Minimal damage to Townsville NBN: Quigley

Three of 79 cables face replacement in wake of floods

The Queensland floods failed to significantly damage the rollout of the National Broadband Network in Townsville, according to the network wholesaler’s chief executive, Mike Quigley.

Appearing before a Senate estimates hearing this week, Quigley said only three of the 79 fibre optic cables installed so far in the town were damaged beyond repair and required replacement.

“Some trees did fall and caused damage to many of the power poles in Townsville some of which of course had our optic fibre cable on them,” he said. “The optic cables in fact proved to be quite robust.”

The use of underground and overhead aerial drops of fibre would not matter, Quigley said, as the location of Townsville in a flood plain left it prone to attack on both fronts.

He also confirmed that there had been no delays to the rollout of the NBN as a result of the natural disasters, either due to damage to sites, equipment or potential skills shortages as contractors and companies reprioritise efforts to rebuild those affected.

Assessments of potential damage to the sites were ongoing by NBN Co and site contractor Ergon Energy as late as 4 February, with neither company sure of whether the disasters had had any effect beyond toppling several power poles.

Despite recommendations made recently by Conroy on the rebuilding of networks in Queensland, Quigley sided with current practice of refitting copper lines, rather than bringing forward NBN rollout schedules in affected areas.

“I did in fact make the offer to the Telstra CEO (David Thodey) that anything we could do to help, we would be delighted to,” Quigley said. “Often, in fact almost always, the fastest way to restore a service is the same service. Replace copper with copper or remediate copper that has been damaged.”

Ring-based composite network offers resiliency

The potential damage to NBN construction and services had re-established arguments around the capability of the fibre network to stand up in case of such disasters.

Going on advice provided by overseas carriers, including Verizon, Quigley said there was no global consensus on whether underground fibre installations were more resilient than aerial methods, as both were prone to some form of damage. Underground could also be slower to repair, he warned.

Discussions around the construction of the fibre-to-the-home network at the estimates hearing also lead to Greens senator, Scott Ludlam, questioning whether the NBN had been built with resiliency in mind.

Quigley said the construction of ringed fibre between the fibre access nodes and 122 points of interconnect would provide traffic redundancy.

“We have absolutely taken seriously the need for resiliency and redundancy... If any one side of the ring fails you can get the traffic from the fibre access node back to the point of interconnect.”

Redundancy in other aspects of the network such as backhaul are often maintained by relevant operators but these continue to prove subject to damage in severe circumstances, such as the crippling of some Nextgen networks backhaul in January.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags National Broadband Network (NBN)Mike Quigleysenate estimates

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