NBN Might Have To Replace Optus' Messy, Broken Cable Network

Remember the cool $800 million NBN Co dropped on buying the Optus HFC network? Leaked documents have revealed that the NBN Co is thinking about replacing it entirely. Why? Because it's such crappy infrastructure.

NBN Co spent billions securing the hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) networks of Telstra and Optus when it transitioned to its multi-technology mix roll-out plan. The aim was to leverage the existing infrastructure so that it wouldn't have to lay more cable. The cable would be upgraded to fast DOCSIS 3.1 standards and everything would be hunky dory. Except, it isn't.

According to documents leaked by Fairfax, the NBN Co is thinking about replacing -- or overbuilding -- the mostly awful Optus HFC network.

The slide deck, titled "Overbuilding Optus" and prepared at the start of November, details the problems with the Optus HFC network.

Issues include:

• High "noise" interference on the line affecting speeds • Oversubscribed nodes that require splitting (which is expensive and labor-intensive) • Old equipment that needs replacing • Network complexity • Optus' cable modem termination systems can't support NBN capacity

According to the document, the NBN Co is considering overbuilding it with either Telstra's HFC network, or replacing it entirely with either fibre-to-the-basement, fibre-to-the-home (unlikely), or fibre-to-the-node.

Overbuilding the network would lead to a cost blowout of anywhere from $150 million to $375 million, and would also cause the NBN Co to miss its FY17 and FY18 targets.

The document says that this is only a high-level analysis, and that its engineers and accountants are still looking into it, but it's a scathing indictment of the lemon-esque network NBN Co bought from Optus.

Read the full document below.

Leaked NBN document by FairfaxPolitics

Image: Shutterstock



    Apart from being obviously better tech, the FTTP plan was also simpler. Everyone either got FTTP or wireless (or in a worst case, satellite). There is a lot to be said for having (most of) the country running the exact same technology baseline...

      Just ask anyone in an IT department at any decent sized company what the benefits of baseline/standardised technology > mixed technology is.

      Devil's Advocate here - while I agree it's simpler conceptually, that doesn't always mean simpler to build or maintain. The original NBN plan still used wireless & satellite for some areas because that was a much simpler task than stringing fibre in those areas, even if it made the high-level plan look more complicated.

      The current plan makes sense to many because it uses a lot of assets that are already there (copper & HFC), which sounds much simpler than replacing them all with something new. It's not until you dig further into the details (e.g. that copper can't support next-generation speeds & services, and is increasingly expensive to maintain) that you realise that it's actually simpler and cheaper in the long run to upgrade most of it now, in one buildout, rather than patching it together piecemeal for a few more decades.

        If only someone had looked into the detail before... wait... they did... and then planned it... and then started building it... what just happened again?

    I'm pretty sure the Optus cables are wrapped around street poles in my area after coming down for some reason. Optus really sold a flaming turd there, good on them. Unlucky us. ):

    I wonder if this will have any impact on the projected NBN rollout dates for certain areas?

      The bosses at SingTell are laughing all the way to the bank.

    Why does anyone ever think a hybrid/half arsed solution is ever cheaper in the long run than building a quality system from the get-go?

      I don't think anyone expects it to be cheaper. The problem is that people expect it to be good PR, and it usually is at first, until the problems come, and then no one has any money to do it the right way.

      I've seen it in developing software before. The client doesn't want to spend the money on the right approach, because they see it as too risky, so they end up paying for something hacked together to work with the dodgy systems they already have, and then they wonder why it doesn't work perfectly. Or why it doesn't do one particular thing that would make their lives easier, and that the vendor suggested from the start, but was dismissed.

      The other big problem is management types making these decisions without consulting the people that actually use the system, but this is turning into a rant.

        Not to mention the money they then have to spend to try and fix the issues on that hacked together system, which usually ends up being more than if they just did it properly in the first place.

        I know a lot of people who genuinely expected the Liberal version of the NBN to be cheaper, available quickly and to a high standard. This includes people like my brother who has worked in IT for years as a developer and should absolutely have known better.

      Because to do anything else would have required the then-opposition (which at the time ran on a platform of "yeah, nah, fuck what those guys are doing") to admit that the original Labor NBN plan at least as far as the actual network and technology (and budget) were concerned was actually a good idea.

        Just wait till Labor get back in and say the same and we end up with a network of FTTP, FTTN, FTTB, FTTK, Fixed Wireless and satellite.

          FTTK? Fiber to the Keyboard?

            Fiber to the Kerb is the technology that Labor want to use if they come to power at the next election. So be prepared for another 6+ month stop in the roll-out along with another $100M+ worth of "planning and design".

    I've had cable through Optus since 2003 and since that time I have only had a very small number of issues. Mainly the odd drop out or my speed is not what it should be and international sites take longer to load than normal or not loading at all. But this issues happen less and less. I think they should just get the NBN out and to as many people first and then tackle issues with the existing network's infrastructure. To me it seems like that NBN co is the ones creating all the budget blowouts.

      The problem is they were counting on adding a lot of new customers to that HFC, from what i gather doing that will cause the issues to become more frequent. Not to mention just because your issues are rare and small, doesn't mean your neighbor with the same service has it as good as you.

        Funny, that sounds a lot like the copper network they bought from Telstra.

        Optus cable customer here. I've had generally good experiences (better than my time on Telstra cable), but I agree that may not scale well. Still, I'm pretty confident that the HFC cable is in much better nick, with much more headroom, than the copper POTS network. We already know how bad that is.

          POTS is a PITA thats true, ive had 6+ telstra techs attend my line since i moved in a few months ago (including 1 due a dead line after they dug a new trench and ran a new line as the existing conduit was blocked and it ran under the driveway). POTS may be slower than the HFC networks, but its definitely more scalable (than optus's anyway, i remember when every new connection would slightly degrade the rest of the neighborhoods speed, not sure how susceptible it still is to that).

          Perhaps we should invoice Turnbull for his mistakes.

    Would this be another one of those situations that could have been avoided if the libs just left the NBN the fuck alone?

    But somehow this will be morphed into being labors fault, IDK... shorten must have gone out at 1 am and dug up up all the wires.

    Who is going to jail for wasting $800M of tax payer's money?

      Do you also want the two mobs who wasted $650bn to go to gaol, too?

        Define "wasted", in your context. Ideally with a link to an unbiased economic review showing how the alternatives were better.

    Funny how the Optus HFC network is considered not worthy, yet the Telstra copper is A-OK despite being how old? Or am I just being cynical we lost FttP?

      Telstra's cable network is shit, but the HFC copper is usually in reasonable state because it's not that old - areas that can get HFC had cable run in the last 30 years or so and the lines have to be reasonably clean or it tends to not work very well.

      Also Telstra have an incentive to keep the HFC cable in reasonable nick: Foxtel.

        Also Telstra have an incentive to keep the HFC cable in reasonable nick: Foxtel.

        True that. If Telstra lets the copper infrastructure degrade, there would be nothing to stop the Fox half from packing up its library and moving to another medium, even Internet. Thus resulting in Telstra being on a very short foot and collapsing.

        [Looks to make sure no-one is watching before applying acid to the underground cables while laughing like a maniac]


      We already knew that the copper was terrible, and would need significant work to bring up to a suitable standard. In contrast, NBN paid $800m for the Optus HFC because it was supposed to a running concern that just needed a few tweaks to make it work with the rest of the network.

      Optus executives must have had a huge laugh at the taxpayer's expense for selling their turd of a network for such a princely sum.

        Correction. The Singapore government is having a laugh at the Taxpayers. They are the ones who own Optus after all.

    Ah well... so much for getting decent upload speeds at my place any time before 2020.

    If only there was some sort of (relatively) small wire they can lay, that is capable of massive bandwidth and uses light pulses instead of pushing electrons through masses of coaxial/copper cables...

    So... in the end, it'll end up costing a more, and being rolled out a lot later than Labor? Yes, Labor's rollout was poorly managed (surprise surprise), but how is this "better"?

    They also have an incentive to ensure that the Optus network isn't picked over theirs in areas that have doubled up Cable.

    The upgrade works described in the 'leaked' slide pack are all fairly standard maintenance for a HFC network, which leads me to believe this is some game that Telstra is playing to ensure their network is picked.

    Hang on.. its only going to cost between $150 - $375 Million to overbuild the Optus HFC.. but we paid them $800 Million to acquire it, and then were going to spend some more money to bring it up to scratch?

    Why on earth would you make that decision when everyone seems so obsessed with how much money is spent?

      The money is not as important to the Coalition as 1) not doing Labor's thing 2) pretending that natural monopolies are not a thing.

    They should've just stuck with the (almost) all-FTTP plan. None of this mess and cheaper maintenance costs.

    I also have a problem with people on the FTTN/HFC network paying the same as people on FTTP because they are providing FTTN/HFC users with a sub-standard service for the same price. I could see the Government being sued for this in the future. This is different to the fixed-wireless and satellite services where users are paying for different services.

    If you consider that the telstra contract might cost 98 billion, that makes the Libs fraudband exactly double what the Turnbull said Labors NBN was going to cost (and we still won't own the entire network).

    Comments system still completely stuffed!

    Reflects very badly on Gizmodo.

    The first clue the government should of had was how easy they convinced Telstra and Optus to sell their infrastructure. They privatise the money making businesses and then waste the money on money sinks like this for overpriced and underperforming infrastructure.

    Remember when the government owned Telstra 100% and Optus didnt exist.

    Of course, government is institutionally corrupted by corporations, any excuse to siphon off billions of commonwealth into private pockets.

    I cant believe they went ahead with the purchase 10+ year old POS cable network. It like buying a million pentium laptops with windows 95 with the intention of upgrading them to today's standard. Good luck with that.

    Some would of made a lot of money at the expense of the taxpayer. Congratulations everyone. we got screwed again ;)

    So...my NBN is further away than when it commenced? Again?!?

    Honestly is anyone really surprised by this?
    The original NBN was a genuinely good piece of new infrastructure and it has been gloriously screwed up. Every time the new NBN management announces they need to buy something I can just assume that whatever they are buying is old and degraded and should be replaced with fibre like the original plan specified!

    So NBN is going backwards after wasting many more millions of dollars? And this is news?

    At the end of the day the fact is the current NBN wasn't "designed" this way for technical or economic reasons, it was done for purely short-term (as it turned out very short-term) political reasons - to increase the odds of Tony becoming PM and to give Malcolm enough problems to deal with he did that he'd leave him alone.

    Now we are stuck with the consequences of this selfish idiocy and we'll be paying for it for decades to come. We've also lost the last chance we'll ever have to be a leader in internet innovation instead of a mediocre follower.

    Two leaders in the last 15 years from the party that claims to know how to run the economy have made stupid and incredibly costly mistakes affecting this nation's future without doing any due diligence or proper technical evaluation beforehand - Howard with the F35 and Abbott with the NBN. Our children's children will still be paying for these mistakes when the fools who made them are long forgotten.

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