In 2013, when the Australian elections were on, I was exchanging comments on Facebook with a personal friend of mine, who lives in Australia. I had asked him who he had voted for (Voting is compulsory over there; punishable by a fine). He answered that he voted FTTP!
Later, after the election results were out and the mandate was against what he had desired, he explained that FTTP had come up until 2 blocks away from his home and his choice was influenced by this. In my view, this reinforces the maxim – Seeing is believing.
A Brief History of NBN Co
NBN Co., as you would recall, was an organization setup by the previous Australian Government with the aim of bringing FTTP based connectivity to 90% of Australia. This was created by an act of the Parliament, after protracted debate in public sphere and in Board Rooms.
This ambitious program had been rolling for the past 4+ years but has been consistently missing its targets for coverage. This was also resulting in cost overruns.
The 2013 General Election
One of the important planks on which the then opposition coalition contested the elections against the ruling labour party was about how to make NBN Co more effective in delivering on the promises. The opposition, which subsequently won the elections, felt that FTTN (with VDSL) was more suitable for Australian needs and that FTTH was too ambitious. They brought out a white-paper justifying their view-point and promised to start delivering on this within 90 days of coming to power.
Recently, quite a furore has been kicked up Down Under (Australia, as I see, continues to be the happening place in the telecom world today) over an internal NBN Co document that was purportedly written during the caretaker period (the period between the declaration of elections & the formation of the new Government) as per media reports.
The report indicates that the Ruling Coalition’s claim that FTTN will be less expensive and more on-time to be wrong and that it is the other way!
The Government claims that the report was part of the previous Government’s attempt to justify their bad decisions and was perhaps commissioned by them.
One fact stands out – NBN Co. continues to have problems in delivering to plans. FTTH & FTTN choices may have cost implications (known & unknown – e.g. NBN Co. does not own Copper Assets and may have to get these from Telstra) and it is only a question of hypothesis until something more concrete is seen. Seeing, after all, is believing!
A potential root cause
So, one of the important root causes to be determined and eliminated is that of rollout delays.
And that is – there is a shortage of skills & expertise in the NBN Co contractor ecosystem to deliver and that it has not been economically viable for the contractors to alleviate this. This is borne out by the run-ins that keep happening between NBN Co and the Government on one side and the contractors on the other.
I feel that one of the important things that NBN Co ecosystem should address immediately is to get back on track with respect to rollout.
What would my solution be?
The challenge is not of technology – all technologies can be made to work to their promises. The challenge is not one of capex avoidance itself. As stated in my earlier blog (What is under the hood?), the ask is one for efficiency and automation; the ask is to address skill gaps.
What NBN Co Ecosystem needs is to work with a Network Managed Services provider who can mobilize the right skills, bring in required automation quickly and make it achieve the right level of efficiencies. In other words, we need a Network Managed Services provider with converged IT under the hood; not a technology player nor one who could provide capex avoidance.