When I read ‘The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club’ I should have taken more notice of the words of Charles Dickens. As far back as 1837, Dickens had one of his characters use the expression “Never say never.”

Since the first FSAM went live in Dubbo on 4 May 2016, I have written and spoken about the NBN many, many times. It was only a few months ago that I said I had written about the different NBN technologies so many times that I would never need to write about the variety of connection methodologies again.

I was wrong.

I have previously discussed the original (and best) connection method, Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). This was the original vision for the NBN. Run new fibre from each exchange into every house and business that existed within city limits across the nation. Fibre is the fastest and most reliable data connection method commercially available and delivers huge expansion capabilities.

Somewhere during an election campaign, it was deemed to be too expensive so Fibre to the Node (FTTN) was introduced. This introduced the concept of running new fibre to nodes and then the existing copper cables that are already being used for telephone lines would deliver the signal from the node to the house or business. Nodes are designed to serve a number of houses and possibly may stretch to houses over several streets. The issue, of course, is that you can be unlucky or lucky in relation to the node location. Out the front of your house is not aesthetically pleasing but the shorter run of copper means you will have a more reliable and faster connection. Being further away from the node may mean performance below that of your old ADSL connection. FTTN is cheaper. For now. FTTP and FTTN rollouts beside each other in the same city or town has created digital divides and FTTN, although usually just good enough for now, will be grossly inadequate as the huge potential of FTTP starts to be realised. Real estate agents already have seen demand for properties increase in FTTP areas over FTTN areas when all other factors are equal.

Realising one major limitation with shopping centres and apartment blocks, Fibre to the Building (FTTB) was also introduced. This is similar in technology to FTTN but the fibre runs into the actual building and the short copper runs go out from an internal location in the building to each shop or apartment.

On the outskirts of many rollout areas where population density is not high enough to justify running fibre, towers are being installed and Fixed Wireless (FW) is being utilised. This is actually quite a reasonable solution for lifestyle blocks surrounding built-up areas. Lastly, there is satellite, but with a geostationary orbit leaving a distance of 35,786km from earth to the satellite, I don’t count satellite as being a form of NBN.

Therefore that gives us FTTP; FTTN; FTTB and FW. Whoops – somewhere in amongst all of that I forgot to make mention of the stop-start Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) network that is causing the PM a significant amount of angst so add a fifth technology into the mix.

With all of those connection methods and residents not always being aware of how they are connected, it takes away your greatest source of technical advice. Your mate at the coffee shop or pub. In a simpler environment, when you wanted to connect to the NBN, you would ask around your social circles to see who had already connected and ask them for some advice. That advice would be rock-solid – but now, even advice from your neighbour may be flawed with all of these connection methods.

And just when I thought I had said my last words, NBN have just introduced Fibre to the Curb (FTTC). This is similar to FTTN except every building has the fibre run to the telecommunications pit in front of the building so the copper run is short. Make that six different options for connecting to the NBN.

I do question why the government is bothering with this last methodology – if you run fibre almost to each house, stop being half-pregnant and finish the rest of the job with fibre. The copper from the pit to the house will eventually be replaced at some point in the future so NBN should bite the bullet and do it now and deliver the same technology for people across Australia. FTTC – why bother?

Mathew Dickerson

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