16 October 2015
by David Ramli

NBN plans to wire 9.5 million buildings by 2019

The national broadband network wants to start or complete internet upgrades for 9.5 million homes and businesses across Australia by the end of 2018 in a move that could force a future Labor government to complete the Coalition's version.

New South Wales will get the lion's share of the construction with 2.8 million premises activated or under construction by September 2018 followed by Victoria with 2.5 million and Queensland with 1.9 million.

NBN will publish a three-year plan on Friday that lists the suburbs where work will commence and what technology each location will get.

Where Labor's original plan would have seen almost every suburb across Australia entirely connected with fibre optic cabling, the Coalition's plan has just two areas with 6600 buildings that will be entirely connected with fibre by September 2018: Penrith in NSW and Mandurah in Western Australia.

By 2020 around 2.4 million buildings will have direct fibre connections, down from the 93 per cent of premises envisaged by Labor's original plan.

All other regions across the country will get a mix of technologies. Some streets will get fibre to the premise and others fibre to the node, which has slower access but is cheaper to build.

The hybrid fibre-Coaxial (HFC) cables, which are currently used to supply pay TV, have been bought by NBN and included on the rollout map for the first time in the project's history. Around 3 million premises will have construction commenced or completed using the technology by 2018.

All of these plans could complicate Labor's NBN strategy for the next election. Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare told the CommsDay Summit in Melbourne on Wednesday that Labor would ramp up the number of premises being connected with fibre if it won government.

"If you vote for the Labor Party at the next election you will be voting for more fibre," he said.

Changing the program will become increasingly difficult, however, if the Coalition's NBN is able to successfully ramp up work in 2016 as planned and stay entirely on schedule.

"What locks this in is contracts signed and the more contracts that are signed the harder it is to unravel," Ovum research director David Kennedy said. "It's not impossible to unravel - you can go back and renegotiate contracts.

"But if you do it's going to cost you time and one of the big criticisms of a full-fibre rollout has always been that it'd be much slower and take much longer than [using a mix of technologies]."