QCN Fibre – Increasing Connectivity for Regional Queensland

28th July 2020


  • Holly Bretherton, State Manager, ACS Queensland sat down with Derek Merdith, CEO, QCN Fibre, to talk about the plan for increasing connectivity in Queensland.
  • Read more to find out the story of establishment of QCN Fibre and how it aims to bring people and businesses closer by reducing the digital divide.

1. Tell us about how QCN Fibre was established…it’s quite a unique partnership.

QCN Fibre, which stands for Queensland Capacity Network, is jointly owned by Powerlink Queensland and Energy Queensland. QCN Fibre was an election commitment by the current Queensland Government, who has the vision and determination to make good on their promise of breaking down the digital divide in regional Queensland. The Queensland Government established QCN Fibre, in July 2019, to help bridge the digital divide in regional Queensland. 

QCN Fibre is a carrier-agnostic wholesale telecommunications backhaul provider delivering high capacity backhaul services to telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), and infrastructure organisations such as data centres.

QCN Fibre utilises over 10,000 kilometres of optical fibre network stretching West from Brisbane to Toowoomba and beyond, and North through regional townships up to Cairns, supplying high capacity wholesale backhaul services to telecommunication carriers and service providers who use large volumes of voice, data and video traffic.

Creating an infrastructure telco, such as QCN Fibre, has many critical steps from infrastructure builds, national security obligations, governance and regulation, licensing, capacity agreements, systems and processes. After working through these foundations QCN Fibre was operational in January 2020.

2. What is Backhaul?

The term backhaul is a telecommunications term that refers to transmitting data from a remote exchange site or network to another site, usually a central one. The backhaul traverses the backbone network to and from a Carrier or ISP’s core communication infrastructure to the edge of the network, where it then connects to customers. Backhaul is often simply described as the “digital superhighway” that connects the “Core” to the “Edge” of a carrier network.

The “Core” is the Carrier’s core network exchange, typically located in a Capital city, that collects and distributes voice, data and internet services to then deliver them to their intended target destinations. They can be the seen as the step off point, or gateway, to the Internet.

The “Edge” is the local exchange, Point of Presence (POP), or even NBN Point of Interconnect (PoI) that is located in the local suburb or town. Carriers and NBN, and their Reseller Partners, are then responsible for the “Last Mile” delivery of the service from the “Edge” to a customer or business.  

Backhaul requires high-capacity lines, capable of transmitting high bandwidth at very fast speeds as it aggregates all the data, from all the connected customers, from the edge locations along its path, to the central core, and then back out again.

The very nature of Backhaul which requires significant investment in network coverage and capacity means that provision of backhaul is limited to only the largest Carriers in the land. Until QCN Fibre was formed only three carriers - Telstra, Vocus & Optus – owned and operated the underlying backhaul services in Queensland.  

By offering high capacity backhaul at very competitive prices QCN Fibre contributes to improved regional connectivity through increasing competition in the backhaul market, with the aim of supporting new investment and jobs in regional Queensland.

3. What’s the mission of QCN Fibre?

QCN Fibre’s mission is to improve telecommunications connectivity, across the whole of Queensland, through leveraging spare capacity in government owned fibre networks.

The cost of backhaul capacity for internet service providers (ISPs) is high in regional Queensland. This then translates into higher telecommunications costs, and constrained capacity, to users in regional Queensland.

QCN Fibre works with local ISPs and large local businesses providing them with access to the state-owned optical fibre network at lower prices than current backhaul providers. These ISPs and local businesses build the ‘last mile’ connections to serve their communities.

QCN Fibre does not deal with end users (residential customers or small [SME] business) and has no plans to resell or wholesale NBN services. Our job is to supply high-capacity, low-cost backhaul services to ISP delivering services in local communities. To put this another way, QCN Fibre is looking erase the digital divide by enabling metropolitan grade data services, at metropolitan prices, in regional Queensland.

The digital divide can be crystallised down to three components: Capacity, Coverage and Competition. To break down the digital divide you need to address each of those components. The digital divide is caused in part by Queensland’s vast geography, but also to a greater degree the lack of backhaul carriers competing in the regions. Along coastal Queensland the core backhaul infrastructure is owned and operated by just two carriers, Telstra and Optus. Whereas a duopoly exists along coastal Queensland, the western Queensland backhaul is typically monopoly operated by either Telstra or Vocus (via the Regional Broadband Blackspot Program [RBBP]). 

Smaller, local and specialised ISPs wanting to provide services into their markets and communities are reliant upon buying Backhaul from their primary competitors. This means that typically they are not as cost competitive as their backhaul competitor thus limiting their competitiveness and growth opportunities.   

QCN Fibre is expanding its Coverage in regional Queensland and increasing the Capacity of the services it offers to its customers.   Initially, we are utilising the existing 10,000Km of fibre on the Government owned Electricity Grid. The next phase will be utilising fibre coverage across other Government Owned Corporations, such as the road, rail and water utilities. Concurrently, we are also investigating opportunities to leverage the fibre assets of Local Governments across Queensland as well as the Federal Government, for example accessing the RBBP. 

QCN Fibre can therefore achieve its objective by improving backhaul coverage, and increasing available capacity at competitive prices, thus enabling more competition in the regions.

4. What steps have been taken so far in increasing regional access to high-speed internet fibre? What speed increases have resulted?

One of QCN Fibre’s objectives in its first six months of operation was to connect to the regional NBN Points of Interconnect (PoIs). We have successfully completed the NBN Regional PoI project (with Bundaberg in later stages of completion). We have expanded the NBN connectivity project to connect to all (22) NBN PoIs in Queensland. This means QCN Fibre can be a “one stop shop” for NBN resellers looking to expand into Queensland. 

Until now, Telstra and Optus were the only carriers that owned backhaul infrastructure to all of the NBN PoIs in Queensland. This meant that smaller NBN participants were forced to buy backhaul directly from their competitors. As an alternative provider, QCN Fibre is therefore bringing competitively priced, carrier agnostic, NBN backhaul options to the market.

Following our technology upgrade to be completed in 4Q 2020 backhaul speeds of 1, 10 and 100Gbps will be available.

QCN Fibre has also set out to connect to strategically important data centres in regional areas, including the Pulse Data Centre in Toowoomba, the North Queensland Regional Data Centre in Townsville and the new submarine link at the Sunshine Coast Cable Land Station in Maroochydore, which will give Queensland faster access to Asia and the United States.

To date, QCN Fibre has connected to the Pulse Data Centre in Toowoomba. QCN Fibre is finalising construction works to connect to the North Queensland Regional Data Centre in Townsville – which should go live at the end of October.

The QCN Fibre team have also completed negotiations with the Sunshine Coast Cable Landing Station to be the anchor backhaul provider. Construction works are underway with a live target date of October. That means regional businesses will have the same level of access to markets in the Asia-Pacific region as their metropolitan counterparts – which means all of Queensland can participate fully in the digital economy.

This foundational work was critical. When fully operational, in the second half of 2020, these data centres will have access to backhaul capacities in the multiple of 100Gbps. The next step is linking to communities themselves.

5. What regional areas are we talking in Queensland, and what are some tangible examples of benefits to business and individuals in regional/rural Queensland?

QCN set up three pilot projects, which are now either complete or well underway – in Toowoomba, Warwick and Goondiwindi.

To date, QCN has connected to the John Dee Meatworks in Warwick via local internet provider Channel Wireless – providing the meatworks with high-speed commercial-grade internet. John Dee employs about 600 people in Warwick. It that relies upon consumer grade NBN Wireless, or around 25Mbs download speeds, to run its international meat processing business. QCN Fibre’s partnership with Channel Wireless is now delivering business grade symmetrical services with the option of up to 500Mbps – at prices equivalent to metropolitan areas.

In Goondiwindi, QCN Fibre is working with Channel Wireless and internet service provider Country Broadband Network. One of the local companies set to benefit from the faster internet in Goondiwindi is local Agtech firm, InFarm, which requires significant data capacity to employ its cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology to accurately locate weeds on vast agricultural properties

In Toowoomba, the local RSPCA is reliant upon a consumer grade NBN Wireless service.

By providing backhaul into Toowoomba, via the Pulse Data Centre, the local ISP Over The Wire is able to deliver business grade services into RSPCA which means that have vastly improved data speeds for transferring large data files such as high-resolution medical imaging files. 

6. What is the next game changer to improve internet connectivity in Queensland?

Wireless, in all its iterations will be the game changer in regional Queensland. Wireless can be taken to mean: 5G, Point to Point Wireless, Public WiFi even High Capacity Microwave Backhaul. All will be game changers.   Advances in wireless technology, not just “5G”, means that wireless is a viable option for reliable high capacity voice and data services in regional Queensland. Wireless is relatively low in cost to deploy (when compared to laying optic fibre cable), is reliable and when designed correctly easily outperforms typical consumer grade NBN service offerings. 

But again, without adequate backhaul local wireless deployments will not stack up, the performance of the “Last Mile” wireless network is reliant on sufficient backhaul. Almost all of that data that is collected and aggregated in these emerging high capacity wireless networks still needs to be processed at the Carrier’s or ISP’s “Core”, the higher the capacity of the local wireless network the more data that is accessed, the more “Backhaul” is required, and that’s where QCN Fibre will be supporting local Queensland communities in the years to come.