The company behind the construction of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN), nbn, revealed on 17 January that it expects the network to be 50 per cent complete by the end of June this year.
“By 30 June 2017, nbn is targeting a total footprint of 5.4 million homes and businesses,” the company said. “The network build is accelerating, with 277,000 homes added to the footprint last month [December, 2016] alone.
“The number of people able to connect will expand to 9 million homes by June 2018, with the end of the rollout then in sight,” it said.
With more than 70 per cent of the network’s rollout having hit regional and rural areas, nbn is preparing to ramp up the network’s deployment in metropolitan areas – no doubt a welcome development for those residents in Australia’s capital cities who are still waiting to be connected to the NBN.
“The intensified deployment will present challenges but the nbn team, along with our partners and retailers, is focused on a positive experience for customers and end users as we accelerate the build and connection rates to new records,” nbn chief, Bill Morrow, said in a statement.
With the rapid pace of the build over the coming months, nbn said it will face the additional challenge this year of deploying the network infrastructure in the higher density metro-areas where access to pits and existing infrastructure becomes more difficult.
This may mean disruption from civil works, visible for the first time in cities, the company said.
“As the nbn network rolls out into cities we will be met with new problems to solve,” Morrow said. “We understand there will be some disruption for residents and business owners as the 14,000 people working across nbn and our delivery partners complete the task as soon as possible.
“The payoff will be worth it, with universal connectivity delivering health, commerce, education and lifestyle benefits to all Australians,” he said.
While Morrow reckons the extra work and effort of rolling out the network in Australia’s cities will be worth it, the question remains: will the network itself be worth it?
As the largest and most expensive publicly-funded infrastructure project in Australia’s history, the NBN has had the unenviable honour of becoming a political football, used for point scoring by both sides of Australian politics.
While the NBN was introduced by Kevin Rudd in 2009, during his first stint as the country’s Prime Minister, its rollout plan was substantially altered when then opposition leader Tony Abbott became Prime Minister in 2013.
The initial price tag of the network build had been a major point of contention between the ruling Labor government and the opposition, with Abbott making it a priority in the lead up to the 2013 Federal Election.
When planning and work for the network’s rollout was first being undertaken by Rudd’s administration, the idea was that the network’s wholesale broadband service would be would be delivered predominantly via Fibre-to-the-Premises (FttP) infrastructure, with some fixed wireless and satellite coverage thrown in for hard to reach places.
Yet this plan changed when the Abbott and team won office, with then Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, subsequently introducing a multi-technology mix (MTM) approach to the network’s rollout, which included Fibre-to-the-Node (FttN), Fibre-to-the-Distribution Point (FttDP), and Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC), among other delivery technology.
The move would see existing infrastructure used to connect homes and businesses to the network, including Telstra’s existing copper network and Optus’ HFC network – the latter of which has subsequently been found to be “not fit for purpose”.