Friday, 21 June 2013

NBN: $7,500 for Fibre connection if you have Rural Electricity?

A number of folk have independently come up with the "obvious" solution of giving people in the country access to "real" broadband by stringing Optical Fibre under high-voltage distribution lines. Just as was done in my backyard here in Canberra.

Those that have been "around the block" often enough know that "obvious" solutions like this are seldom practical and never easy.

I believe that Fibre, at least in Victoria, could be run to all rural households connected to the Electricity Grid for a total of $7,500/household. This could be split 3 ways between the Federal & State Governments and the householder, separate from NBN Co funding. A critical part of the scheme would be dual-purposing the cable: providing backhaul and Customer Access Network.

An extra benefit of this scheme is providing backhaul Optical Fibre into all small country towns, allowing NBN Co to deploy cheaper Fibre, not Fixed Wireless.

There are three conditions this could make this scheme work:
  •  everyone in the country that wants high-speed, low-latency Fibre broadband is probably already connected to the electricity grid.
  •  most of these people are in business, agri-business as we now call farming, and would make a large investment if they saw a good return on investment.
    • This isn't quite right. There are many people, presumably on smaller holdings, that are retired and on fixed incomes. Is this 30%? Haven't chased down the ABS figures.
  •  I think that if fibre could be delivered for around $7,500 that HiDef teleconferencing  alone would save them enough in mileage to pay for it in 12-18 months (12-16,000 km of travel avoided. More if time saved is counted).
My central question is: could Optical Fibre be run in the country for as low as $10,000/km.

The usual costs quoted for buried long-distance cable is $30,000/km, I'm not sure how this is arrived at.
Cable alone costs ~$1-2,000/km. Not sure of differences between aerial and underground.

A Victorian DPI report gives figures of $40,000/km and $50,000/km for Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) and Two wire High Voltage (11Kv)

The report also gives:
  • 84,000km of High-V country distribution to ~134,000 households (ABS),
    • for 1.6 households/km.
  • 34%, ~24,000km is SWER. 2-wire & 3-wire 11Kv account for the rest.
Bulk figures for Australia are:
  •  9M households at 10hh/km, for 900,000km distribution network.
  • Urban density is 50hh/km (20-120hh/km). No idea of total urban households, nor
Research by an associate has suggested that even a lightweight 12-core fibre cable with a nylon/non-metallic strength member can't be strung on the SWER network. The poles have no engineering margin and wouldn't cope with the extra weight or wind-loading.

I can think of three different solutions to this:
  • replace the conductor with a new hybrid cable with fibre integrated of the same dimensions. Not sure about weight.
  • run a lightweight, small diameter fibre cable 1-1.5m below the wire, upgrading poles where wind-loading mandates
  • Bury small diameter plastic pipe/conduit in the right-of-way (at 400 - 600mm, not 2000mm) and run under the wire over gullies and streams, upgrading only those poles if needed. Or these crossings are done with hybrid cable.
I haven't a clue about the engineering or economic feasibility of any of these approaches.

A central question in all this is:
  • Why would the Power Distribution Company do this?
  • How could it monetise the investment?
1. If costs can be held to $7,500, there would be full cost recovery from the subscribers.

2. Some rental of the Customer access network (CAN) from NBN Co.

3. Leveraging the Fibre CAN network into a backhaul or long-distance transmission network as well.
This long-distance asset via alternate paths could be resold to many Service Providers, even NBN Co.

Malcolm Moore, a Telecomms Engineer who was responsible for Network Planning in Telstra for quite some time, has created an innovative design and created first-cut estimates for a shared Backhaul/CAN Fibre network. I think there's a good business model that's being overlooked and thoroughly within Electricity Network owners capability.

"An Inexpensive Non-Urban FTTP"

My guess is that country business folk would appreciate the relevance and utility of a direct Fibre connection, even if they have to fund an amount of it directly themselves.

I can't create a detailed nor fully costed plan, but have come up with a reasonable bounded estimate here.

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