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NBN fibre to the premises - what are the real costs, benefits and value?

The suggestion re overhead FO is intended as one way to come to a base case sceario. One for which it is likely a reasonable estimate of total distance can be found in the public domain.

It is a reasonable approximation of service distances. It has some basis in fact for estimating which ever method of fibre install is considered.

P.S. Overhead FO cable options.
While I do not have a preference, adding fibre to an existing network of poles is much less expensive than building a complete overhead system.

To the straight run costs of direct burried fibre there are many add on costs including survey and preclearing. Every road, stream, flood way, service crossing etc adds significant one off costs. The data I’ve seen previously, suggests the cost difference may not be significant. It depends on the design variations in each example.

Where fibre is incorporated in an overhead ground wire (OPGW) it is only the cost of the added wrapper/filler to consider. There are other options based on using standard inground FO cable with added support and one of the powered conductors.

Thanks @person, you noted the same source reference, ahead of mine.

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Incorporating optical fibre into power infrastructure is popular with owners of such infrastructure. For some reason, others don’t seem as interested. The technology has been around for more than three decades, but there’s been little takeup beyond the power industry.

One complication with adding optical fibre to power infrastructure is that (in Australia, at least), the workers must be qualified to work with both power and telecommunications. Multi-skilled tradespeople are expensive.

Another complication in the regions is bushfire. Optical fibre doesn’t take kindly to being singed (though fire-rated cable is available - at a price). Then of course, when the poles burn …

The answer to that may be purely political. Telstra and now the NBN Co hold government sponsored monopolies.
Note: Optus was not backward in rolling out cable using overhead installations where it could.

That is not quite how it is done.
To keep it simple, stringing any cable is one skill set. Cable joining/splicing is a different skill set. A FO splicer does not need to be qualified or trained to stringing overhead. An overhead worker does not need to be qualified to splice FO to string coms cables. The same safe access and work procedures apply universally to all persons working around powered cables/lines. Typically the designs applied and construction deliberately separates the two services at any interface to remove any common risk.

It’s a risk that varies by region, with line design used, easement clearances and vegetation types. Professional risk assessment is applied to determine the needs of any project. Power lines are even more expensive to run than fibre and just as essential to most rural premises.

Both burried and overhead options could be used as appropriate. Not all ground is suitable for shallow direct burried cable either. Rock ahead!

For our more urban areas the SMH published a very succinct critique of the FTTP option in July 2017.

Like water off a ducks back, might sum up the NBN Co’s response. Ministerial granted waterproofing?


Perhaps, but your explanation doesn’t cover overseas cases.

According to those who do the work (in Australia), it is.

Anyway, I think I have as much information as I’m going to get. Speaking with people overseas who have gone the do-it-yourself route and others who have examined that option in Australia, it seems that fibre optic cabling, trenched with volunteer labour and donated equipment, could be run out at just over $1,000 per kilometre. Professionals would probably be more efficient. Adding their costs and accounting for efficiency, say $2,000/km (for the shallow-trenched customer access network).

If anyone has a better estimate, I’d be interested to hear it.

Now, what about the benefits?

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The realities for most of us are that we need to rely on the current telecommunications providers to deliver such services.

The application of the Federal Telecommunicatins Act, state and local government planning laws, and access to public land are all relevant.

Any of us could trench and or direct burry FO cable on our own land, or string it along a fence or between poles. Perhaps for the cost of just the cable per metre? No survey, no fuel costs, no insurances or PL for the work of others? Free splicing and termination?

There are additional requirements to meet if the cable needs to be installed on public land or cross a road or any other service.

What does the ACMA as regulator require?

There is an approximate cost range to provide brown fields FTTP in regular well settled (dense) urban arears. Some where between the costs evident in NZ for similar work but much less than the old 2013 NBN Co average cost to date. Approx 100 properties per km.

There is another cost to construct long fibre runs in rural and regional areas. Approx 10 properties per km to perhaps one property every ten km.

There is a cost to DIY. With paid or with volunteer labour and donated resources. This assumes that Government, The ACMA and NBN Co,are all willing to cooperate! :wink:

It sounds like a challenging project to deliver for $1,000 per km what the NBN Co can not.

P.S. hope you succeed!

For the benefits - perhaps the references to Gigabit Cities in the following might prove useful?

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I’m not suggesting that anyone here try to DIY, @mark_m. Some who had looked into that option just provided much of my information.

That’s the cost with volunteer labour and donated equipment. It’s a starting point for calculation. The final estimate is around twice that. Anybody who tries to charge more than $2,000/km is probably thieving.

The question asked is:

What somebody might try to charge is a different question altogether.

Which is addressed here:

The resources of government are not infinite. Much can be accomplished, but it takes time. Members of communities such as BIRRR have repeatedly shown a willingness to do it themselves. As one of those involved in England’s B4RN commented, basic skills for working with optical fibre are not difficult to master. The Commission should encourage and facilitate. It should not unnecessarily obstruct those who seek to help themselves, but instead assist in any way possible.

As it stands, I view our government and NBN Co as akin to the banks.


I think a FO cable to an area that has enough density of houses and then a privately owned Wifi network is probably much more doable cost wise than running FO to every property. While it won’t provide multi Gb speeds it will provide up to a Gb speed depending on the hardware used, more likely to be 400 Mbps or some lesser amount depending on how many are connecting but a much much better outcome than the Fixed Wireless offering of NBN Co and certainly satellite would be not even a consideration in this scenario. As an area became more populated or even financial the FO footprint could be increased in the area without adding large amounts of cost.

What are the benefits of FO, well I think they have been largely canvassed here previously. Multi Gb speeds in future, reduced maintenance costs, reliability over copper, FW, and Satellite, it has relatively low lag/latency, it is robust and long lived even in very harsh conditions, it is able to have long runs without need for supplementing power, it is really almost future proof without having to spend large amounts to keep upgrading.


One might ask whether if a company can do it for half the price that NBN Co are claiming, why that company isn’t over here making a killing?

Perhaps the perennially financially struggling SMH could put up its own money and save the SMH (albeit that it is now too late to do that, as compared with when that article appeared).

The summary for this thread would seem to be: it is very hard to find out the real costs and even harder to quantify the real benefits. ?

Because it is a Govt entity that is building the NBN, yes a group could come here and do it but they would be “Dark fibre” just like Telstra’s, Optus’, TPG’s and similar that eventually have to buy into the NBN to complete the Australia wide connection and thus be caught up into having to pay a premium regardless. If their business size is large enough they are also regulated to charge the same as for NBN connectivity of clients, only small scale RSPs are granted exemption from the set figures.

There is no problem quantifying the benefits of FTTP (they have all pretty much been canvassed as I noted before), there is just the difficulty of getting an opposed LNP Govt to accept the benefits and thus require a change of both their policy and who donates to them.


One local example is Smart Farm Net. Most of their problems reportedly stem from difficulties with backhaul. Getting enough at reasonable prices.

In telecommunications, we can’t escape a monopoly. It’s up to government to rigidly control that monopoly.


I was looking at the bigger picture. I understand the technological benefits, but if you had to justify it financially as an investment.

Even then yes it is able to be given a benefit gained value, just we have been so bombarded by negative publicity about fibre we as a nation see it as a cost rather than the benefit it provides. Why do big businesses insist on fibre networks if fibre was not cost effective or gives financial benefits?

To be very honest we as a nation have become so “programmed” we even see mobile networking as a better option even when in a house setting…ludicrous but still lots see it that way.


As an investment for whom? When the overland telegraph was to be duplicated, there was heated debate over whether to run another galvanised iron wire or to invest in comparatively expensive copper. Eventually, copper won out. The shorter-term thinkers were not convinced that it was a good investment.

From an infrastructure perspective, the long life and capacity of fibre make it a first-rate national investment. For an individual, the century-plus investment cycle is unrealistic.

You’ll need to be a bit more specific about what precisely you need to know.


I (perhaps mistakenly) interpreted the thread title as in the context of a cost/benefit analysis. That means it is both a cost and a benefit (and you would hope that the benefit is higher than the cost).

That’s trickier though because the business may have avenues to benefit financially that are not applicable or not available to households.

Be careful with terms like cost/benefit analysis. That one’s pretty comprehensively discredited, as is any mechanism that can be so readily manipulated.

Again, you’ll need to be more specific. Are you saying that there’s no discernible benefit from durable, high-capacity telecommunications? Are you judging from an individual perspective or from a national one?

From an individual perspective, the cost/benefit analysis of a road looks pretty poor. From a national and social one, it’s much better.

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In the bigger picture.
The NBN fixed line network will supposedly reach 91% of all premises. It could have been an all fibre network, or at least fibre up to the curb. Extension into the home for copper in the old system and now for fibre at green fields sites has always been at the home owners expense. The NBN Co decided for existing premises to include the lead-in costs for the project as an NBN cost, and not to off load it to the consumer directly. This added perhaps unrealistically to the FTTP costs compared with the other fixed line options.

The whole process of creating and rolling out the NBN was commercially compromised as others have noted, making it a more expensive solution than it needed to be. The previous privatisation of Telstra and a reluctance of both sides of the political spectrum to respond appropriately is just one significant factor. This has added more than $1B pa to the cost of running the NBN for no true benefit. Except to Telstra’s profits!

It is reasonable to expect a strong economic argument for the FTTP outcome across the current fixed line footprint has always been possible. More so if the economic case had been separated from the costs of the national fibre backbone (NBN Co - Transit - related Capex) and Fixed Wireless/satellite footprint.

Investment in a substantial nationwide fibre backbone, transit network was always going to be needed, even we had stayed with ADSL, cable and more mobile data.

The NBN has been asked by Government to provide a commercial rate of return on the total capital investment. This includes the nation building Transit interconnection costs and a cross subsidisation of the FW and Satellite services. The whole project is loaded with unrealistic expectations and costs that in the past would have been funded separately from the public purse. The same way the National Highway network is substantially funded.

Given suitable regulation, private equity may have delivered the full fat FTTP solution at a reasonable cost and rate of return on investment. Excluding the Transit Network, FW and Satellites. Government should have been in a position to do the same directly, at a similar cost?

The other approx 1.1 million customers in the Fixed Wireless and Satellite footprint present a complex economic case. There remains a lack of transparency in the design details and of costs to know the true level of subsidy that would be needed to support better solutions. It is perhaps also relevant to consider estimates of cost derived from current best practice, and not dated NBN Co past practice. The later were used to argue for less fibre and push more to FW or satellite.

It’s unlikely in the near future fibre would reach the more remote properties in Australia. The remote communities of Cape York are not even connected to the national electricity grid. A combination of satellite and or FW services would always require substantial subsidy, although perhaps less in total the fewer the premises to be covered? Including perpetual loss making investments in a supposedly profit making business defies economic rational. No analysis needed. Publically owned and subsidised.

There are several published articles that consider the economic return on investment for the NBN if sold. A common theme is that the government may need to write off the majority of the investment in the NBN to meet the market. There is some further discussion here -

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I don’t doubt that political manipulation of that kind of thing occurs - although you wonder where this thread can go in that case. Maybe there should be two separate threads - one for costs and one for benefits - which would discourage anyone from comparing the two.

A national one. It is a national investment (at the expense of the taxpayer - except in the cases of area switch or premises switch - and on behalf of the nation).

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Both @grahroll and @mark_m have commented on the benefits (and the politics). You’ll need to be more precise as to your difficulties.

I’ve been pondering that.

I used “benefits”, because it seems to be better understood than “value”. I realise now that, for some, benefits assumes a particular context.

To the cynical, the term "cost/benefit analysis " refers to analysis based on assumptions calculated to return a predetermined outcome.

Should I change the title to refer to value, instead of or as well as, benefits?

Where “market forces” fail:

Before fibre to the premises, we need an adequate backbone network. Telecommunications infrastructure is a Federal government responsibility. That too has evidently failed.

I smell election! :roll_eyes: