In what was described as a “bombshell decision” back in 2009 – the Federal Government announced the “single biggest infrastructure decision in Australia’s history”. The ambitious plan was to roll out an all-fibre national broadband network over eight years.  

We now know the outcome of what was widely referred to as a ‘gold-plated scheme’. Hindsight experts have emerged, but it was impossible to know that it would cost up to $91,196 to connect a single home to fibre. The original all fibre model had failed to factor in the real cost of digging up and restoring driveways, some as long as 90 meters.

nbn, the company established to build Australia’s National Broadband Network, needed a new approach if it was to meet its rollout target by 2020.

Full fibre advocates pointed to Singapore, Seoul and Hong Kong as FTTP success stories – ignoring how Australia’s vast geography compared to a tightknit high-rise environment in Asia. 

In a joint keynote session with NetComm Wireless CTO Steve Collins at Broadband World Forum, nbn’s Tony Brown said:

“When the rubber hit the road in the real world, delivering fibre to the premises in a country like Australia proved much more difficult than people had really imagined. Fibre had been deployed mainly in Asia to apartment buildings – and suddenly we’re trying to connect lots of premises in a largely suburban country.” 

The new approach came in the form of a Fibre-to-the-Distribution-Point (FTTdp) solution named nbn™ Fibre-to-the-Curb (nbn™ FTTC).

Its success became apparent even before its commercial launch in April 2018, with an extra 300,000 premises added to expand the footprint to 1 million homes and businesses. Just days after the commercial launch, nbn announced that it would further expand the network by 440,000 premises to 1.5 million premises by 2020, almost doubling the initial footprint.  The expansion followed a successful nbn™ FTTC trial involving 120 homes and 12 DPUs in Coburg, Victoria. 

Even fierce full fibre backers have commended the technology for its capacity to deliver on speed and performance promises. 

nbn™ FTTC uses a Distribution Point Unit (DPU) and Network Connection Device (NCD) technology developed by NetComm Wireless to deliver fibre-like broadband services.

The DPU is installed in the telecommunications pit where it connects up to four premises to fibre using existing copper lines, allowing nbn to push fibre deeper into its network, while bypassing costly and disruptive civil works on private property.  

To give a real-world example of how FTTC would have been an ideal alternative to FTTP in Mount Cotton, Queensland, nbn’s Tony Brown said: 

“To activate those 100 premises to FTTP it took six months and cost an average of $8000 per premises. The average driveway in that estate was about 150 meters. If we had Fibre-to-the-Curb available then, and dropped NetComm’s Distribution Point Unit into the telecom pit to run VDSL or Gfast, we would have cut our costs by at least half, probably more.”

For nbn™ FTTC to offer a true alternative to full fibre, it needed to overcome one key challenge: the cost of running a powerline to individual units. 

NetComm Wireless developed a world-first NCD which together with the DPU provides an all-in-one solution that’s powered from the customer’s premises. It is unique in that it integrates reverse power functionality and the modem in a single unit.  

The network-grade technology can be self-installed, and features software that allows the product to be managed and controlled by the network operator.

Technological innovation has changed the face of fibre and enabled a new model, under which the 97% of premises initially earmarked for FTTP will have reduced to 17% of premises at the end of the rollout. 

Gfast represents the next step in the evolution of nbn™ FTTC and will be launched in selected areas by the end of the year. The technology will deliver speeds of up to 1Gbps over copper lines by using a higher frequency of 212MHz to bolster broadband speed, performance and capacity.

Using a reverse power fed Gfast DPU engineered by NetComm Wireless, Openreach (a wholly owned and independently governed division of the BT Group) successfully completed a world first FTTdp based Gfast demonstration that achieved 1.66 Gbps aggregate broadband speeds. The DPU was reverse powered over 40 metres of copper lead-in cable, using spectrum frequency of up to 212MHz to deliver fibre-like speeds and customer experience. 

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