The National Broadband Network WAS a great policy. When it was announced in March 2007, I was on a national tour presenting on the importance of FTTH as a national infrastructure. I was quite proud to be one of the people responsible for convincing the Minister to head down the path of a National Broadband Network. However that pride has now turned to shame as we see NBNco's implementation of a great policy turn into a train wreck which is happening in slow motion before our eyes. But like many of the policies of this Labor Government, they have it great on paper, but fail to deliver on their promises.

Boy, a big opening I suppose, but its one I truly believe - The NBN in my opinion is a complete disaster and I believe Mike Quigley and a few senior personnel are entirely responsible for the situation. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for a number of people within NBNco - I don't need to mention them they know who they are - but most are completely out of their depth in building a Fibre to the Home Access network.

There are so many things wrong with NBNco's FTTH implementation I don't know were to start, and I could be discussing this for weeks. So rather than writing it all in one article, I will over the coming weeks focus onto a single point each week and discuss where in my opinion they have gone wrong and why.

The biggest issue for NBNco is an inherit self belief by some within the organisation - one might say they drink their own bath water - which in my opinion has lead to a high level of arrogance within the organisation.

To give you several examples;

The first is a statement made by Peter Ferris, GM of Design & Planning, at a presentation to industry late last year in Melbourne, during which he claimed the market had been stating how "elegant" the NBN architecture was and that he was so "proud" because it was "his design". The reality is that many in the industry have quite the opposite view - they are just too scared to say it publicly for fear of retribution by NBNco.

I have had many discussions with vendors, construction companies, consulting engineers and similar people who have much more experience than those at NBNco designing fibre based access networks and they have all had the same opinion; they cannot comprehend the over engineering within the network and too many staff at NBNco don't wish to listen to expert advice. NBNco is not building the network to world best practice or a common standard, they are re-inventing just about everything.

Another example was back in April when Director of Greenfields at NBNco, Archie Wilson, stated to the Sydney Morning Herald that some developers "failed to follow the proper process". Sorry to burst your bubble Mr Wilson, but NBNco is providing a government funded infrastructure to developers and in that role NBNco should be first getting to understand how developers work and fit into their needs and processes, not the other way around.

For the past 40+ years, developers have simply gone to the PMG/Telecom/Telstra and got everything done for them; now there has been the biggest reform in telecommunications in Australia and the developers are confused about what to do. This is not the developers fault, in my opinion this is arrogance and mismanagement on the part of NBNco for failing to educate the industry on these massive changes. But then Mr Wilson would not understand how telecommunication construction works in the new housing projects because (it is my understanding) he has no experience in the carrier world, no construction experience nor any greenfield development experience - he came from Cisco's enterprise business, a great choice for this critical position!

Time and again we see examples of NBNco ignoring industry advice particularly from Communications Alliance - the peak industry body for setting telecommunication standards. A good example has been a number of "debates" with NBNco staff in some of the working groups about the provision of express conduits (typically 4 x 100mm ducts) in certain sections of the network built within a new estate. NBNco refuses to follow that recommendation by industry - thus effectively preventing carriers such as Telstra, Optus, Vodafone or others from expanding their network (particularly for Mobile base stations) through these new estates. In the past Telstra and others (like Opticomm) would build spare capacity into the conduct infrastructure for duct sharing. NBNco like it or not you are the new national infrastructure carrier and you are required to provide infrastructure for now and the future for the needs of all carriers not just yourself. Even Telstra was never as arrogant as this even during the "Trujillo Era" - its like a time warp back to the PMG of the 1970's - extremely monopolistic and setting their own standards.

In my next article I will go into the detail of the network design highlighting a number of its "issues" and how the design is grossly over engineered. In my opinion, its for this reason (amoung others) that the construction tenderers did not meet NBNco's price expectations, not because they failed to deliver "fair value". The constructors delivered a price based on what NBNco wished built and how they wanted it built, it was NBNco's poor judgement in estimating the initial network costs and then designing something which was not based on those estimates - again arrogance at its best.


At 15 May, 2011 15:12 Anonymous said...

I'm inclined to agree with your assessment. There is a large engineering / business disconnect happening. (To be fair however, this is true of most carriers with infrastructure at present). The construction tender process is the most telling, NBNCo has chosen a high complexity route by trying to get everything under one major contractor rather than working out a open process that can adapt to regional variations.

At 24 June, 2011 13:18 Anonymous said...

While I agree with some things that Stephen says, and I have long followed and respected his opinion, I can't hep but feel a little amazed that one of the strongest NBN supporters seems to now have turned on the NBN.

It is no secret that Stephen is employed by Opticomm, a well respected FTTH builder, which unfortunately is now watching its business threatened by the goliath FTTH builder in the NBNco. Opticomm was originally fully supporting NBNco hoping to score a big piece of the pie when the original plan was to divide up the work. Now that this is not going to happen, it seems all bets are off and the FTTH builders left out are going all out for the jugular.

While I sympathise with the awkward predicament they are now in, we should take *some* of the claims with a grain of bitter salt. There are some legitimate points though.


Post a Comment