The firm behind Australia’s national broadband network has promised to upgrade thousands of under-performing connections to full fibre this year, with up to two million upgrades possible by the end of 2023.
NBN Co has set a target of upgrading 10,000 homes and businesses with fibre-to-the-node connections to fibre-to-the-premises by the end of 2021.
The premises will be the first of what could be up to two million FTTN to FTTP upgrades by the end of 2023 as part of NBN Co’s $4.5 billion ‘Network Investment Plan’.
The free fibre upgrades for eligible fibre-to-the-node customers currently shut out from accessing higher speeds were first announced by Communications Minister Paul Fletcher last year, a move Labor dubbed a “humiliating backflip”.
“By calendar year end, the company plans to initiate a small volume launch of FTTN to FTTP upgrades, making up to 10,000 premises eligible to access to nbn™ Home Fast and other higher speed services on demand, before scaling the program throughout 2022 and 2023,” NBN Co said on Tuesday.
Who’s eligible for a free fibre upgrade?
The purpose of the free fibre upgrades is to make NBN Co’s Home Ultrafast speed tier, which offers peak download speeds of 500Mbps to nearly 1Gbps, available to “up to 75 per cent of premises on the fixed-line network by 2023”.
The firm has “so far identified 1.1 million of approximately 2 million premises in suburbs and towns across all states and territories of Australia that will be eligible to upgrade”.
The upgrades will be available on an “on demand” basis for customers with FTTN who commit to signing up to NBN Co’s higher speed tiers that FTTN technology is unable to handle.
NBN Co is yet to announce who’s first in line for this year’s “small volume launch” of the upgrades.
But the firm recently told Senate estimates it had been “consulting with retail service providers on 100/20 Mbps being the minimum service order that would trigger the provision of a fibre lead-in to a premises”.
The first customers are expected to be able to place upgrade orders with their internet retailers from November.
The problem with FTTN
When the Coalition government took control of the NBN in 2013, it chose to roll out a “multi-technology mix” of seven different types of connections of varying quality.
The most common of those types, fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), relies on old copper telephone wires to deliver internet to homes.
FTTN accounts for about 40 per cent of NBN connections, but the technology has been plagued with problems.
Figures from the consumer watchdog’s Measuring Broadband Australia report show that as many as one in five NBN users with FTTN connections aren’t getting the speeds they are paying for.
When NBN Co launched its “Home Ultrafast” plan for residential broadband customers in May last year, only 18 per cent of NBN connections were deemed capable of delivering the speeds.
As at June 30, 17 per cent of residential NBN customers were using plans based with download speeds of up to 100 Mbps and above.
NBN Co’s pandemic revenue rises
NBN Co’s fortunes rose in the 2020-21 financial year despite the pandemic.
The firm’s revenue increased 21 per cent year on year to $4.6 billion, financial results revealed on Tuesday.
The uplift was driven by the addition of 933,000 residential and business premises connecting to the network over the past year, with a total of 8.2 million premises connected as at June 30.
The government-owned monopoly wholesaler’s chief executive Stephen Rue dubbed the NBN the “digital backbone of the nation” in a statement about the results.
“The last 12 months have been very challenging for most Australians, but our purpose has never been clearer. NBN Co exists to lift the digital capability of Australia and we reiterate our commitment to provide a secure, reliable, high-speed broadband network to our residential and business customers across the country,” Mr Rue said.
“As the nation faces into new challenges with the lockdowns that were recently imposed in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, we will continue to support customers and internet retailers through these uncertain times.”