NBN's good-to-go dates remain confidential

Patch-cables spark teacup-storm

Bill Morrow, CEO of nbnTM, the organisation building Australia's national broadband network (NBN) has sparked a political storm over patch cables.

Speaking to a Senate Estimates hearing yesterday, Morrow also said the company's “ready for service” documents – which tells staff and retailers when individual premises can be activated on the National Broadband Network – should be kept confidential.

In response to a request by opposition communications spokesman Senator Stephen Conroy to table a copy of the document he had, Morrow said it would cause confusion among customers and damage the nbnTM brand.

He explained that ready for service dates change in the six-to-twelve months between a build starting and being accepted by nbnTM.

Giving consumers a date and then changing it is “irresponsible”, Morrow told the hearing, and might mean they delay taking up an NBN connection or even “take up alternative services” (which seems an odd thing to say since in most of the country the NBN is meant to be the only game in town).

The discussion of patch cords, however, is what's lit up the wires.

The cables in question are being used to connect the existing Telstra pillars – street-level distribution points – to the nodes in the fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) portion of the network.

nbnTM is taking a fairly unremarkable approach to the installation process.

Instead of disrupting hundreds of customers at a time to disconnect the existing pillar, install the node, and reconnect the customer tails, the company is leaving the services in place while it gets the node ready, then hooking the node up with jumper cables.

With thousands of nodes and a few million customers, that's going to need an awful lot of jumper cables. Morrow told the hearing nbnTM has so far spent AU$14 million on 1,800 km of cable, both relatively small amounts in the context of the rollout.

Morrow explained to estimates that each node-to-pillar installation used about 350 metres of patch cables, meaning nbnTM has enough patch cords for around 5,000 nodes in the rollout.

Eventually, FTTN is intended to serve 4.5 million homes. If there are around 200 homes per node, the company will be looking for another $60 million worth of patch cables to complete the rollout by the 2020 target date.

It's no surprise, then, that Morrow told estimates cable supplier Prysmian is ramping up its production. nbnTM's current supply is good for about five months' rollout work.

Morrow also told the hearing that if node-to-home copper was found to be in poor condition, it would be replaced, and only if the cost of fibre was lower than copper for a connection would fibre be used. ®

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