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NBN launches fibre to the node, selling speed and low cost

NBN has officially launched fibre to the node, saying it will deliver fast broadband speeds "more quickly" with less inconvenience and cost. But the company admits some will never be convinced.

The NBN 'node' connects broadband fibre to Telstra's copper network. NBN

Australia is one step closer to a multi-technology broadband future after NBN launched its commercial fibre to the node product today.

The launch follows trials in Belmont on the NSW Central Coast, during which NBN saw subscribers living within 400 metres of a broadband node "consistently receiving speeds of 100Mbps/40Mbps" in downloads and uploads respectively, according to NBN. Those living within 700 metres of a node received speeds of 60Mbps/20Mbps, which NBN said was "far in excess of the speeds they are currently receiving."

Today's launch is a major step forward for NBN, the company charged with delivering Australia's national broadband network using a "multi-technology mix." This MTM focus led to previous high-speed, fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) rollouts being ditched in favour of a lower-cost mix of technologies, such as fibre to the node, which utilises Telstra's legacy copper infrastructure.

NBN's chief customer officer John Simon today reiterated the strength of FTTN, saying it allowed broadband to be delivered "more quickly with less inconvenience for end users and importantly less cost for tax payers."

But while FTTN has had its fair share of criticism because of its reliance on a legacy copper network, Simon said the focus was still on fibre.

"Some people think when we talk about FTTN that we're still using all of the old copper network. We are not. Most of the copper network has been removed," he said.

"We are deploying fibre deep in the network to a node that's closely located to the most premises... and we're just using that last part of the copper to transmit the remaining signal."

Simon said that while the company was using "multiple technologies" to deliver the broadband network "that becomes quite irrelevant to the end-user," who was just focused on the final service.

Citing figures from Australia's existing FTTP rollout, Simon noted that only 18 percent of those who had fibre connected all the way to their home had opted for a plan offering 100Mbps speeds. As a result, NBN had determined that the speeds of 50 or even 25Mbps downstream were sufficient for most premises, particularly when costs and speed of rollout were factored in.

According to Simon, NBN is also solving Australia's broadband problems with a focus on "concurrency" of multiple devices using the internet in a single home.

"It's not solving for one connection for video conferencing or an improved cloud performance, it's actually the concurrency in the home of all these devices," he said. "[With] a couple of people surfing the web, watching a few YouTube videos on a small screen, some of them watching on a large screen, you quickly see up to 12 or 14Mbps.

"And that's why, today, people are complaining. Because the average ADSL speed of 8 to 10Mbps isn't allowing that concurrency to occur."

But Simon was accepted that after the early heady days of FTTP, some consumers would never be satisfied with FTTN.

"Trying to have the noble goal to convince everyone is probably a bit altruistic," he said. "We're trying to make available superfast broadband to 12 million homes here in Australia so that they can all get at least a minimum speed of 25Mbps/5Mbps. In many cases there are homes that don't get speeds over 5Mbps. And to the majority of the footprint, 90 percent, [we will deliver] a 50Mbps service. That's our goal.

"Whether that's going to make everyone happy, absolutely not, because there's people that will always want more. And we understand that. But at the end of the day, we've got to be able to manage a budget, a timeframe, as well as the functionality."

NBN is aiming to have half a million FTTN premises ready for service by mid-2016, and 3.7 million by mid-2018.