The not so rosy micro-node rollout

James Riley
Editorial Director

Labor is making political bacon from an admission by NBN Co that almost all of the 1423 micro-nodes planted on the NBN so far to help boost network speeds were not in service as of the end of June.

Micro-nodes are smaller versions of the large, green node cabinets that make the ‘N” in the FTTN, the technology that was introduced when then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull rewrote the network plan to use large amounts of existing Telstra copper in the NBN rollout, rather than the former Labor government’s mainly fibre to the premise (FttP) plan.

Michelle Rowland: Even Labor is surprised at the service levels of FTTN micro-nodes

The need for micro-nodes stems from using copper as the delivery technology to most of the NBN. The further your premise is from a full size node the slower the service, so micro-nodes are a cheap way to fill in service black spots around full size nodes.

Besides being physically smaller, the micro-nodes have fewer ports than full size nodes.

If the micro-nodes are inoperable, then the customers who lie on that section of the network cannot get connected to the NBN even though the general area has been declared ready for service.

NBN Co said just 16 of the 1423 micro-nodes installed on the network were operable.

In its answer to Labor’s estimates queries, NBN Co said that on average there were 29 customers per micro-node. Doing the math, that means there were some 40,000 potential NBN customers at the end of June who could not get the network in their area, despite it being listed as ready for service

In its answer, NBN Co said it expected the deployed devices to be switched on progressively throughout the year.

Queensland was worst affected state with all of the 430 micro-nodes deployed there inoperable as of June 23, while Western Australia had all of its 196 micro-nodes also gathering dust. All the micro-nodes in South Australia (117), the Northern Territory (7) and the ACT (5) were reported inoperable.

Labor dug the admission out of NBN Co following a Senate Estimates hearing in May. In a press release issued Wednesday by Labor communications shadow minister Michelle Rowland, the Opposition put the boot in.

“This is the NBN that Malcolm Turnbull calls a success story – slower speeds, slower rollout and technology that is out of service while Australians are begging for better internet,” said Ms Rowland in a statement.

“It simply beggars belief that Malcolm Turnbull has 1,400 micro nodes in the field gathering dust,” Ms Rowland said.

Why so many of the micro-nodes remain inactive is unclear.

An NBN spokesperson said the activation process for the Alcatel-Lucent produced micro-nodes had to be changed from one where technicians had to open the sealed boxes to commission them to one where just the copper joints outside the case had to be modified.

How this new activation process actually works is uncertain.

Labor also questioned whether the Coalition’s version of the NBN was already obsolete.

The Opposition seized on a story that recently ran in the Daily Telegraph where Peter Ryan, the NBN chief engineer was reported as saying NBN Co was already planning upgrades to the network for after its 2020 completion date.

Ms Rowland suggested Communications Minister Mitch Fifield was unhappy with Mr Ryan’s responses to the Daily Telegraph.

“Evidently the Minister was not happy about this disclosure, because when the NBN chief engineer was subsequently asked by a journalist on Monday ‘so why not just build the NBN once rather than building something that needs to be upgraded in a few years at extra cost’ the Minister pounced in front of the camera — declared ‘I’ll take that’ — and then proceeded to give a non-response. There was clearly something he did not want the Australian public to hear,” said Ms Rowland.

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