The technical jargon around the NBN can be baffling and overwhelming to many people. We believe you shouldn’t need a degree in engineering to read an article about the NBN.
So, to help you decode some of the numbers and letters thrown around when trying to understand the NBN, we’ve put together this round-up of some of the key questions about the network and the various technologies used in the rollout. We hope to bring some much-needed clarity to the topic of the NBN.
What is the NBN?
The national broadband network, or NBN, is a broadband network being built around the country to give Australians access to faster internet. It’s a multi-technology mix (MTM) network, which means a variety of technologies are being used to connect it to premises, including fibre optic cable, copper wire and pay TV networks, as well as fixed wireless and satellite in rural and regional areas.
The latest cost estimate is $46–$56 billion, and the NBN is intended to bring the so-called ‘information superhighway’ to your door. The idea is that it’ll give you improved internet access by the time it’s finished, which is some years off yet, although not all connections are created equal because of the different technologies used in the network.
How do I choose an NBN plan?
When your area is in the planning stage, you might start to get letters from service providers about switching to the NBN. If you’re not sure, check your address and sign up for alerts on the revamped rollout map on the NBN website. It now tells you what connection type is expected to be rolled out in your area and if it’s in the planning, building or active service stage.
Check there are no penalties for breaking with your existing ISP when you move to a new NBN plan. If your home is in a new development, you may have to pay the $300 first connection fee.
If you’re not sure how much data you will need, start with one of the smaller data allowances and upgrade if it’s insufficient. If you’re not sure about speed, start with a modest broadband speed of 25Mbps and increase if you find it’s not sufficient. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is looking at broadband speed monitoring to help consumers get real world speed information that can be compared across different providers.
How fast will the NBN be?
Most of us couldn’t get through an hour, let alone a day, without the internet. It brings shopping, friends, work and entertainment right to our computers. Yet it’s also a pain point for many who deal with the daily frustration of slow speeds, drop-outs and patchy connections – and we’re not just talking about streaming Netflix after dinner.
The NBN will be faster than you get now, but speeds will vary depending on your location and the technology used. The promise is that the NBN will deliver a wholesale speed of at least 50Mbps to 90% of fixed line (not wireless) premises by 2020 – fast enough so that you can download digital movies in minutes, not hours.
NBN or Nbn™?
The NBN is the network being constructed by Nbn™.
Confused? You’re not alone. The network is known as the NBN. The government organisation responsible for building the network is known as Nbn™ (renamed from NbnCo), and it acts as a wholesaler to your retail internet service provider.
Where is the NBN up to?
As at February 2017, there are more than 1.82 million active retail connections on the network with more than 4.1 million marked as ready for service. The NBN has been under construction since 2010 after the then-Labor government announced it would set up a government-owned enterprise to construct Australia’s new national network.
The government recently announced it is providing a loan of $19.5bn that is needed to complete the rollout, sparing Nbn™ the need to find private funding for the additional debt.
The NBN is expected to be sold in 2021 when the rollout is completed and the remaining government debt will be re-financed through commercial partners.
Isn’t the NBN good enough for Netflix?
As a national network, the NBN is intended to be the backbone of our country-wide communication and information network. In our own life we might see it simply as our line to Netflix, yet it’s so much more when you consider the range of applications that run on the internet. Yes, it’s the link for digital entertainment, but it’s also the backbone for wireless and conduit for e-health, e-government, smart technology, telework and so much more. The demand for network capacity (bandwidth) and speed is growing exponentially and a national network needs to be expandable to meet this ever-growing demand.
But going back to the Netflix example, one 4K or ultra HD stream of a movie or TV show, which is available right now, will need at least a 25Mbps connection uninterrupted. For 4K Netflix streaming to work without dropouts the home broadband connection should be about 30Mbps, and the ISP would need to ensure there is enough capacity available to provide a constant, dedicated and reliable 25Mbps connection available from the Netflix server to the home.
Now imagine you have two 4K streams in the one house (say, one on the TV and one on a laptop in another room) – you’d want a connection of at least 50Mbps to get a smooth viewing experience. If Internet browsing or other Internet applications are needed whilst the 4K streaming is occurring, then more bandwidth is required or the 4K stream performance will suffer.
This is why engineers and telecommunications experts continue to argue that a fibre-based network provides for this kind of expansion in capacity to meet the many demands of a national network, whether it’s from the home or business.
Do people not want high speeds above 25Mbps?
It’s often said when arguing for the current MTM plan or, by reverse, criticising the original all-fibre plan, that most people haven’t chosen the higher speeds, which proves that an NBN with speeds above 25Mbps per second is overkill. However, it’s not as simple as this, because the speed tiers relate to the wholesale pricing structure built into the NBN. Nbn™
originally offered speed tiers including low-speed plans, so they were comparable to ADSL at the time. It was intended to encourage take-up of NBN at a cost that was comparable to ADSL and avoid a two-class broadband situation where ADSL people languished at economy speeds while NBN customers enjoyed premium internet.
However, in hindsight it’s had the effect of pricing the higher speeds at a premium and discouraging people from opting for the higher speeds and thereby artificially keeping demand at the lower levels. The cost of telecommunications in Australia is among the highest in the OECD, and the high cost is a limiting factor when customers select broadband plans. If broadband was cheaper more people would select broadband plans higher than 25Mbps.
Why can’t wireless go the last distance?
It’s often said that wireless should go the last distance to connect homes to the NBN to save the hassle and expense of trying to run fibre right to the home or re-run new copper. However, many experts contend that wireless can’t cut it when it comes to high-speed broadband for several reasons. The number of customer connections, distance, line of sight and atmospheric conditions diminish wireless performance.
Wireless provides a great solution for mobility connections to the Internet and where the density of premises is not as high as in the suburbs fixed wireless broadband connections are appropriate – but when it comes to connecting premises in high density areas, the amount of bandwidth needed today is far more than current wireless systems can support.
Do I have to connect to the NBN?
Yes you do have to connect, but you’ll have 18 months after the NBN service becomes active in your area to shift to the new network. After this time, existing phone and internet services will be turned off. Nbn™ and your ISP will send you information about moving to the new network.
Can I just have the phone and no internet connection?
Yes, you can just have a phone service when you move to the NBN. You won’t need to take an internet plan if you don’t want it. The new NBN equipment boxes will still be installed in your house by Nbn™ because the existing copper phone services will be disconnected. Your new phone service will connect via the NBN.
What if I can’t afford the NBN?
Telstra is required by the government to offer a discounted phone service over the NBN for low-income households. Telstra and Optus offer discounted home internet and phones services to eligible customers who receive Australian Government income support. Pensioners on a Centrelink benefit may qualify for the Telephone Allowance to help them pay their phone bills.
What is the $300 new development fee?
The ‘new developments’ charge came into effect in April this year and applies to all first-time connections for newly built premises that connect to the NBN. It applies to all NBN connections types including fibre to the node (FTTN), fibre to the premises (FTTP), satellite and fixed wireless. It’s only payable once and is levied on the ISP by Nbn™ and then usually passed onto the customer.
Do I need a new phone and router?
The answer depends on what type of connection comes to your place. You should be able to keep your existing phone number when moving to the NBN, but do check with your ISP.
Existing fixed wireless or satellite connections: you shouldn’t need to upgrade your equipment for the NBN. If you’re getting a new fixed wireless or satellite connection, check with the ISP about what equipment you may need.
Fibre to the premises (FTTP), where you’re getting fibre direct to your house: you’ll need a new router, but you won’t need a new phone. Your existing phone can plug into the NBN connection box in your house.
Fibre to the node (FTTN): you’ll need a new modem, but not a new phone because you should be able to plug your existing phone into this modem. If you don’t want the internet and just require a phone service, you’ll need a new phone that uses the internet over the phone line (known as VoIP) for making calls, which is plugged directly into the phone socket.
Do I need to do anything about internal cables?
You may need or want to upgrade internal cabling to connect entertainment, communications and medical or assisted-living devices.
What if I have a medical alarm?
Medical alarms and emergency call services connected to the copper phone line may not continue to work after the 18-month NBN transfer window has closed. Firstly, you should register your alarm at nbn.com.au/medicalregister or by calling 1800 227 300 well before the cut-off date. Then call your emergency or alarm service provider and check if it will work on the NBN; and finally, tell your ISP if you need priority assistance service levels.
When will I get the NBN?
This is the question that plagues many of us when we’re watching the spinning ball on the screen while attempting to download or stream our favourite shows. The NBN is scheduled to be completed by 2021, but that doesn’t tell you when exactly your place is earmarked for connection.
You can enter your address online to check on the NBN rollout but the most it will tell you is what stage the rollout is at for your address: not available, build preparation, build commenced, or available.
How can I trust someone is really from NbnTM?
Unfortunately scammers will sometimes use major government programs like the NBN to trick people into handing over their money or personal details. They pretend to be from Nbn™, a government agency or a telecommunications provider to sound legitimate.
Nbn™ will never ask for your banking or financial details. If someone rings you or comes to your door saying they’re from Nbn™, we don’t recommend sharing any of your personal details or paying for any equipment. Ring your own phone company or find one on the NBN website (see above) to get information about the NBN plans, so you know you’re dealing with a legitimate service provider. Contact your financial institution immediately if you think you’ve given your details to a scammer.
What do all the acronyms mean?
The NBN has become something of an alphabet soup – there are acronyms and abbreviations aplenty. Most of us haven’t studied networking 101 and so it can be hard to get our heads around all the jargon. We’ll hopefully explain it simply so you know what connection you’ll eventually get when the NBN comes to your place. Here are the different technologies used in the multi-technology mix network.
Fibre to the node (FTTN)
Unless you live in a unit, new development or rural area, you’re likely to get fibre to the node (FTTN) NBN. This technology will form the largest part of the NBN. Fibre optic cable runs to a local node (connection cabinet) in a street in your area, and then connects to the existing copper phone lines to your place. The cabinet handles connections for up to 1000 premises.
The node system uses VDSL (vectored or enhanced DSL) technology that improves ADSL connections on existing copper phone lines. VDSL is able to cancel the interference, or crosstalk, between the copper lines from the telephone exchange in order to speed up the transfer rate of internet traffic.
You’ll need a new VDSL modem, but no new hardware needs to be installed in the home. Your existing home phone should plug into the VDSL modem, which is connected to the existing phone port inside your house. If you don’t want the internet but you do want a phone service, you’ll need a new VoIP phone that plugs into the existing phone socket because the calls are now carried via the internet over the copper line.
Fibre to the curb (FTTC)
Fibre to the curb (FTTC), also known as FTTdp, has recently been included in the technology mix of the NBN where fibre is run right to the telecom pit at the front of the premises. Nbn recently announced that a further 300, 000 premises will get the newer FTTC instead of FTTN. It’s already earmarked 700,000 premises in the Optus HFC network to get FTTC bringing the total to 1 million as of April 2017. FTTC does away with the need to dig into driveways, lawns and yards but uses less copper than FTTN and does not require a powered cabinet. The FTTC services using VDSL technology for the copper section are expected to launch in 2018.
Fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp)
Fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp) is sometimes also called ‘fibre to the driveway’ because fibre runs to a local distribution point such as the street pit at your front fence and then connects to copper to your premises. It means that much shorter lengths of copper are used, making speed enhancements via technology, such as G.Fast, possible. It does away with the need to build, power and maintain the node cabinets, reducing this cost. Nbn™ trialled FTTdp in areas where the copper run is too long to use vectored, or enhanced, ADSL – known as VDSL – to deliver speed improvements. It is also known as fibre to the curb (FTTC) in Australia.
There’s been a bit of talk in the media about ‘skinny fibre’. No, it’s not a new breakfast cereal, but rather an optical fibre that is thinner than conventional fibre because there are fewer strands of fibre in the casing. It’s easier to physically pull skinny fibre through the street-level pipes and ducts, which in turns means it’s easier and cheaper to run fibre closer to premises. Nbn™ has been trialling skinny fibre in local neighbourhood loops, which is also known as a ‘local fibre network’. It’s reduced the NBN connection cost by $450 per premises and the construction time by four weeks. Skinny fibre could potentially be used with a FTTdp model that does away with nodes to bring fibre to the driveway.
HFC (pay TV network)
Foxtel and Optus pay TV is delivered to homes through hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) cable, which is getting a makeover and being brought into the NBN. The existing HFC network needs to be upgraded and newly installed in some unit blocks that don’t currently have an HFC connection. Nbn™ bought Telstra and Optus’ pay TV networks and is now paying the telcos to update their networks. Nbn™ has been running trials to test the speeds achievable on the network and plans to use a technology specification called DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications) to improve the speed of the HFC connections. There’s expected to be some four million homes and businesses that will connect to the NBN in the HFC footprint. If your place gets the NBN via HFC, a new DOCSIS modem will be needed.
Fibre to the premises (FTTP)
Once upon a time, the network for all fixed-line (not fixed wireless or satellite) connections was going to be all fibre. This was changed when the current government came into power and decided to use existing technology such as copper phone lines and pay TV cables that are already running to almost every residence and building.
Fibre to the premises (FTTP) NBN, as the name suggests. runs fibre optic cable right to the dwelling. This full-fibre connection requires an ‘NBN utility box’ to be fixed to the outside of your premises, and an ‘NBN connection box’ installed inside your premises that will connect to your computer, router and phone. There’s also an optional back-up battery box for inside the premises.
A new NBN modem and router may be needed and your existing phone and internet services will be disconnected 18 months after the new service is active, but you’ll get notification from Nbn™ and your ISP. The existing ADSL and phone connections in the house will no longer work after the cut-off.
Your landline phone number can be retained if moved before old network switch-off. Mobile, wireless and satellite services will not be disrupted. Home security services may need to be upgraded so check with your supplier and you’ll need to add your medical alarm to the NBN register.
If you’re a pensioner, check if you qualify for a discount for phone and internet services with your ISP. Telstra is required to offer phone services for low-income households and priority assistance services on the NBN.
Fibre to the building or basement (FTTB)
If you live in an apartment, then you’ll probably see FTTB. Fibre to the building or basement (FTTB) runs fibre to the connection point in multi-dwelling units such as office blocks and apartments and then links to individual connections to each unit. Nbn™ has launched some services already and is planning to connect one million homes and businesses using FTTB services.
The NBN is expanding the fixed wireless network for those in rural and regional areas. The wireless service requires an external antenna on your roof and an internal connection box inside your house that’s connected to the power. Your roof antenna connects to the NBN wireless tower that is connected back into the network with fibre cable. You need a modem/router with Wi-Fi for internal household connections.
If you live in a remote area, you’re probably already using a satellite service, which uses a satellite dish on the premises to receive the internet from a ground transmitter in another location. Last year saw the launch of the first of two satellites that will boost internet access for people living in rural and remote areas. The Sky Muster satellite should bring faster broadband services to 400,000 homes and dwellings, and retail ISP plans are now being offered. Nbn™ is promising wholesale speeds of 25Mbps upload and 5Mbps download. The Interim Satellite Service is due to shut down in late February which means that any premises still on that service need to move to a new service themselves because the transition is not automatic.
Can I elect to pay for fibre to my house?
Nbn™ has a program that enables people to switch the technology that will be connected to their premises. Individuals or small groups of people can apply to have a FTTN connection upgraded to fibre to the premises (FTTP), although it’s subject to certain conditions. The switch can only be carried out once the original technology has been deployed, is subject to Nbn™’s design and construction plan and cannot bring forward the construction schedule.
The cost is $330 for the application plus $330 for the design quote plus the build payment, which covers the actual construction cost and can only by specified by paying for the design quote. You will need to pay the difference between the cost of the originally planned technology and the cost of the new technology chosen for the switch. There’s more information available at on the Nbn™ website.
How is NBN pricing set?
A rather complicated arrangement is used to set the wholesale pricing for access to the NBN. Service providers are charged a cost that consists of two parts – AVC and CVC. The AVC, which stands for access virtual circuit, is the price paid to Nbn™ by the service provider for every customer based on the connection speed. There are different AVC prices for each speed tier.
The second component, CVC, which stands for connectivity virtual circuit, is a usage charge. As of June, Nbn is changing the way it prices the wholesale network capacity that it charges retail service providers, which should mean plans with higher speeds and large or unlimited data allowances become cheaper. To do this, NBN will charge average bandwidth by individual retailers, instead of across the industry, and it will reduce the average cost of bandwidth of each user as usage increases. The bandwidth or CVC (Connectivity Virtual Circuit) is a wholesale charge based on the amount of network capacity shared across a retail provider’s users.
Who gets what connection?
The NBN uses a mix of technologies which involves replacing some cabling, repurposing some other cabling and installing brand new cables, node boxes and other equipment. It’s also boosting wireless capacity with new satellites. The network mix should look like this:
Satellite to 400,000 rural and remote premises.
Fixed wireless to 600,000 premises in regional areas.
FTTN/B to 4.5 million premises, or 38% of premises.
HFC to 3.3 million premises, or 34% of the network.
FTTC to 700,000 premises from the HFC footprint.
FTTP to 2.4 million premises, or 20% of the network.
Why is the NBN so hotly debated?
The NBN is essentially a bunch of cables and wires. But the zeal with which it’s been both attacked and defended is almost of religious proportions. Yes, it represents a large chunk of the public purse, but so do submarines and they don’t attract quite the same fervour.
The government NBN plans have divided the two major political parties because they’ve had different approaches to the future of Australia’s national network. The point of contention is around the make-up and extent of fibre in the wired network – whether it’s all-fibre to the dwelling, or part-fibre to a node and phone line to the dwelling.
The politicians, experts and many internet users have argued about the merits of the different plans for the NBN. In pollie-speak, it didn’t get bipartisan support from the get-go, which is another way of saying the two sides didn’t agree on the plan for our national network and have been slugging it out ever since in parliament and parliamentary committees, and in the press through countless articles, political and tech blogs, and press releases. The NBN even has its own lobby group, NBN Defenders, and a Change.org petition that implores Malcolm Turnbull after the last election to retain the all-fibre network gained 272,000 signatures – the highest number of supporters for any single petition on the site.
Case for the current MTM model
The government and supporters of the current MTM model argue that it provides speed improvements sooner and for less money, and that this is a more prudent path to take. Their view is that it’s better to re-use existing infrastructure using technological enhancements for as long as possible to deliver an incremental service improvement and that new innovation will continue to bring faster speeds to existing copper networks without the need to re-wire every premise and only expand fibre at some unspecified point in the future when there’s sufficient demand and a business case.
Case for the original all-fibre model
The all-fibre proponents argue that you ‘do it once, do it right, do it with fibre’. They say that the NBN is a nation-building project that will deliver economic benefits into the future through innovation and significant cost savings for e-health, telecommunications and telecommuting, among others, and that fibre is the best choice for a truly national, high-speed, future-proof network. They say an all-fibre NBN won’t require upgrades, is less technically complicated, requires less power and maintenance and is expandable in terms of speed and data consumption. They argue that an MTM network will be out of date when it’s complete, but there’ll be little money left to upgrade and expand the fibre footprint.
Furthermore, they say that innovation such as skinny fibre is reducing the complexity of constructing the NBN, bringing the cost and time of building an all-fibre network closer to that of the part-fibre network, but delivering an exponentially better NBN