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 th 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).

NBN
NBN
Where is Australia?

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

NBN

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!

NBN

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.

NBN

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.

Now to the NBN chase

The ABC 7.30 Report wanted to present a balanced (as you do especially around election time) report on different types of users and their experiences. I have to say that the lowlight of the report (here) was Mitch Fifield’s politspeak that my colleague Thomas Bartlett had a go at here.

I was asked to go on the show due to my rant about Trials and Tribulations with Telstra and NBN – we agree to disagree.

In brief, I got FTTN in July 2017, it was good to July 2018 getting a constant 95/38Mbps then went downhill rapidly. Months of complaining to Telstra (my CSP) got nowhere so in November I lodged an official TIO complaint (which I suggest you all do). Ultimately Telstra said they could not fix it so could I go elsewhere – after 40 years as a customer! The matter is back with the TIO but do not hold your breath on an answer – around two months further delay is expected. So note: I am not bitching about speed but reliability and the ability to do real work on it – not just stream or surf.

Only 24% of FTTN Lines can get 100/40Mbps – mine can but reliability issues dog it.

So, begins four hours of interview and filming for a nine-minute 7.30 Report segment. GadgetGuy is used to this with our Channel 7 Sunrise and news appearances. You record as much footage as you can in case you need it and most ends up on the digital cutting room floor. My points were (and not all could fit into the time allocated)

Data is king – unless like Telstra Call Centres you don’t want to or can’t understand it

Bandwidth versus latency versus outages

Bandwidth is purely about how big your internet pipe is. If you pay for 100/40Mbps (or any other tier) download/upload, you should get that apart from peak periods when the ACCC insists CSPs advertise peak bandwidth, say, 80/30.

Latency is how fast a file moves through that internet pipe.

The higher the ping speed, the slower the data moves through the pipe. Telstra Call centres seem oblivious to this only quoting bandwidth as the indicator – absolute bloody rubbish. Yes, you may have a four-lane highway but if traffic is moving slowly due to congestion or a crash that is little consolation.

Outages mean two things.

First, the internet is down – nothing moving up or down the pipe at any speed. The impact of this is that Netflix/streaming stops, smart homes crash (lights, security cameras, appliances) and of course you don’t have an internet connection.

Second, you receive speeds so low and so laggy that it is unusable. Crafty Telstra has gotten around this by using a fall-back modem that invokes 4G during a fixed line outage. Put simply it swaps over to 4G usually in about 2-3 minutes (it is not instant) and gives you a maximum of 12/1Mbps.

I bought a Fingbox to monitor the internet. It presents a visual indicator – an orange flashing light – when the internet is down. It emails me and sends a monthly report.

Right: A good report from my HFC connection in Sydney and Left: a typically bad report from FTTN on the Central Coast.

When (March)                  Downtime

  • Sun 3 09:09               1 minute
  • Mon 4 12:42              2 minutes
  • Tue 5 16:20            2 minutes
  • Wed 6 09:47             1 minute
  • Thu 7 01:16              3 minutes
  • Fri 8 11:38              2 minutes
  • Sat 9 15:25               2 minutes
  • Sun 10 15:44         2 minutes
  • Mon 11 15:53            2 minutes
  • Tue 12 22:10            2 minutes
  • Wed 13 22:40            2 minutes
  • Thu 14 22:44             2 minutes
  • Fri 15 10:51               2 minutes
  • Sat 16 19 12:13         2 minutes
  • Sun 17 11:08             2 minutes
  • Mon 18 19:23             2 minutes
  • Tue 19 22 09:32         2 minutes
  • Wed 20 23:49            1 minute
  • Thur 21 23:59           2 minutes
  • Fri 22 09:42               2 minutes
  • Sat 23 10:31               1 minute

A total 39 minutes outages in March but there are three issues here.

First is fall-back time (cut over to 4G from landline). That 2-3-minute delay (shown above) means that a VPN (if you use one and you should) has dropped out and your remote WordPress website times-out and any work in your remote cloud is not saved. It also means that a lot of smart home IoT (internet of things) appliances must be manually reconnected (let’s hope future IoT gets smarter). While Google Assistant usually reconnects flawlessly (and that may take 5-10 minutes), many third-party devices do not, and it’s a laborious task to open each app and re-pair with Google – not Google’s fault.

Second, is bandwidth. Telstra says 4G is 12/1Mbps but as the Telstra speed test shows reconnection is typically 3.2/.04Mbps as the 4G signal strength is only weak to fair here due to tower placement and distance to my home.

NBN
NBN

Third is ping time. While the illustration shows 64ms that is the smallest ping time – most of the time it is over 100ms and high as 842ms as everyone affected by the outage accesses 4G.

All 4G fallback does is reduce Telstra’s outage statistics – it offers unworkable speeds and latency for me and many others.

If data is king how do you get the data?

Speed testing (bandwidth)

I developed a minute-by-minute batch file that uses the OOKLA SpeedTest command line interface   – that same engine as used by Telstra’s NBN speed test site. In other words, it is as accurate as Telstra’s own tools.

It measures the download/upload speeds and outages and whether they are within Telstra/NBN’s acceptable parameters. The Bat file is below, but you need to install Python first. More seasoned programmers could work out how to output to a .CSV (Excel) file – I just used Word to manipulate the data, and that was very time-consuming.

  • @echo off
  • :start1
  • date /t >>c:/users/ray/%1
  • goto:start2
  • :start2
  • time /t >>c:/users/ray/%1
  • goto:start3
  • :start3
  • cd c:\Program Files\Python37\Scripts\
  • SPEEDTEST-CLI >>c:/users/ray/%1
  • goto:start4
  • :start4
  • timeout 60 >nul
  • goto:start1

Ping Testing (latency)

I used Windows Ping command to ping my.tesltra.com.au each minute with a 32kilobyte file (about the same size as a one-page Word document) to reflect real-world use as Ping otherwise uses 32bytes (four single characters). This measures latency (time to send and receive data) and importantly records data sent/received that is lost (lost packets).

That is important because as a remote worker I use the cloud and other tools like WordPress and if packets are lost the work needs to be redone.

The BAT file is here – run it from the command line

  • @echo off
  • :start1
  • date /t >>c:/users/ray/%1
  • goto:start2
  • :start2
  • time /t >>c:/users/ray/%1
  • goto:start3
  • :start3
  • ping my.telstra.com.au -l 32000 >>c:/users/ray/%1
  • goto:start4
  • :start4
  • timeout 60 >nul
  • goto:start1

Visual indicators

I bought a Fingbox to monitor, and it presents a visual indicator – an orange flashing light – when the internet is down.

Other visual indicators are Google Hub Screens (they go blank) and Netflix or streaming service ‘circles’.

Modem and screen Logs

I exported the Telstra Gen 1 and 2 gateway logs for Telstra’s analysis. Also, I had Windows screen error messages showing the number of fails during each test.

Evidence

7.30 report asked me to run these tests for a day before their arrival. The test ran from Wednesday 17 April 5:09 PM to 18 April at 10.12 AM.

During this period the NBN was

  • Offline for 35 minutes ranging for outages from 1 minute to 20 minutes (5%)
  • Upload speeds 0-10Mbps (on 4G LTE fall-over, unusable – cannot work) 127 minutes (18%)
  • Upload speeds 11-20Mbps (out of NBN SLA) 23 minutes (3.19%)
  • Upload speeds 21-30 (out of NBN SLA) 204 minutes (28.33%)
  • Upload speeds 31-40Mbps (in NBN SLA) 209 minutes (29.03%)

Download speeds are not vital to remote work. Faster speeds mean better streaming.

  • Download speeds 1<70Mbps (out of NBN SLA) for 25 minutes (3.35%)
  • Download speeds 71-90Mbps (out of NBN SLA) 254 minutes (34.05%)
  • Download speeds 90+Mbps (in NBN SLA) 437 minutes (59%)

Ping Speeds to my.telstra.com (lag).

Ping speeds below 30ms are not a major issue. At 30-50ms online gamers start to notice the lag. Above 50ms lag interrupts remote work and induces more jitter into voice calls. Note 100ms is about 1/10th of a second in real time.

  • <20ms          21.03%
  • 20-29            24.1%
  • 30-39            34.52%
  • 40-49            3.52%
  • 50-51            2.45%
  • 60-69            2.74%    (SIP voice breaks up)
  • 70-79            2.94%
  • 80-89            2.06%
  • 90-99            .55%
  • 100+              6.18%    (keystrokes can take a few seconds to appear and equates to time offline)

Packet Loss

  • 0%                90%       (means 10% of work sent/received requires action)
  • 25%               2.5%      (means % of text/photo sent/received is lost requiring resend/receive)
  • 50%               2%          (ditto)
  • 75%               .5%        (ditto)
  • 100                5%          (equates to offline)

OK, where does that leave you if NBN is bad?

I found Telstra’s faceless Philippines call centre absolutely bloody useless – months of calls, 40-hours wasted and no solution in sight. I have no experience with other providers.

Report any outages to your CSP call centre and obtain an incident number. Also, record the time you spent including waiting for an operator to hanging up.

If a pattern emerges (regular outages or regular slow speeds) and your calls exceed say five times immediately go to the Telecommunications Ombudsman and make a complaint online. All you need is the latest incident number and provide some contact information – it is simple, and you should do it sooner rather than when your blood pressure is out of bounds.

NBN

Now armed with a TIO complaint number wait until the issue happens again and immediately quote the number to your CSP call centre and request that the matter be escalated to a dedicated, first line complaints officer. That person will be your contact from there on in.

At that time, you need data – cold hard facts like I had – but frankly, I am not sure how many complaints officers really understand it. Their role is to close the complaint quickly, or they look bad to the TIO and shareholders.

All you need to do is keep saying, “I pay for XX/XXMbps and a reliable service. Fix it.”

Don’t tolerate threats of charging to send out technicians “if it’s your fault” because its usually not, demand replacement modems, demand discounts until its fixed, and if you are unhappy go back to the TIO and update your existing complaint online.

If this seems to be too much get an advocate to help. This ‘geek’ needs to understand IP and testing and a good place to start is your local computer store or a geek-to-you service. If you are right, you can demand the CSP pay for the geek as well.

So this is not the endgame

I am heartened by the number of people who have contacted GadgetGuy ([email protected]) and related their woes with NBN and faceless call centres. My heart goes out to one who has been fighting the cause for two years!

The day after the 7.30 Report went to air an NBN Lead Resolution Manager contacted me and has offered to assist. I have sent all the evidence to them and will help in any way. After all, I pay Telstra for a reliable 100/40Mbps service, and that is all I want!