NBN: End User Services Taking Shape

In the first of a series of posts after attending the National Broadband Network (NBN) Collaboration Forum yesterday in Melbourne, I will discuss what has now become completely clear in terms of what services will become available to users once they are connected to the network, progressively over the next nine years.

As I discussed yesterday, I managed to get a few minutes to look over the network termination units (NTUs) that will be deployed, and heard explained in some detail what kinds of services will be available to end users through various service providers, from out of the same NTU.

There are two specific types of NTU – an internal and an external version – with the vast majority of installations so far being – (and expected to continue to be) – the internal type. As far as the network is concerned, each will operate identically.

Pictured below is the external type I played with yesterday – it is much easier to see the various different interfaces from this photo than the photo I have of the internal type – click for larger view.

Each NTU contains an input from the network – (whether it be from fibre, fixed wireless, or satellite) – and presents six interfaces into the customer premises. Two of these are exclusively for voice services, and four are for data services, or for voice and data services combined.

Each interface is called a UNI or User Network Interface, and are suffixed with “V” for voice ports, “D” for data ports, and a sequence number. The photo above clearly displays “UNI-V1”, “UNI-V2”, “UNI-D1”, “UNI-D2”, “UNI-D3”, and “UNI-D4”.

The two voice-specific ports will not be made available for configuration in wireless or satellite serviced locations, with the inherent high latency of services over these mediums declared unsuitable for voice services. This of course does not preclude the use of voice services over the data ports – (VoIP/FoIP) – but the issue of latency will remain.

In terms of voice services, there are a number of options.

A single service provider wishing to provide only basic telephony can provision a 150Kbps/150Kbps service to terminate at an ATA inside the NTU, and emerge as an analogue POTS service through either UNI-V1 or UNI-V2, using the SIP protocol to trunk the call to the provider’s voice servers.

A second option will be to provision that 150Kbps/150Kbps service against one of the UNI-D ports, and provide an external ATA to provide the FXS port to plug your old analogue telephone into.

Although this option exists, it is considered that it will be rarely used, as the chances of both UNI-V1 and UNI-V2 being both in use through other services to force a third basic telephony service onto a UNI-D port would be very slim.

The third option is for a provider to provide basic telephony and basic internet services over the same service, but have the voice component directed to a UNI-V port, and the data component directed to a UNI-D port. This enables bundled basic services equivalent to current bundled services, at the least possible cost.

Voice will be carried throughout the NBN infrastructure at the highest available priority traffic class, while basic data will be at the lowest “best-effort” priority.

The NBN will have four traffic priorities, from highest to lowest: Real-time (voice), Interactive (IPTV, Video conferencing), Transactional (Business data, gaming data), and Best Effort (basic data/internet services).

So what does all this mean?

In the end, it means you can choose to take only what you want/need from the network, and nothing more. A-la-carte if you like.

For example, you may choose to keep a fixed telephone service through Telstra on UNI-V1, a basic internet data service through, say, Internode on UNI-D1, and an IPTV service through Foxtel on UNI-D2. You still have UNI-V2, UNI-D3, and UNI-D4 available for other services, through other providers.

Does your boss want you to work at home three days a week? They could provision a WAN connection they control back to your home on UNI-D3, and maybe a fax line on UNI-V2. Done.

And you’ve still got a port left over – perhaps an e-health monitoring service to aid your ailing mother who lives in your back room on UNI-D4?

What it means, is complete flexibility, and consumer choice.

Fed up with your Internode data connection? Switch to iiNet at the drop of a hat – presuming of course you are not under a contract with Internode.

Telstra put your voice pricing up to a level you don’t like? Switch to Optus at the drop of a hat.

The network will no longer be the limitation that it has been for many years.

The network will be completely agnostic, and you are free to take on as many services as you want or need – (within the six available ports) – and not be hamstrung by bandwidth constraints or physical barriers such as pair-gain and RIM situations, both of which have prevented many from receiving anything other than very basic internet services – (if anything at all) – up until now.

At initial rollout, basic internet and telephony will be the only available services. Every six months, NBN Co plan to drop more services into the network – starting with multicast IPTV, then services focussed on the small to medium business space, and then the large enterprise space.

Over time, more and more service types will be developed and added to the mix.

For the market, this means that the providers who innovate and deliver the best products over the network will emerge on top. The competition will be furious.

And the consumer will win.