Australia’s National Broadband Network continues to face criticism and technical issues. Following the airing of a report on ABC’s Four Corners program that was hardly flattering, even more issues are being faced by NBN Co. After Telstra was forced to repay about 42,000 customers who couldn’t attain the speeds promised on their plans, the NBN HFC (Hybrid Fibre Coaxial) rollout is being delayed by up to nine months due to more technical issues.
A bit of background. The NBN was originally promised to deliver optical fibre to 97 percent of Australian households. The rest would be provided with satellite internet access. Anybody with a bit of technical knowledge who has followed the the progress – some might say rapid devolution – of Australia’s National Broadband Network, it would have been obvious that the change from majority fibre to Multi-Technology Mix was going to be a disaster.
The first thing that people are taught in major projects is to keep it simple. Sure, fibre to the premises was going to be expensive. But after promises from then Communications Minister (now articulate Prime Minister) Turnbull that a mixed technology rollout would be faster, cheaper and sooner, it’s proven anything but. Part of the problem has to do with the age and state of the current copper network, plus the complexities of joining multiple types of technology together.
The NBN HFC rollout has now hit another massive problem. HFC was originally used by cable television companies to deliver content to customers. Now, the network is being co-opted for use by NBN to become part of its mix. Capable of 100MB/s, about 370,000 homes already have such connections. However, there have been customer complaints about dropouts and other issues, which have affected up to 1.1 percent of homes. Not to mention that information from unnamed sources point to Telstra staff being instructed to stop selling NBN HFC services. That’s not great from the nation’s biggest telco.
The number of affected homes is small, but with up to 1 million homes to be connected via the old HFC cables, the technical problems could become a major thorn in the side of NBN Co. The company’s CEO, Bill Morrow, acknowledged the issues, but said that: “the number of complaints that we see on HFC is higher than what we’ve seen on a number of other technologies, but the specific number of dropouts is quite small.” He also stated that: “people may be experiencing dropouts out there and haven’t reported it or don’t observe it enough, because typically you’ll find it’s in the evening hours that you’ll see the dropouts that we’re concerned about.”
Whilst the NBN HFC rollout is experiencing issues, it’s certainly good that the company is admitting there are issues front and centre, rather than hiding behind excuses and public relations speak. However, customers will undoubtedly lose confidence with this delay. Either way, NBN will probably continue to limp ahead and connect about 8 million premises to the network by 2020. Whether or not there will actually be improvements of access to each of those premises will be a question worth asking at that time.