The National Broadband Network in Australia will enable service providers to deliver high-quality, high-definition video channels at a fixed cost per user. The fibre network will support multicast, a core technology for the efficient distribution of television channels to large numbers of users over internet protocols. NBN Co, the government owned company that will provide the wholesale open access network across Australia, has now published details of how it plans to charge for multicast services. What is currently missing is a plan to carry a core set of channels in the network as standard.

“Multicast will be available as an add-on feature to our fibre offering giving service providers the opportunity to introduce very attractive and competitive triple-play voice, broadband and video content to any of their fibre-based customers,” said Jim Hassell, the head of product development and sales at NBN Co. “It is designed to assist retail service providers to offer new more specialist content such as non-English speaking channels, high-definition TV, 3DTV, interactive services and social TV — efficiently and cost-effectively.”

Multicast essentially carries a single stream as far into the network as possible before replicating it for individual consumers, making it economically viable to deliver high-definition television channels. This is the method used by service provider IPTV systems to deliver live channels.

By enabling multicast on an open access basis, the National broadband Network will effectively allow competing service providers to offer such services over the same infrastructure. Furthermore, they will be able to do so at a fixed monthly cost per household.

The published rates start at AU$5 a month for a 20Mbps allocation, arguably enough for two simultaneous high-definition channels, with a further AU$5 for each additional 10Mbps. In addition, depending on the total number of channels offered, they will have to pay AU$250 per month for each 100Mbps at every point of interconnect, each serving between 50,000 and 150,000 premises, where they wish to offer the service. In the event that they wish to offer more than 200 different streams they will pay $50 for each additional stream at every point of interconnect.

This enables a prospective retail service provider to calculate the operational cost of distribution on a monthly basis according to the number of customers, areas served and channels carried, without being concerned with capital infrastructure expenditure.

Multicast is planned to be available from NBN Co for testing in late 2011 and for general release in mid 2012.

Melbourne recently became the first metropolitan area in Australia to receive the National Broadband Network. Prime Minister Julia Gillard switched on the network in the suburb of Brunswick, in a trial deployment covering some 2,500 premises. Residents at more than half of these homes have agreed to a connection that will allow them to sign up for a retail subscription.

So far, only just over a hundred homes and business across mainland Australia are connected to the NBN. The aim is to ultimately connect 93% of Australian homes, schools and businesses with fibre to the premises offering up to 1 gigabit per second access, with a further 4% served by fixed wireless and the remainder covered by satellite.

The proposed pricing policy of multicast makes it possible to see how much it would ultimately cost to deliver television channels across the national network, and how this compares to conventional cable, satellite or terrestrial transmission infrastructure.

Disappointingly, the National Broadband Network does not appear to have made provision to carry a core set of channels, such as the main free-to-air networks, as standard. That does not preclude the possibility that a consortium of channels could put such a package together, in which case, informitv would be pleased to advise accordingly.

NBN Co is currently seeking to consult with prospective service providers on the feature, technical and pricing constructs it has published on its web site.