What the nbn announcements mean for Launceston

In the past seven days we have seen two far reaching and unexpected announcements from NBN that have set in motion the next several years of upgrades to nbn V1.0 that was completed earlier this year.

As you may know, the original plan for the nbn was a universal FTTP model for the city and suburb areas of Australia with Fixed Wireless and Satellite covering the regional and remote communities.

With the election of the Tony Abbott Liberal Governments in 2013, this plan was altered to what is known as a Multi Technology Mix (MTM) network where other technologies, FTTN, HFC and later FTTC, were utilised to speed up and reduce the cost the rollout of the nbn by utilising some of the older copper infrastructure that had been deployed previously. It is arguable whether they actually saw a speedup or reduced their costs, but we will now never know for sure.

Launceston was lucky to be in the position where most of the deployment for FTTP had already commenced and we now enjoy 100% FTTP connectivity across the city and suburbs (the largest pure fibre footprint in the country) whereas other commercial areas in the state (notably Burnie, Devonport, wide areas of Hobart and other commercial zones such as the airport precincts) ended up with the FTTN network, a network that suffers from variable speed, poor reliability and quality and a hard limit of 100Mbps.

The twin announcements from nbn last week covered two main points;

  • Enterprise Ethernet: That specially designated ‘Business Zones’ around the country would be earmarked to receive a lower priced premium business grade service of the nbn’s Enterprise Ethernet network if they choose. I have previously written about Enterprise Ethernet and debated the value that this service actually provides over a well provisioned regular nbn service on FTTP. However there is no doubt it is worthwhile improvement over the other technologies. These zones will see reduced pricing for new orders placed in the next 2 years and will be a quick option for businesses requiring more out of their connection than their existing FTTN/HFC/FTTC infrastructure can deliver. The process is to essentially pick a symmetrical speed tier and sign a 1 to 3 year contract. Nbn will then deliver dedicated fibre to your building within the following 3 month period.

  • NEBS (aka “regular” NBN): The announcement about the upgrade of approximately half of the existing FTTN footprint to FTTP ‘enabled’ areas. This program will have a longer deployment timeframe and will involve fibre being run down the street into the existing FTTN areas of both business and residential areas. Any client that then wishes to order a speed tier from their RSP that their current technology cannot deliver will activate a works order for the nbn to visit the site and install the last mile of fibre directly into the premises. The exact mechanics of this ordering and delivery system are still to be announced.

Impact for our region

As I have mentioned in many previous blog posts, the future for any industrially advanced economy such as Australia is a strong and widespread fibre network. It’s the only technology that can deliver the large (and growing at 40% pa) amounts of traffic in an efficient, predictable and reliable manner. Since the completion of the Launceston portion of the nbn, all on FTTP, and activation of gigabit speeds across the city in 2017, Launtel have seen many local and relocated businesses from the mainland take advantage of the new possibilities and grow their businesses, without a limited internet connection getting in the way. From this point of view, Launceston doesn’t have much to gain from these recent announcements given the existing FTTP.

If we zoom out a bit though, these announcements will have a dramatic effect on the people and businesses in all the surrounding areas such as Burnie & Devonport, regional industrial hubs such as the Launceston Airport & Legana and all the surrounding small towns, not to forget the suburban areas where many small businesses start from the proverbial garage.

 

These areas are now on the cusp of having nbn services that are on a par to the services in Launceston and therefore being able to grow their businesses both locally and internationally just as we have seen businesses do in Launceston.

This will be a boon to all of these areas and will in turn have a positive economic effect on the whole region including Launceston. 

 

As an aside, there was also a further announcement made by nbn. This involved the provision of an additional $300M for regional co investment opportunities between local and state government and nbn. Launtel has recently been advocating for the State Government to step in and provide an upgrade path for the commercial areas in Tasmania that missed out on the FTTP rollout in nbn V1.0. This would have been a $50M investment in the digital infrastructure of the State and would have seen most business addresses in the state being upgraded to FTTP. The intention is to inject a post COVID stimulus and create an ongoing commercial return in more employment in digital businesses. Although the announcements made by nbn cover off a lot of these ideas, there will still be work to do. There are vast swathes of Tasmania that are covered by oversubscribed Fixed Wireless towers with no fibre backhaul and there will still be commercial and suburban areas that miss out on FTTP. 

A $50M co investment in the nbn by the state government is still a great idea, would expedite last week’s announcements and would enable a wider footprint to be covered.

While it is tempting to dwell on why we took this circuitous route and why we didn’t just do a full FTTP rollout from the beginning, at some point we have to put all this behind us and just acknowledge that we got there in the end. 

Damian Ivereigh
Launtel
28 Sept 2020