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The great and powerful Oz (broadband network): Revs rise, but nbn™'s exec bonuses don't

And competition regulator sees 5G clouds on the horizon

The company building Australia's National Broadband Network turned in what was mostly a dull but worthy set of financials, and it's put something of a squeeze on its executive bonuses.

The boring part of nbn™'s 2018 financials (PDF) were revenue, up to AU$1.98bn from $1bn for 2017; and although its net loss after tax rose from $4.2bn in 2017 to $4.78bn, its adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) narrowed considerably, from $826m in 2017 to $103m.

(The company explained that at the moment, its current net loss is weighed down by customer migration payments to Telstra and Optus, and these cease in 2022, so it believes EBITDA better reflects its financial performance.)

nbn™ also polished its rollout and subscriber progress in the year: seven million premises are ready connect (up 29 per cent over 2017), premises activated grew 65 per cent to 4 million, and “ready for service” reached 8.1 million premises.

The main financial disappointment is in monthly Average Revenue Per User, which only rose 1 per cent from $43 to $44.

The fibre-to-the-premises rollout is nearly complete, with 1.7 million premises now listed as “ready to connect” (there are still 500,000 homes that haven't migrated to fibre yet).

Fibre-to-the-node (which includes basement and curbside nodes) now has 3.8 million premises ready to connect and 2.1 million subscribers.

The cable network, however, still bears scars. First, nbn™ found the network it bought from Optus was unusable; next, it paused the rollout while it carried out remediation on the Telstra hybrid fibre-coax network; and finally, it devoted around AU$80m to upgrade the network to DOCSIS 3.1.

As a result, of the 1.4 million premises “ready for service”, only 500,000 are “ready to connect” (and 80 per cent of those are already connected).

It was left to killjoys like the Australian Financial Review to highlight not the boring financials, but the former CEO's pay packet (which is, after all, right there in the report on page 81).

Morrow took home just over $3m for the year (including a bonus of $765,000), down somewhat on the $3.56m the previous year.

All of nbn™'s “C-class” found their bonuses trimmed in 2018, with the total down from $2.88m to a mere $1.96m (bonuses fell across the whole company as well: from more than $60m to less than $43m).

Don't mention 5G. Oh, someone did

If the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is right, future executive bonuses might be hard to come by. On Tuesday, the competition regulator's chairman told the RadComms 2018 conference in Sydney 5G will pose a threat to fixed networks.

Rod Sims said: “Mobile broadband services may become more of a viable substitute for fixed broadband” in the 5G era, because for the first time, mobile networks will have speed and capacity close to fixed connections.

The ACCC's focus, Sims said, will be to promote competition.

“We know that 5G is going to lower the cost of delivering data, but those changes will be accompanied by large capital and operating costs; operators will need to acquire new spectrum, densify their networks by building more mobile towers, and make sure their transmission can support delivery of new services.”

Somewhat ominously for nbn™, Sims believes the skinny margins that sustain retailers are going to be a key factor in deciding whether data will traverse the NBN or a 5G network – particularly for mobile network infrastructure owners like Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone/TPG.

He said: “For those RSPs with an alternative mobile or wireless network, it may be more cost effective to offload some fixed NBN data traffic onto their own network … or seek to supply some services entirely over their own mobile network, completely bypassing the NBN.” ®

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