to connect in the coming months. But again, still assessing that.”
NBN infrastructure for the community of Mossy Point on the NSW south coast was also impacted by the fires. “We’re hopeful that will still be completed on time,” Dyer noted.