This Week in NBN: Skinny Fibre

Dr Su-Vun Chung from Corning Optical Communications demonstrating “Skinny Fibre”

During a Senate committee meeting earlier this week, representatives from NBN Co. and Corning Inc., presented new optical fibre technology that costs similar to implement and provides up to 10x faster internet speeds than the proposed NBN plan proposed by the Australian Government.

Colloquially called, “Skinny Fibre”, the technology boasts easier implementation, less space required and can reduce rollout times to premises by up to 4 weeks. With that said, Skinny Fibre does have some drawbacks.

Currently, the Government is rolling out a network infrastructure called Fibre to the Node (FTTN). Fibre optical cables will connect from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to a node that’s geographically dispersed across the nation. From these nodes, copper lines are drawn to homes and businesses. Overall, NBN Co. estimates that FTTN costs about $1,600 per connection.

Fibre to the Distribution Point (FTTdP) is similar to FTTN but extends the fibre connection closer to your front door. Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) is the ultimate connection, with fibre connection from all points.

Essentially the cables are thinner. It’s the same type of glass in the strands of fibre that are in the cables. But the cables have fewer strands of fibre in there and that makes them thinner and makes them easier to pull through the ducts and the conduits and the pipes that are around the cities and underneath the footpaths.
That means that hopefully there’ll be less digging, less remediation, less fixing of the conduits required. And it also means that those jointing enclosures — the places where you join one cable to another — can be much smaller than what they were using in the first few iterations, the first few designs.

Previously, NBN Co. estimated the cost of FTTdP would be near the cost of FTTP, approximately $3,700. With the introduction of Skinny Fibre, the cost of FTTdP is reduced to $2,000. While this is significantly cheaper than previous estimates, it ultimately still cost more than FTTN.

CEO of NBN Co., Bill Morrow, stated that FTTdP have been successfully implemented and operational in Ballarat and Karingal in Victoria a few weeks ago. Mr Morrow also mentioned that he had brought the new solution with the Government a year ago but the solution did not meet all of the Government’s criteria, specifically financially.

The only reason I can think that they’re not switching from the copper NBN to this new technology is because it would be humiliating for Malcolm Turnbull to admit that he was wrong and to switch from what they’re doing now to this new technology.

Personal Opinion

From what I understand of the current state of the copper network, the Government plans to purchase (or have purchased) a stupendous amount of NEW copper to replace the 20-year-old technology that is literally rusting away.

You know what isn’t rusting away? Fibre optic cables. How about we repurpose the ~$10 million dollars to pay for new copper and instead replace them with Skinny Fibre and FTTdP? Sure, it won’t cover it all but will also cut down on future maintenance costs on the copper network.

I don’t see the average Australian household or small business needing more than a 1-gigabit connection (download a DVD in ~40 seconds!) and those who need more can pay for the fibre extension to their home/business (FTTP), which is now cheaper thanks to the reduced distance.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!