The Coalition government's decision to switch the fixed line element of the National Broadband Network from being primarily fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) to a mix of technologies, notably fibre-to-the-node for brownfields, has not been without its critics.
At least some of that criticism has centred on the street-side cabinets that will be needed under a FTTN deployment. They will be condemned as "hideous" and vulnerable to vandalism, and critics have alleged that powering them will rack up a substantial electricity bill.
The aesthetics of the cabinets may be subjective and whether they will suffer at the hands of vandals remains to be seen. However, it is possible to do some rough calculations on the cost of electricity thanks to information provided by NBN Co in response to questioning by former communications minister Stephen Conroy at a May hearing of the Senate's NBN committee.
NBN Co COO Greg Adcock was unable to provide Conroy with a detailed answer on the electricity costs of hooking up a test node in Umina to the electricity grid, but NBN Co later provided the committee with a detailed breakdown.
The nodes are powered by a device mounted on the closest power pole, with an underground cable is run from that device to the node. Hooking up a node to the electricity grid costs $6250. According to NBN Co, annual electricity costs run at around $1404 plus an $85 service charge, for a total of $1489 per cabinet per year.
An FAQ on the Coalition's broadband policy posted on communications minister Malcolm Turnbull's website states that "50,000 nodes would be needed (many of them in the basement of apartment blocks)", though the Coalition has also thrown round the figure of 60,000 nodes.
"The exact number will be dependent on detailed planning and designs which have not yet been finalised," an NBN Co spokesperson said.
That would put the annual power bill for the nodes at between $74.5 million and $89.3 million (and electrical installation costs at between $312.5 million and $375 million). Of course, in the real world, things will be substantially more complex than these back-of-the-envelope calculations.
NBN Co is currently in the middles of conducting several FTTN trials.
Late last month NBN Co revealed plans for a 1000-node test FTTN deployment in conjunction with Telstra. Under the agreement, which is reportedly worth $150 million for Telstra, FTTN will be rolled out in Belmont, Boolaroo, Gorokan, Hamilton and Morisset in NSW; and in Bribie Island, Bundaberg, Caboolture, Gympie and Warner in Queensland.
The trial will "deliver valuable insights into how to build a sustainable and consistent program of work that allows the industry to ramp up and deploy the FTTN element of the NBN at scale," according to NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow.
The FTTN contract with Telstra "will ensure initial rollout of FTTN focuses on areas categorised as ‘underserved’ in the Government’s MyBroadband broadband quality study," a statement issued by Turnbull's office said at the time of the announcement.
The large scale test builds on the smaller NBN Co-led FTTN test deployments in Umina, NSW, and in the Melbourne suburb of Epping.
In Senate Estimates hearings in May, NBN Co COO Greg Adcock revealed that although the Umina trial was "progressing well", the Epping trial "has slowed down a bit while we work with the utility there to find a power solution, and we are working through that".
In a limited FTTN test in Umina conducted earlier this year, NBN Co achieved download speeds of 105 megabits per second and upload speeds of 45Mbps.
The FTTN trials follow the revised statement of expectations for NBN Co that was sent to the government-owned company in April by Turnbull and finance minister Mathias Cormann.
That SOE backed 'Scenario 6' outlined in the strategic review of the NBN rollout prepared by NBN Co shortly after the Coalition's electoral victory last year. 'Scenario 6' is an 'optimised multi-technology mix'.
Instead of Labor's NBN blueprint, which involved rolling fibre to the doorstep of most homes and businesses in Australia, the NBN will instead employ FTTN for some 32 per cent of premises scheduled for fixed line NBN connections, fibre-to-the-basement for multi-dwelling-units (such as apartment blocks), hybrid fibre-coaxial in areas covered by existing HFC network, and fibre-to-the-premises for greenfields developments.