Ask LH: How Does The NBN Actually Work?

Dear Lifehacker, I have been searching fruitlessly for a technical overview of how the NBN works, from the node or box in the home, to the ISP, etc. It seems that the NBN owns all the network termination devices, but how does the data flow? Thanks, Fibre Flummoxed

Dear FF,

The National Broadband Network has been used as a political football for over a decade, culminating in 2013’s tech-focused federal election. With all the technology changes, contrasting opinions and angry mudslinging reported by the media over the years, it can be difficult to find a straight answer on how the NBN currently works.

For a non-nonsense primer on NBN technology, it’s best to go to the horse’s mouth. The official NBN website provides plenty of information and videos that explains the different equipment it deploys and how everything fits together. Naturally, this is not the place to go for unbiased analysis, but for a straight overview of network technologies it does a decent job.

In terms of data flow, the NBN is responsible for providing highspeed broadband connections to the home via a combination of different technologies. (Namely, Fibre, Fibre to the Node (FTTN), Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), Fixed Wireless and Satellite.)

Telephone and internet service providers are then granted access by NBN to deliver products and services through the network. This is achieved by “plugging” their own network into the NBN network via 121 Points of Interconnection (POIs) which are typically located at telephone exchanges.

As NBN explains:

Once the data leaves the POI, it is travelling on the nbn network via our distribution fibre which is connected to our Fibre Distribution Hub (for FTTP), Cabinets (for FTTN), Nodes (for HFC) or Fixed-Wireless towers.

In the case of Fibre To The Node (FTTN) — which is the technology favoured by our current government — the connection and installation from within the home is essentially no different to ADSL.

Access is provided by a node or cabinet which is installed outside the home so it can service multiple premises at the same time. According to NBN, an FTTN cabinet can serve around 200 end-users with a capacity of up to 2Gbps. This is continually monitored by NBN to ensure there is sufficient capacity in place.



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