Do You Want Fibre With That? NBN's Apartment Upsell

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Inner-city apartment residents have the option to bulk purchase higher-speed connections from NBN Co under the government-owned company's plan to add nearly 4 million premises to its network this year.

The NBN at present is planning to service the majority of remaining premises by using existing copper telephone lines and cabling from the homes to connect to nodes which are then part of its fibre network.

It is winding down the more expensive fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) roll-out to just a few hundred a month.

Direct FTTP connections currently offer faster speeds, although NBN Co argues some overseas Fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) networks offer speeds of 300 megabits per second (Mbps).

As the NBN begins to focus on more densely populated areas it is offering bulk buyers – such as apartment building body corporates – the ability to buy a fibre connection all the way to their units for an additional fee.

NBN Co's chief network deployment officer, Kathrine Dyer, confirmed at least two properties have already used the Technology Switch option to upgrade from fibre-to-the-node to FTTP, although costs will vary for each property.

One Queensland commercial property owner paid just $6000 to upgrade a FTTN connection limited to 25 Mbps to a FTTP connection, which can deliver up to 1 gigabyte per second (Gbps).

And a residential block of flats in Darlinghurst in Sydney got together and paid to have the entire block fitted with FTTP while the rest of the suburb was connected through FTTN.

Costs depend on the building's complexity, cabling, age, proximity to infrastructure and the underlying network, Ms Dyer explained.

"You can't just naturally plug in one technology to another ... It is not an easy thing to just give a universal price," Ms Dyer said.

"We do have a team that can talk to them and come out and potentially visit them if a body corporate is interested ... We don't do a street on a street by street basis, [but] we will do individual premises. Although by definition the whole street could apply."

NBN Co currently charges a blind quote fee of $660, according to its website. Costs decline depending on how many premises want an upgrade, but it will only consider upgrades after the planned installations to the nearest node are complete.

Ms Dyer has been at NBN Co for six years and recently became the chief network deployment officer. She is in charge of network planning, design and construction. She was previously the executive general manager for regional deployment.

"I have now stepped up to take on the deployment of all NBN technologies. Including HFC, all of fibre-to-the-curb as well. This year for me, it will be the largest construction year that NBN has," she told Fairfax Media.

"By definition it will be our largest construction year compared to any other year in our plan."

NBN Co plans to declare 3.7 million premises ready for service this financial year, taking the total number of ready premises to over 8 million. It recently declared it was half-way through the total build, although this was due to a reduction in total premises from 11.9 million to 11.2 million.

By July 2018 about 4.5 million premises are expected to be actively using the NBN. It has an internal goal of 8 million active users by 2020.

Planning documents seen by Fairfax Media show the bulk of construction in 2017-18 will focus on upgrading infrastructure already installed around the country, a much faster process than (FTTP). In the busiest months hundreds of thousands of premises will be upgraded from existing copper-based ADSL internet to FTTN or HFC where available. But the number of premises getting FTTP installations ranges from just 300 to 5210.

From March 2018 NBN Co will start connecting tens of thousands of premises every month using fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) technology, which brings fibre closer to a premises, but uses the last few metres of the existing copper connection. FTTN uses up to 450 metres of copper wire, which is slower and has less capacity than fibre.

To date the focus has been on regional towns and outer suburban areas. Ms Dyer said building in inner-city areas brings a new level of complexity because it is more crowded, there are more heritage issues, and construction crews have reported being hassled by people leaving nightclubs and pubs.

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