NBN Co has revealed it will complete fibre deployment in its first greenfields housing estate within six weeks, the start of a major new front in the construction of the national broadband network.
The network builder today announced that it would sub-contract all new housing estate work to Fujitsu Australia and Service Stream in a deal worth $100 million in the first year alone.
News of the deal was first broken by The Australian almost a fortnight ago.
The arrangement represented a significant deviation from NBN Co's and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's stated aim that a panel of suppliers be appointed to look after greenfields estates.
It also provided housing developers with certainty over their optionsfor the first time in 18 months.
NBN Co greenfields director Archie Wilson said that field crews would begin laying the first fibre within a fortnight and that first estate would be completed about four weeks later.
Fibre deployment is expected to peak "in the August/September" timeframe when Fujitsu and Service Stream technicians were expected to be working in 369 new housing developments simultaneously.
Wilson said that it typically took nine months from the commencement of civil works in new estates to reach the point where the rollout of telecommunications infrastructure was required.
Estates that registered their interest in NBN fibre from January 1 would mostly come due in that September timeframe, he said.
Wilson said that estates would be rolled out to in a "strict chronological sequence". He said there would be no opportunity for developers to "queue jump".
"Our early engagement with Fujitsu is around how we can get started on as much as possible early on so we can stay ahead of the demand curve," he said.
"The job's as big as it ever was".
NBN Co said today it had received 1,480 applications from new housing developers seeking NBN fibre in their estates, representing around 133,000 premises.
Wilson said that NBN Co had placed forward orders with its suppliers of passive fibre, active electronics and cabinets to ensure there was enough product to meet the initial rollout in new estates.
He said from now, Fujitsu Australia would have "direct access" into NBN Co's supply chain, placing its own orders for products to support the rollout.
Why no panel?
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced back in January the intention to create an interim panel of network builders to allow NBN Co to meet its obligations in new housing estates that came into effect this year.
The announcement appeared to point to established operators like Opticomm, OPENetworks, Comverge and Pivit getting work on the NBN project – something that had been uncertain for some time.
NBN Co's decision to appoint a single prime contractor was at odds with the stated intention, both verbal and in the request for tender process.
However, Wilson told iTnews that a panel arrangement had been favoured only to meet a tight timeframe of connecting the first homes early this year.
"We thought we'd have to connect premises in the first half of this year [so we thought] let's get a panel together and get them to deploy an FTTP solution," Wilson said.
Concerns about differences in passive fibre, active electronics and architectures between the various proposed panelists were initially put to one side.
But Wilson indicated NBN Co had wanted consistency between the components used in greenfields and brownfields construction – so when the initial timeframe was pushed out, the company prioritised consistency over speed.
"One supplier means one standard solution which gave us comfort," he said.
"We didn't want to create little [FTTP] islands and have the integration task to bring those into the mainstream [NBN build]."
Other concerns were the potential of smaller players to scale up their workforces.
He said that even in the peak of the rollout, NBN Co would not "max out" the combined capacity of Fujitsu Australia and Service Stream.
Other players still options
Because NBN Co was only the "supplier of last resort" in new housing estates, developers would still have the option to use existing players to roll out fibre.
Opticomm general manager Phil Smith told iTnews that his company would be "an active competitor" to NBN Co for new housing estate developers.
"We'll provide a cost-effective alternative," he said.
"We still believe there will be a reasonable percentage of developers who will go private and we hope to increase our share of that market."
Another option available to developers was a tie-up between network builder Comverge and sub-wholesale carrier Platform Networks, which started touting its services to developers during the NBN Co's greenfields bid process.
"Given Fujitsu/NBN Co is really provider of last resort there's still many opportunities for smaller players to be involved in this market," Platform Networks managing director David Hooton said.
"We have an agreement with Comverge to assist them in developing their retail service provider channel. We're doing service delivery, they're doing the [network] building."
Platform Networks was recently named the only wholesale-only participant in mainland NBN first release sites, bolstering its NBN credentials.
Hooton said he and Comverge were "very keen to hear from any greenfields developers".