A prominent leak from within the nbn company has described how a dominant form of delay and cost blowout (with its favoured Fibre-to-the-Node rollout) is connecting power to tens of thousands of node cabinets. However, this ‘nightmare’ problem was known about from the beginning.
“Under the heading "Commercial in Confidence: Scale the Deployment Program", the report outlines a plethora of faults, including that delays in power approvals and construction are being caused by electricity companies which account for 38,537 premises or 59 per cent of overall slippages against the target…
"Construction completions gap can be attributed to 3 main issues: power, supply, and completions under review.
“It was originally intended to cost $29.5 billion according to the Abbott government, but costs have increased considerably since 2013 and it is getting close to twice that price tag.
Yet the NBN Co's own documents show that for all that money, it remains bedevilled with problems from the slow design approvals by power utility companies (FTTP did not require electrical supply but FTTN does) and as a result of material and supply problems. Even expertise in dealing with the copper network is scarce.“
But all of this was detailed back in 2012 at a little-known, highly-significant but poorly-covered conference called NBN Realized where senior contractors who were actually building the NBN discussed the realities of switching from Fibre-to-the-Home to Fibre-to-the-Node. At the time they were describing how connecting the former was getting faster and cheaper all the time (while giving positive connection projections which ultimately faltered due to Asbestos issues and a general election).
The conference described how the physical cost of switching to FTTP to FTTN would likely end-up being slower and more expensive in reality as rather than ‘racing’ down streets connecting fibre they’d have to stop and build nodes which represented an ‘expensive, time-consuming hindrance.’
It’s worth reading the whole article which this author wrote for the ABC as it deals with the ramping up of an FTTP rollout and detailed why it would likely, pending disasters, eventually be faster and cheaper than required in NBN Co’s own FTTP Corporate Plan at the time.
In the meantime, here are the comments made about the power-connection problems FTTN would face as the predictions have now come to pass.
“The hindrance comes with a practical nightmare of powering the node and intense bureaucracy born from the requirement of dealing with power companies, associated regulations and the necessity of using power companies' own engineers to hook each one up. One contractor said, "I don't know how you'd power them”...
[Stephen] Ellich [Director of Service Stream] stressed on several occasions that he didn't know if FTTN would be cheaper but he did say the following, "I don't think it's simple changing from Fibre to the Premises to Fibre to the Node. For example, you have no electronic cabinetisation that exists out there as a start. So, if you went to the node, and where those nodes might have to be, you've still got to change from one media to another which requires some electronics out there. It would require power to those electronics, presumably.
"I just don't think it is as simple as people think; that you just, all of a sudden, stop providing fibre in the last three-or-four hundred metres or maybe even the last kilometre from where it might be a pillar, for example. There's... a whole bunch of work that will happen that's not currently required with this rollout."
[Dan] Birmingham [from Silcar] added, "The big question is just that if you go with fibre just to the node, does that node become active [it does - ed]. If it becomes active then you've got to connect power to it and that's a significant cost."
[Tony] Cotter [MD and CTO for SPATIALinfo] said, "You're also relying on the existing copper network from the node to the premise. And I believe Telstra stopped rolling that three years ago."
So far details from the government and the nbn company have been scant and nobody has pushed the matter or succeeded in getting the nbn company to open up about such matters.