In Melbourne, A Telco Is Rolling Its Own Gigabit Fibre Internet

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Following the lead of Google in the US, Melbourne telco DGtek is launching a 1 Gbps suburban GPON fibre service this month to serve homes and businesses hungry for bandwidth. The service will begin connecting customers at the end of August, starting in the beachside suburb of Elwood and extending across Melbourne's densely-populated inner south-eastern suburbs. DGtek is also evaluating plans to extend to Adelaide and Sydney, along with regional Victoria starting with Geelong.

The NBN says it will deliver fast broadband to every home and business in Australia, but when will we get it, what's the 'technology mix', how fast will it be -- and how much will it all cost?

The first stage of the rollout will extend from the DGtek offices in Brighton Road, Elwood – stretching along the bay from Alma Street, St Kilda down to Elsternwick Park, reaching as far inland as Ripponlea train station.

Similar to the HFC cable broadband rollouts of the 1990s, the fibre rollout will rely on overhead cables strung below power lines. Whereas the HFC cable rollouts bypassed some homes and streets, DGtek is aiming for 100 per cent availability within its coverage footprint.

DGtek chief operating officer Eli Bekker.

Rather than relying on fibre-to-the-basement, the rollout will run fibre connections directly to each dwelling in apartment blocks with fewer than 100 dwellings. Connection fees range from $275 to $500, with monthly no-contract plans starting at $80 per month for 250 GB of data at 100/100 Mbps speeds and going up to $150 per month for unlimited data at 1000/1000 Mbps.

As for the NBN, Elwood is still classified as "not currently available" on the rollout maps. The area has some HFC coverage but there is no indication as to when the nationwide network will reach the suburb and which technologies it will use.

DGtek's rollout will rely on Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON) to deliver 1 Gbps upload and download speeds, similar to the Google Fiber rollouts in several cities across the US, says DGtek founder David Klizhov.

Klizhov has been previously involved in Gigabit GPON fibre rollouts in Russia and moved to Australia 10 years ago to found DGtek. Initially an IT services company, it has been planning its Melbourne fibre rollout for the past two years.

"The NBN won't be in the Elwood area for another several years and it's only promising speeds of up to 100 Mbps," Klizhov says. "You have to build networks looking to the future and I think in the next few years all the applications we use will demand more bandwidth."

"If we build a 100/100 Mbps network today it will be old in a few years and it won't meet all of people's requirements. We're going to start with 1 gigabit speeds using GPON, but XGPON supports 10 gigabits over the same piece of fibre – so we'll be able to upgrade our speeds in the future."

GPON is also used by the fibre-to-the-premises sections of the NBN, although currently it only delivers 100 Mbps download speeds and 40 Mbps uploads to most users. One Australian ISP, SkyMesh, offers 100/100 Mbps NBN fibre connections in some areas by taking advantage of the NBN's 250/100 Mbps plans – which aren't offered by Retail Service Providers so generally aren't available to the public – and capping the download speed.

The NBN aims to introduce 1 Gbps download speeds on HFC cable sections of the NBN in 2017. Plans to offer 1 Gbps fibre NBN connections were announced in 2013 but were shelved after the change of federal government. A trial saw a handful of premises access 1 Gbps NBN fibre, but consumers can't sign up for 1 Gbps fibre plans.

Another key difference between the NBN and DGtek GPON rollouts is that DGtek is building its own exchange centres rather than relying on Telstra's telephone exchanges as central points. This makes it easier for DGtek to manage and maintain the network from end premises all the way back to the network backbone.

DGtek joins a growing number of entrepreneurial Australian services, such as Lightning Broadband, which are looking to get a jump on the NBN by deploying high-speed broadband in bandwidth-starved suburbs.

DGtek has obtained both retail and wholesale Australian broadband carrier licenses – so while it will sign up its own broadband customers it will also allow other internet service providers to sign up customers via its fibre network.

This month the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ruled that high-speed fixed-line broadband networks can no longer be monopolies and must offer wholesale access to other internet service providers.

"We welcome other retail internet providers but we have some rules which they must follow," says DGtek chief operating officer Eli Bekker. "For example they must offer a fair and auditable billing system as well as proper tech support for customers if they want to use our fibre network."

"We believe fibre is the best technology for the job and we're happy to share that network as long as the end customer still gets a fair deal."

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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