NBN Co will begin a trial next month that will see 50 fibre-to-the-node users receive an upgrade to either fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology.
The trial is the first under a brand new program of work that NBN Co is calling ‘Change of Access Technology’ or COAT.
iTnews understands that the 50 premises to be included in the first trial have already been identified, though it is not clear where in Australia they are located.
COAT appears to be the vehicle that NBN Co is using to test future upgrade paths for subsets of its customer base.
It is likely FTTN users have been selected initially because NBN Co must make sure its entire network footprint can achieve peak speeds of 25Mbps under the government’s statement of expectations.
NBN Co has previously shown 1.3 percent of all FTTN premises are incapable of hitting that mark.
The company must therefore offer these users a different access technology in order to complete the initial network rollout - and its mandated job.
The first trial under COAT is also significant because it’s the first appearance of FTTC as an upgrade option.
NBN Co said last year it would make FTTC an option under its existing Technology Choice program - where an individual user or a whole area (usually represented by a council) can apply directly to NBN Co to pay their own way to a better access technology.
FTTC is still listed either as unavailable or under review as an option in Technology Choice program documentation.
COAT is much broader than testing upgrade paths for FTTN.
It is understood that it will also explore upgrade paths for access technologies including G.Fast and G.mgfast for short copper lines, full duplex DOCSIS 3.1 (FDX) and extended spectrum DOCSIS (ESD) on HFC, XGS PON and NGPON2 on FTTP.
Most of these were listed as future upgrade options in a presentation made by NBN Co in June 2018.
However, even at that time, NBN Co had not specifically laid out any strategy for upgrading its FTTN footprint.
Though the first COAT trial is set for June and will last approximately two months, the processes and systems needed to run these upgrades are not expected to be in production until the initial network build is largely completed.
NBN Co says that COAT will be fully operational in Q1 2020.
iTnews was seeking clarification at the time of publication about exactly how COAT upgrades would function.
Technical documentation suggests that COAT is a "capability for NBN Co and RSPs ... to change the access technology."
It is understood that the ultimate intention is for NBN Co and RSPs to be able to pursue a change of access technology irrespective of the driver for that change or where the request comes from.
It is still, however, early days. The scope of the program is incomplete and will be partially informed by the results of the initial trial.
In addition to the unveiling of COAT, NBN Co also revealed the presence of another program of work it is calling ‘NBN Select’.
Under NBN Select, which is due to launch in July, a retail service provider (RSP) will be able to act on behalf of an end user to order a change in access technology “from the default multi-technology mix technology at a premises to NBN Ethernet /Fibre to the Premises (FTTP).”
The major difference between NBN Select and the existing Technology Choice program is that the RSP is the interface with NBN Co, instead of requiring the user to go direct to NBN Co.
RSPs can order on an end user's behalf via Technology Choice, but the interface and processes are seen to be more suited to end users.
Select creates a new channel specifically for RSPs to order a change to FTTP.