NBN (National Broadband Network) was supposed to give Australia the broadband network we needed to enable us to become a smart country. It was meant to cure the digital divide allowing all to access first world internet speeds.
Rumour has it that Prime Minister Rudd and Stephen Conroy mapped the NBN out on the back of a napkin like so many good policies made on the run. Perhaps with a little more planning, we would not still be in the bottom 30% of speeds globally (Fing Box report that uses real users speeds).
The problem is that the digital divide is not between NBN have and have nots (well, yes, it is) but between those who have reliable FTTP, FTTH, FTTC, HFC, FTTB, FTTD, Fixed Wireless and unreliable FTTN.
In case you don’t know what the NBN acronyms they are
FTTP/FTTH (fibre to the premises or home) means 100% fibre optical cable from NBN to the termination point (Gateway) in your home. It is the most reliable and has the highest potential to deliver promised speeds now and faster speeds in the future.
FTTC/FTTD (fibre to the curb/distribution point) means fibre to the very closest underground pit (usually outside each home) and copper wire for the last few metres to your home socket. If your copper is old, it’s often easy enough to replace that last few metres – and if you are willing to pay (a few thousand dollars), you can get a fibre replacement.
FTTB (Fibre to the basement) is for apartments/buildings and means full-fibre to the basement and then via copper, ethernet or fibre to your apartment/office.
HFC uses Foxtel or Optus (only in Redcliffe QLD) old co-axial cable. My experience is that it is stable and only suffers from contention (too many people using the same cable) if you live in a multi-dwelling. But it is old, and the time will come where the fat, pole hung, cable in the street is going to need replacement.
Fixed Wireless is not broadband but a sorry excuse for using 4G when you cannot get copper wire to a location. Note it is not the same 4G as you get on your phone and requires a dedicated 4G Modem to use dedicated 4G LTE bands. My experience is that if you cannot get copper (ADSL included), then an LTE signal may at worst be weak and at best offer 12/1Mbps (Megabits per second). Optus has the best deals at $60/80 for 200/500GB data, but it is very expensive compared to NBN landline rates. Read about this alternative here.
Then there is FTTN (fibre to the node)
It will serve about 8 million homes by 2020. I could impolitely call it F*&^%#$ Terrible Telstra Network, Feed Telstra to NBN or Falling through the net!!! But to be fair, it is part of the Multi-Technology Mix (or Malcolm Turnbull’s Mess) that allows more homes to access faster internet than ADSL/2 ever could – me included!
A node – often several hundred metres from your home – has NBN fibre to it. NBN claims that around 66% of nodes are within a 450 metres copper cable run from your home. I pity the poor 33% that are not.
There the fibre signal is converted into VDSL2 (Vectored DSL2) to traverse Telstra’s copper wires (now owned at great expense by NBN) to a distribution point at your premises. From there it uses existing home copper or ethernet wiring to a phone point. With current technology, there is limited room to increase speeds over 100/40Mbps.
BTW Nodes are more complex than all other distribution points. In converting fibre signal to VDSL2 over Telstra’s old copper, it uses a cross-connect frame, battery backup and electronics that creates considerable heat (up to 50°). The copper from the Node is also not necessarily direct to the home (shortest route) – it may use the older ADSL infrastructure stopping off at sub-distribution points (like short round poles) or pits along the way making its journey longer and reducing speed to counter induced cross-talk inherent with copper pairs.
The only good news about FTTN is that it may facilitate FTTC in the future although I suspect it will replace the ageing HFC before FTTN.
What is an NBN Tier?
NBN sell network capacity (not actually promised speeds) to Retail/Carriage Service Providers (RSP or CSP) that divvy this up into different sized pipes to sell to you. The figures are claimed maximum off-peak (11 PM to 7 PM) speeds
- 12/1Mbps – NBN 12
- 25/5Mbps – NBN 25
- 25/10Mbps – appears to have been retired
- 50/20Mbps – NBN 50
- 100/40Mbps – NBN100
Telstra (for that is my CSP) advertises NBN100 as 80/30Mbps between 7-11pm and 90/30Mbps between 11.01 PM and 6.59 PM. Let’s call that a service level agreement (SLA) that you can drive a truck through but more on that later.