NBN, the company rolling out the national broadband network, is installing brand new copper "between the node and the pillar" for its fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network.
Speaking at a Senate Estimates hearing yesterday afternoon, NBN chief executive Bill Morrow said the company would rolling out new copper between the pillar that exists today with Telstra and its new FTTN service. He said that NBN had spent $14 million to purchase 1800 kilometres of new copper to support the FTTN network.
“It’s a short section but it is new copper that has to go in the ground that doesn’t exist today,” Morrow said in response to a question from former Labor communications minister, Stephen Conroy.
Conroy asked Morrow why NBN wasn’t installing fibre technology rather than put new copper in the ground.
Morrow responded: “Today there is a feeder copper cable that goes into our neighbourhood entry point where a pillar stands up out of the street usually near the footpath. We want to access that pillar because it has a distribution network that goes to each one of our homes.
“We want to access it with the optical technology that we are delivering with fibre-to-the-node but we can’t just put a box over the top of that pillar.
“We typically like to stand up a node right next to that pillar … but we are not always able to put them up right next to each other so if it is across the room or halfway down the block, we will have to put copper to get to that point.”
NBN will also roll out new copper if there are defective joints that have a ‘trouble rate that is too high,” Morrow said.
“We will need to go ahead and make that investment to replace that joint as it stands. And in another case, if it turns out that there are not enough pairs going down the street to be able to serve all the homes that are there – then we may actually have to add pairs in that path to be able to get to each one of the homes,” Morrow said.
In his opening statement at yesterday’s hearing, Morrow also said that in some circles, there remains scepticism about the capability of fibre-to-the-node technology. This is despite the fact that is has been deployed in many other countries and it is delivering an impressive performance.
“Much of the anecdotal evidence I have seen about our copper remediation and FTTN is misleading or just plain wrong,” Morrow said.
“Perhaps based on a misunderstanding of what we are doing in the streets, global experience from telcos around the world tells us that very little remediation work is required on lines from cabinet to premises and that’s why it’s such an attractive technology,” he told the inquiry.
Meanwhile, Morrow said NBN was aware that there is a shortage of copper wire and many manufacturers had scaled back their operations. Copper wire for the NBN is supplied by Prysmian.
"We are quite well aware of this and it's part of the procurement effort to make sure we have enough supply to meet the needs," Morrow said when questioned by Conroy about shortages.
"I think there is some supply and distribution issues to get it to the right places - nothing that we anticipate causing a problem with the rollout schedule," Morrow said.