Wireless network congestion could be underreported, NBN Co confirms

Company working on addressing congestion, improving reporting

NBN Co’s chief executive Stephen Rue has confirmed that the network operator’s publicly released fixed wireless performance data may not reflect the congestion encountered by end users on the NBN.

As part of an agreement with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in September 2018, NBN Co committed to adding figures reflecting the performance of the fixed wireless service to its regular public progress reports.

The company has struggled to address congestion on the service, which former CEO Bill Morrow described as a victim of its own success. Fixing the problem was a key factor in NBN Co last year revising upwards the expected cost of the network rollout, with the company earmarking $800 million for the effort.

NBN Co from December onwards added wireless performance figures to the monthly report. The figures reveal what percentage of cells meet NBN Co’s standard of at least 6Mbps per household during peak usage periods. The February edition of the report notes, however, that the “calculation of busy hour cell performance accounts for throughput at the radio interface, which is one segment of the Fixed Wireless access network” and “does not account for impacts on throughput” in other parts of the network.

Rue yesterday told a Senate Estimates hearing the figures released by NBN Co include cell-level congestion and congestion over the company’s transit network, but so far don’t include congestion in the microwave and fibre transmission links used to connect the fixed wireless cells.

“As a result of that we realised we needed to enhance our reporting,” Rue said but added that “determining the impact is complicated”. A key priority of NBN Co is to address the congestion problems through a “program on steroids,” but the company is also working on improving its reporting, he said.

NBN Co’s chief network engineering officer, Peter Ryan, told the hearing that as of the end of March, the number of congested links was about 10 per cent of the total, or around 250.

The company is working “extremely hard” to address the problem, he said. “We expect to have halved that number by the end of this week and to have been able to fix those 250 links by around the end of April or early May.”

In some case a remote configuration change can address the problem with a microwave link, but in other cases a site visit is necessary, Ryan said.

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