NBN retailer accreditation questioned in access seeker rush

Expansion of retail service providers likely to provide new services, but NBN Co needs to keep an eye on new entrants

The expansion of the retail service provider (RSP) market in the wake of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout could bring risks to rollout schedules and customer experiences without careful accreditation, a digital economy analyst has warned.

The potential to sign up to four or even eight service providers simultaneously in a given premise has prompted industry pundits to propose the notion of household brands and other vertical industries to offer specific and differentiated services.

The likes of Woolworths, Coles, energy utilities as well as fashion retailers, healthcare and education providers have been named among those capable and perhaps willing to join a dwindling ISP sector under the NBN.

In forecasting potential changes under the NBN, Malcolm Alder, digital economy partner at analyst firm KPMG, said the introduction of non-traditional RSPs to the NBN would be a logical move for companies looking to expand revenue among consumers.

“To get from where you are today - in a world that is ruled by bricks and mortar, that is ruled by so many sales per square metre of footage - to that sort of a world of multiple channels and very different overall platforms... is pretty significant to put it very mildly,” he told attendees of Communications Alliance’s Broadband and Beyond 2011 conference this week.

The new RSPs may offer to provide direct internet-based retail services themselves or collaborate with other vertical industries to provide a package of services to users. Alder argued that while some vertical industries could find the proposition unnecessary, others would likely opt to offer the services to ensure greater reliability of connections.

However, he said NBN Co would be required to carefully vet new access seekers prior to offering the products in a live environment.

“There is a very legitimate question about retailer accreditation and customer experience,” he said.

The lack of technical capability and expertise in the field remained a key risk, according to Alder, who said unsupervised changes to customer premises equipment by such RSPs were also a cause for concern.

In an information paper released late last year, NBN Co outlined basic criteria for access seeker qualification. Under the guidelines, potential retailers are required to be carrier, content or carriage service providers and need to meet the wholesaler’s financial requirements.

The potential access seekers would also be required to undergo interoperability testing with NBN Co in a billing/operational support systems (BSS/OSS) sandpit to be erected at the wholesaler’s Melbourne-based network operations centre later this year. A second, isolated fibre sandpit is only mandatory for VoIP and IPTV service providers.

NBN Co expects to use a single wholesale broadband agreement with all access seekers and will undergo one-on-one consultant regarding the eligibility of each seeker and the alignment of their products to wholesale services. NBN Co expects to roll out the network and confirm with access seekers on a business-as-usual basis by the end of 2012.

Alder, who also helped to write the $25 million KPMG and McKinsey implementation study delivered to the Federal Government last year, said NBN Co would need to be careful in preventing access seekers to placing pressure or influence on rollout schedules and the customer experience.

“The whole customer experience can only be partially mediated by NBN Co; they are after all a wholesaler,” he said.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags NBNCommunications AllianceKPMG McKinsey Implementation StudyBroadband and Beyond 2011

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