TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: NBN Buzz - The rollout timetable

NBN Co now has no place to hide if targets are not met, while Huawei may need to get closer to Telstra.

Technology Spectator

NBN Buzz is a weekly wrap up of everything that's going on with Australia's largest infrastructure project. For previous editions and the latest news visit our NBN Buzz page.

The 3.5 million rollout target

NBN Co and the federal government have finally taken the covers off the eagerly awaited rollout plan which aims to connect more than 3.5 million premises to the NBN in the next three years. The schedule will see more than a million premises hooked up in NSW, around 700,000 premises in Victoria, 680,000 in Queensland, 480,000 in Western Australia, 330,000 in South Australia, 65,000 in Northern Territory and over 200,000 in Tasmania. It’s a lot of numbers which add to about a third of all homes and premises in the country but the real focus of NBN Co will no doubt be on how many of those premises it can get connected before the next election is upon us.

Given the belting received by Labor in Queensland there is a strong chance that the same fate may await Julia Gillard so making as many connections as possible before the Coalition takes power in Canberra will now be Mike Quigley’s top priority and will be foremost in the mind of those waiting to get their homes connected to the network.

Now that we know what the target is the trick of course will be to ensure that the timeline is met. This is the most complete picture of what lies ahead released so far and Mike Quigley and his team will have no place to hide if the targets outlined are not met. With all of the regulatory delays now out of the way and the trials undertaken so far in three sites in Tasmania and five mainland sites communications minister Stephen Conroy is certainly confident that NBN Co will deliver on time but the proof will be in the pudding.

The political dimension of the announcement cannot be discounted because as things stand two thirds of Australian premises are facing a very real prospect of not getting connected to the NBN at all. The full timeframe for the rollout is nine years and that’s time that Labor doesn’t have. So, mollifying those who have missed out will also be an issue as the rollout progresses. While Quigley has always maintained that the choice of the locations is dictated by the technical needs and not politics, that won’t stop the detractors from pointing fingers.

Quigley told the media today that the planners are not interested in electoral boundaries and with all the "key elements” in place it’s full steam ahead with the rollout.

The full list of localities where the network is up and running, where work is underway and where work is scheduled to begin before mid-2015 can be viewed here.

Huawei's Telstra ambitions

Still, it is a milestone day for NBN and should finally divert attention away from the Huawei controversy that has been characterised by some old fashioned "Cold War” paranoia. While Foreign Minister Bob Carr has urged the Chinese telco giant to push ahead with its expansion in Australia, Beijing has understandably voiced its displeasure at Canberra’s obstructionist policy. The fact that Huawei has been blocked from playing any part in the NBN should not come as a surprise given the concerns about its involvement with the Chinese military. Huawei is involved in the broadband rollout in the UK but as The Australian reports British intelligence services had implemented a thorough screening process to mitigate any threat of cyber-espionage.

So, what does this mean for Huawei’s Australian ambitions? The company will no doubt be disappointed that its efforts to shift the negative perception have failed and it’s a serious blow to Huawei’s local unit. There is plenty of work still to be had from the local mobile market, especially in the LTE space. The company is already working with Optus and Vodafone and the NBN snub does not mean that it won’t be able to partner with Telstra in the future. In fact, there might even be a greater urgency within the company to break up Telstra's current partnership with Ericsson, which has been the key driver of the Next G project. There is still money to be made by Huawei in the Australian market but having lost out on the NBN, it will have to make a very compelling case, not just on price but also on technical quality, to get some of Telstra’s dough.

Armidale fixed wireless winner

In other news, retail NBN services provider Activ8me has connected the first Armidale resident to NBN's new fixed wireless service. The lucky resident is Ken Geenty who is the first of 700 eligible households to get connected during the testing phase.

"The NBN service is significantly faster than the satellite option I used previously, I now get a 12 megabit per second download compared to half a megabit in the past. It's a huge difference and a much better experience," Geenty said in a statement.

NEC Australia and Visionstream get busy

NEC Australia is set to expand its comprehensive high-speed wholesale broadband service portfolio across Australia after signing the Wholesale Broadband Agreement (WBA) with NBN Co. The deal should see NEC Australia offer higher speed and bandwidth services to its customers by mid-2012.

NEC Australia managing director Alan Hyde said in a statement that the company had engaged in a lengthy consultation process to ensure that the outcomes were in the best interest of its customers.

He added that the agreement will allow NEC Australia to further invest in its existing DSLAM-based wholesale broadband and third party networks, which covers 92 per cent of the Australian population.

Meanwhile, Leighton subsidiary Visionstream Australia has won a $300 million contract to roll the NBN across Tasmania over the next four years. The deal will see Visionstream roll the fibre out to about 200,000 premises and the company has the option for renewal over each of the following two years.

NBN Co has already released plans that outline the roll-out schedule for 91,000 Tasmanian homes and businesses. Almost 4000 Tasmanian premises are already connected to the NBN and NBN Co said that the contract would create up to 800 new jobs at the peak of the roll-out.