Ask LH: How Does The NBN Actually Work?

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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  • Here’s a question, does anyone know if the NBN will be using IPv6 or will it be a mix of IPv4 and IPv6?

    • IPv4 & v6 is more determined by the equipment You have and your ISP. IPv6 is still “new” in terms of how recent its been slowly rolling out onto networks and websites. The NBN won’t have control over IP Addresses.

  • The NBN are just the “light providers” of the wholesale network. Its up to the RSPs/ISPs to decide on IPv4/IPv6 options. Just choose your provider carefully.

  • So, does that mean that if I have a network termination device on the side of my new house, it is FTTP? Or is there an NTD on every house? The suburb was being developed right at the time of the election so I’m not sure where we made it in as FTTP or if we got stuck with FTTN.

    • Yep. The outside box is called a premises connection device or PCD. The NTD is what’s installed inside. If you have one of these then congrats, you’re getting fttp. Fttn uses the existing phone line into your building just connected into essentially I junction box with fibre going in and everyone’s crappy old phone line coming out.

  • Here is a question, with the FTTN what is happening with the PSTN line?
    Is it going to be cut and terminated at the Node and a mini exchange placed in the node or are we going to have to use a VoIP as is the norm with FTTP?

    • Your PSTN connection is goneski once you’re hooked up to FTTN (same as with the HFC areas). Once NBN services are available and “ready for service”,, all customers within that footprint will have 18-months to switch to the NBN. For phone-only customers, this will require the purchase of an NTD (router or VOIP gateway). Further, you’ll need a battery backup on the NTD if required for medical or security reasons.

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