NBN selects Nokia 5G mmWave FWA technology for connectivity refresh

Much-criticised Australian national broadband infrastructure sees first large-scale, long-reach 5G mmWave FWA deployment in urban, suburban and rural environments

When first conceived, the vision of a national broadband network (NBN) around Australia received general praise, but in its initial roll-out, it was criticised for not meeting expected targets. Now, as part of a programme to help deliver faster speeds to thousands of homes and businesses across semi-rural, regional and remote parts of the country, the NBN has deployed Nokia 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) mmWave customer premise equipment (CPE).

The company to run the NBN was established in 2009 by the Commonwealth of Australia as a government business enterprise (GBE) with a clear direction – to design, build and operate a wholesale broadband access network for Australia. The network is seen as the digital backbone of the country and is designed to evolve constantly to keep communities and businesses connected. 

NBN’s purpose is to lift the digital capability of Australia by delivering reliable, fast, resilient and secure broadband over the wholesale access network, working collaboratively with internet retailers to deliver the required customer experience, reduce cost and drive industry efficiency and sustainability.

NBN uses a mix of technologies across its network, and FWA currently covers almost 650,000 premises across Australia. The fixed wireless network upgrade is said to be a world first, with the CPE provided by the comms tech provider capable of supporting the high frequency wireless communications bands, which are capable of gigabit speeds for premises within a 7km radius of a radio base station.

The upgrade programme will extend the existing fixed wireless footprint by up to 50%, enabling about 120,000 former satellite-only eligible premises access to fixed wireless services for the first time. The 5G mmWave upgrade utilises the 28GHz band to be operated in non-stand alone (NSA) mode along with cmWave spectrum is intended to help enable faster speeds on the network, including the launch of two new wholesale high-speed tiers – 100Mbps and 250Mbps.

Nokia believes its mmWave technology introduces an innovative, high-gain antenna design that can make use of mmWave to a range of up to 10km to meet NBN’s throughput and capacity requirements. The CPE comprises an outdoor unit installed on the roof of the premises and an indoor unit providing user interfaces for the customer, connecting to the outdoor receiver with a 2.5Gbps power-over-Ethernet connection.

The devices will be used as part of NBN’s Fixed Wireless and Satellite Upgrade Programme, a $750m investment in the NBN fixed wireless network, made up of $480m from the Australian government and $270m from NBN.

“We are facing a step-change in demand for broadband in rural and regional areas, with an estimated 300% increase in demand for data on our fixed wireless network over the next 10 years,” said Jason Ashton, executive general manager, fixed wireless and satellite at NBN. “Nokia’s 5G mmWave solution allows NBN to better utilise both our sub-6GHz and 5G mmWave spectrum allocations to vastly extend the range, speed and capacity of our existing fixed wireless network and improve the end-user’s experience.”

Shiv Putcha, founder and principal analyst at Mandala Insights, commented: “Using mmWave over long distances has been very challenging due to high signal attenuation. Nokia’s high-gain Long Reach technology is an important innovation as it compensates for this attenuation and minimises possible satellite interference, offering a balance of throughput and total cost of ownership.

“The collaboration with NBN is an important step to connecting the next billion users, who represent a significant opportunity for service providers in Australia and around the world.”

As the company was making its fixed wireless announcement, NBN received a commitment from the Australian government to invest $2.4bn to roll out more fibre to communities across the country. The new investment will enable an additional 1.5 million homes and businesses currently served by fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) to upgrade to fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP).

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