NBN Co has predicted up to gigabit speeds will be possible in its fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) footprint “within the next calendar year”, though CEO Stephen Rue asked not to be held to the timeline.
Speaking to an NBN senate committee on Wednesday, Rue provided extra detail on $100 million of planned FTTC upgrades between now and 2023 that were announced in late September.
The FTTC investments are part of a larger $3.5 billion upgrade program aimed at making more of the NBN footprint capable of supporting up to gigabit speeds.
NBN Co said at the time that the $100 million would go towards “on-demand enablement and deployment of G.Fast capability or the provision of fibre lead-ins in certain circumstances.”
Rue said that currently one-third of distribution point units (DPUs), which are located in pits outside homes, are G.Fast capable.
Getting users serviced by non-G.Fast capable DPUs upgraded to support gigabit speeds could involve replacing the DPU, or - if it proved more cost effective - upgrading the user to full fibre.
“If someone’s on our [FTTC] network and they want to have the higher speeds we would look to replace the VDSL DPU with a G.Fast unit,” Rue said.
“Or, if it’s a cost effective way, we may build an FTTP lead-in, where you just effectively connect the lead-in to the existing equipment in the pit.
“So there’s a range of ways in which we can provide the ‘gigabit speeds’ to the customer.”
Chief operations officer Kathrine Dyer said changes to in-home wiring may also be required, in addition to capital works outside the home, to enable the up to gigabit speeds.
Dyer said the company’s forecast was that $100 million would cover the capital expenses incurred in the FTTC upgrade between now and 2023.
“This will be a demand-driven [exercise],” she said.
“So for example, we are not going to go out and proactively do this work. To ensure we’re using our capital efficiently, we will go out and complete the work for a home when they place an order.
“That’s the intent of the strategy, and that’s how we plan to link our capital investment to do that.”
Rue added that $100 million in his view “is a significant amount of money to borrow” to cover the upgrades.
However, he noted there may be further capital expenditure incurred beyond 2023, particularly if a decision was taken to upgrade the last mile connections of FTTC users to full fibre, rather than go through with a DPU replacement and other capital works.
“To the extent that it is more capital efficient to put an FTTP lead in as opposed to just enable G.Fast, there may well be capital expenditure beyond 2023 i.e. beyond the $100 million that we’re talking about, that we’ll [use to] build lead-ins from 2024 onwards,” Rue said.
“What the $100 million refers to is the money we need to borrow between now and 2023 to enable people to order up to gigabit speeds and the capital costs of doing that.”
Dyer said some of the $100 million may also be put into resolving crosstalk issues between FTTC services in close proximity, such as those serving multi-dwelling units (or MDUs).
“There’s a number of premises that we’ve got to reduce the impact of crosstalk between services that share the same cable sheath, which can impact customers,” she said.
“The best example I can give you there is what we call a horizontal multi dwelling unit, so if you imagine a residential development with a common driveway and common land, and units all facing each other, they have a pit and pipe network down the side of their homes, and in many cases they share common infrastructure which is housed in the same sheath.
“What occurs there is after a number of customers take up services, one customer’s service can impact another’s because they are in the same sheath.
“So we are looking in those instances at whether we use what we call a high port count DPU or whether we in fact approach that differently moving forward … to enable those higher speed services”.
Rue said NBN Co would also need to spend some money on its own IT systems to make the FTTC network capable of achieving the higher speeds.
It isn’t clear how much of the FTTC network that NBN Co is forecasting will have access to gigabit speeds by 2023.
For other footprints that NBN Co is upgrading with the same $3.5 billion package, such as fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), it expects only a small percentage to actually be able to order a gigabit service in 2023.
However, Rue said he hoped to have the first FTTC services capable of ordering gigabit services within the next calendar year.
“We’re currently working on the G.Fast enablement which will take a period of time for our IT teams to work through, and then obviously we need to have the interactions with the retailers,” he said.
“I would hope that within - and please don’t hold me to this - but I would expect [gigabit speed enablement] within the next calendar year.”