NBN gets finally upgraded but will services be affordable.

Last week NBN Co revealed its 2024 corporate plan, outlining its strategies to enhance its network capabilities and improve user experiences across Australia. While it provided valuable insights into NBN Co’s network upgrade initiatives and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts, they question remain as we have mentioned before, will the network be affordable. It is great to have a super-duper network but if the consumer prices – especially for the true high-speed broadband services – stay high, we as a nation don’t reap the benefits of it.

One of the standout goals of the corporate plan is to enable ten million premises to access its Home Ultrafast wholesale speed tier. This ambitious target aligns with NBN Co’s aim to boost revenue by attracting higher take-up of this ultra-fast plan. The plan reflects NBN Co’s dedication to staying ahead of the ever-increasing demand for high-speed internet services. It is clear that the company still faces significant financial challenges and they therefor try to keep process as high as they can and promote services for which they can ask premium prices.

Facing increased competition from the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and from 5G, NBN Co is investing significantly in its Fixed Wireless network, primarily benefiting regional Australia. In collaboration with the Federal Government, NBN Co is injecting an additional $750 million into this network. A substantial portion of this funding, $480 million, is sourced from a government grant, with the remaining $270 million contributed by NBN Co itself. This investment aims to expand coverage and improve the connectivity experience for users in rural and remote areas.

Furthermore, NBN Co is rolling out smart technology into homes as part of its Smart Places product. This innovative offering empowers customers to connect with smart infrastructure and tap into the Internet of Things (IoT) beyond the confines of their buildings. It represents a forward-thinking approach to enhancing the digital lives of Australians.

While the corporate plan briefly touches on its new Special Access Undertaking (SAU) agreement, which – as we discussed here – is currently under discussion with the ACCC and retail service providers, it emphasises NBN Co’s commitment to cost reduction and operational efficiency. NBN Co CEO Stephen Rue affirmed the company’s dedication to making the necessary technology upgrades to support higher capacity demands and provide access to the highest speed plans.

Additionally, the corporate plan shed light on various network upgrade projects and initiatives that had not been previously disclosed to the public. One notable program is the Aggregation Evolution initiative, where NBN Co is modernising its transit equipment across all 121 Points of Interconnect. This upgrade is designed to accommodate anticipated increases in data volumes and enable gigabit cable services.

The plan also delved into the HFC Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) migration path, offering more detailed information on its implementation. NBN Co is considering deploying Remote PHY Distributed Access Architecture technology in the coming years, along with deep-fibre deployment into the HFC footprint to support new digital Distributed Access Architecture nodes. This deep fibre rollout aims to facilitate the efficient deployment of fibre-on-demand services, including Enterprise Ethernet, and aligns with NBN Co’s long-term goal of extending FTTP coverage to 100% of the fixed-line footprint.

NBN Co is not only focusing on the last-mile network but also improving its transport network infrastructure. It is upgrading Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) equipment used to carry traffic between sites, especially in areas where fibre is leased or where long distances need to be covered. This transition to new transit equipment will occur gradually to ensure efficient investment and a seamless transition to the updated infrastructure.

Moreover, NBN Co is committed to simplifying processes for Retail Service Providers (RSPs). The Enterprise Simplicity program aims to eliminate duplication, clarify accountabilities, enhance systems and processes, and introduce automation where feasible. This initiative aligns with NBN Co’s desire to strengthen relations with RSPs and delivery partners while reducing costs and expediting operations.

NBN Co’s 2024 corporate plan offers an updated view of the company’s efforts to upgrade its network and optimise its operations. With a focus on expanding high-speed internet access, enhancing network infrastructure, and streamlining processes for its partners, NBN Co is poised to meet the evolving digital needs of Australians in the coming years. While it is good to see that network improvements are being made, the real question remains how we can ensure that this delivers benefits to all Australians and not just to the few that are able to pay the premium prices for the services that I classify as true high-speed broadband.

Paul Budde

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