We have seen a huge amount of discussion and some commentary back and forth between NBN and various telcos with accusations of corner cutting and over-charging. As with many debates, there is probably a little bit of truth in all of it but I think the real issue that is being lost along the way here is the technology used to deliver the NBN. With most of the arguments centred around promised speeds versus real-world speeds, the delivery methods have a major bearing on what people experience.

Let me run you through a very brief overview of the common methods we use to receive Internet in this region. To make it confusing for everyone, there are five different technologies being used.

The first is Fibre to the Premise (FTTP). A fast broadband initiative was announced as part of the 2007 election campaign by the Labor opposition and after the Rudd victory, NBN Co was established on 9 April 2009. New fibre cabling to every home in towns and cities across the nation was the vision. Speeds would start at 100Mbps with the ability to go up to 1Gbps and beyond as consumers demanded. With new fibre cabling run from exchanges into homes, this technology is reliable and fast – and can be upgraded way beyond what we are using now. Most telcos provide speeds of 25Mbps when downloading and 5Mbps when uploading (25/5) and these theoretical speeds are close to real-world experiences. When people complain about speeds and reliability of the NBN, they normally aren’t FTTP clients. FTTP involves the installation of a new termination point on the outside of your building and a Network Termination Device (NTD) is installed in your building (in a location of your choice). If you want to keep using other phone outlets in your house FTTP can accommodate this and your phone line can either be delivered via IP POTS (the more traditional method of phone line delivery) or via NGC (effectively phone lines over the Internet). The original concept was that all homes and business within the city limits in towns and cities above a certain size would receive FTTP. Once FTTP is available in your area, there is an 18-month window before any existing landlines or Internet connections will be disconnected.

For locations on the outskirts of populated areas, running new fibre to each location becomes less cost effective. Quite sensibly, NBN Co designed a Fixed Wireless (FW) network for these locations. One small tower could service several hundred premises. A small square antenna is mounted on the roof of each building requiring access and it points at the tower. An NTD is installed in the building and the Internet router plugs into this device. Users can choose to have their ‘landline’ phone services delivered via the Fixed Wireless connection or continue to use the existing copper connection for their phone calls. Most people opt for the former. Again the starting speed from most telcos is 25/5 but, with a high likelihood of achieving close to the promised speeds, this can be boosted to 50/20. With a good initial installation and a clear path to the tower, satisfaction levels amongst FW users is generally quite high.

The NBN landscape changed dramatically in 2013 in the lead-up to the Federal election when the Abbott opposition, with Malcolm Turnbull as Communications Minister, announced that a coalition Government would reduce the cost of the NBN by introducing Fibre to the Node (FTTN). Rather than have new fibre run to every building, groups of buildings would have fibre run to a ‘node’ and existing copper cabling would then deliver the services from the node to each individual building. The reduction in cost would be achieved by using some of the existing copper network rather than run fibre to each house. I don’t have any data from the Ombudsman or NBN Co, but I would suggest that over 90 per cent of speed complaints would relate to FTTN clients. The distance of the building from the node has a huge bearing on the real-world speed. Clients may pay for a Speed Boost up to 100Mbps but the technology may still only deliver less than 10 per cent of that speed. Clients must change over to FTTN within 18 months of it being available – even if the speed is worse than their existing ADSL connection. No new cabling is required at the building but existing phone outlets will not work without some re-cabling. The Internet router plugs into one outlet in your house and your phone must plug into your router therefore phone services will always be delivered via NGC. Saving a few Government dollars with this implementation in the short term has caused increased frustration and speed and reliability issues for end users and will lead to more expense in the long-term as the copper cabling will one day be replaced.

It is confusing and complicated – and I still have two more connection methodologies to talk about – but they will have to wait until next week!

Mathew Dickerson


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