Telstra has labelled as “ridiculous” Senator Kate Lundy’s comments that the telco’s dated infrastructure is preventing the uptake of ADSL in Australia.
Recent comments from shadow IT minister, Senator Kate Lundy, criticising the use of pair gain systems (PGSs) across Telstra’s copper network and calling for the replacement of the technology with ADSL-compatible lines were blasted by Telstra as “meaningless” and “incorrect”.
Telstra spokesperson, Kerrina Lawrence, said the senator’s remarks earlier this week condemning line splitting technologies and calling for the removal of PGS at an estimated cost of $2 billion was a mix of “mistaken and uninformed commentary”.
“For a politician to make an estimate on the cost of removing the system, and assume that by removing the system everyone would want to gain access to ADSL [services], is a poor statement,” she said.
“Where were Lundy’s comments leading? When are politicians insightful enough to make recommendations on the removal or use of technologies to telcos across their networks?”
‘Blip on the horizon’
The $2 billion figure, which originated from a senate estimate inquiry last week, was declared by group managing director of regulatory, corporate and human relations Bill Scales, AO, in response to questions over the estimated cost of replacing Telstra’s PGS.
Lundy said the figure represented “the cost of Telstra’s neglect”.
“The $2 billion … is the price of their negligent under-investment in the telecommunications network,” Lundy said.
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), PGSs are a form of digital multiplexer units used to split the transmission frequencies running along a particular twisted copper pair or pairs to allow streaming of multiple phone services.
Lawrence said PGS and RIM (remote integrated multiplexer) technologies were currently used by Telstra to provide around 10 per cent of the telco’s fixed phone line services in metro and rural areas.
RIMs are a large version of pair gain systems that allow multiple services to be provided over a single optical line.
Depending on the type of pair gain splitting technology used, up to 480 phone services can be deployed on one physical copper line.
Although the technology is useful for providing voice services, PGS renders copper lines incompatible for ADSL. This is because ADSL technology requires ‘clean’ copper lines to transmit services. PGS can also slow the speeds of a dial-up Internet connection.
Lawrence acknowledged PGS prevented customers from accessing ADSL services. But she stressed that line splitting technology was a legitimate technology employed by telcos worldwide to deliver fixed phone line services and, more recently, ISDN.
She said the technology had initially been introduced when ADSL services were “a blip on the horizon”.
Lundy said the use of pair gain had resulted in residential and business telephone networks which were “far from future proof”.
“The existing copper network will never be able to support a high proportion of broadband penetration,” Lundy said.
Lawrence disputed such claims, stating that about 919 Telstra exchanges were now ADSL-enabled, allowing up to 7.5 million Australians to access the broadband service.
In addition, removing a quality phone service technology simply because it couldn’t provide ADSL was “silly”, she said.
If, for example, a newer technology were to supersede ADSL as the most appealing method of delivering broadband (such as hybrid fibre), the point of removing pair gain systems specifically to cater for a growing ADSL market would be lost, Lawrence said.
“To have to remove it [PGS] ... it’s a ridiculous question,” she said.
“Pair gain is used to deliver phone services, which for many customers is fine.”
Despite the telco’s plans to retain its PGS, Lawrence said Telstra was committed to a range of measures overcoming the issue of pair gain/ADSL incompatibility.
Lawrence said Telstra had pledged $10 million towards providing broadband services to outer metropolitan and regional customers in November last year.
In early May, the telco announced it would give ‘pair gain’ customers the opportunity to transport their services across to true copper at no charge.
To be eligible for the transfer, however, spare copper lines would need to be available in the customer’s street. Customers would also have to be ineligible to other types of broadband services, such as cable.
Lawrence said Telstra was also working on a new broadband demand register tool that would allow customers who have been unable to qualify for ADSL services across either its BigPond wholesale or retail divisions to lodge an expression of interest for the service via its websites.
Although customers were able to send Telstra an expression of interest for ADSL now, the new system would use more sophisticated technology and the Web to make the process smoother and more efficient, Lawrence said.
The system should be in place by the end of the year.
The telco has also been using next-generation broadband compatible RIMs (called Integrated RIMs or IRIMs) in place of non-compatible PGS since late 2002, she said.