‘FTTN Makes No Sense’: The State Of The NBN, According To The Experts

‘FTTN Makes No Sense’: The State Of The NBN, According To The Experts

Is the rollout for Australia’s National Broadband Network on track? Are we employing the right technology for the job? Will the NBN be fast enough to handle future demands? Here’s what five of Australia’s leading academic experts have to say.

The Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network recently asked five of Australia’s leading academic experts to give their views on the state of the NBN.

Here, each of the experts gives a summary of their views as they presented them to the Committee, raising concerns about the current technology and suggesting there might be ways to improve the NBN rollout using new approaches being adopted overseas.

David Glance, University of Western Australia

“The Senate Committee was brought up-to-date with contemporary answers to these questions. It was given examples of companies and countries that thought fibre to the node (FTTN) was an adequate implementation strategy, but have since changed to a fibre to the premises (FTTP) approach.

“In the US for example, AT&T last year abandoned fibre to the node and has switched to deploying fibre to the premises because of the speed and capacity limitations, and because 1 Gigabit per second (1 Gbps) is the “new normal”.

“AT&T is also now certain that 25 Mbps will not be adequate for most people, and in fact, won’t be what most people actually want to deploy in their homes or businesses. Households are already consuming multiple simultaneous media streams at whatever definition their network will support. Business, especially in an online innovation-led economy, is increasingly coming to rely on the presence of ultra-fast broadband.

“Costs and technologies that make up those costs have also changed. In Australia, since the decision was made to switch to a fibre to the node implementation of the NBN, costs of implementing other solutions, including Fibre to the Pavement (Sidewalk) have come down. Technology solutions like G.Fast allow short lengths of copper to be used to a home and still deliver 1 Gbps speed.

“With technology, especially in the time frame of the construction of the NBN, the rationale for a particular approach will change. In the case of the NBN, most of the answers to the usual questions have indeed changed, and continuing with a fibre to the node approach no longer makes any sense.”

Mark A. Gregory, RMIT University

“The NBN is a nation building project that has been hijacked by politics. As a result, the obsolete fibre to the node technology is being rolled to a large number of Australians.

“The government should accept the weight of international evidence and move back to fibre to the premises (FTTP). There is an urgent need for a 20 to 30 year life-cycle costing analysis to be completed to provide an engineering cost benefit justification for the NBN technologies to be used in the rollout.

“There is a need for a broad panel to be formed that includes academics, industry, consumer representatives and government to discuss the future of the NBN beyond 2020.

“It is time for Australia to adopt a “universal access” regime, where everyone can connect reliably to digital services, including health and education and other government services, at all times. This is especially for the socially and economically disadvantaged, including the homeless and itinerant, to be provided with the means to access digital services.

“For this reason, nbn Co should rollout a national wholesale Wi-Fi network to facilitate companies and local government offering free Wi-Fi similar to what is happening now through Telstra Air.”

Rod Tucker, University of Melbourne

“Since the days of dial-up modems, there has been a relentless growth in demand for higher broadband speeds. But the 2014 Vertigan report underestimated Australia’s future broadband needs by a factor of ten. Vertigan supported the Coalition’s game-changing shift from fibre to the premises (FTTP) to fibre to the node (FTTN).

“Since Vertigan, a lot has happened in the broadband world. For example, the major US telco AT&T has switched from FTTN to FTTP, arguing that demand is growing for speeds that FTTN cannot deliver. And rollouts of FTTP are accelerating in many countries. Australia is rapidly being left behind.

“All of this points in one direction: Australia’s FTTN network will be obsolete by the time it is rolled out and will not be able to deliver the speeds that will be needed in the future.

“Unlike FTTP and other technologies such as fibre to the distribution point (FTTdP), FTTN will be expensive to upgrade and a future owner of the FTTN network may not bother. Every way you look at it, FTTN is a bad idea.

“The notion FTTP is much more expensive than FTTN turns out to be incorrect. The cost of rolling out FTTN is often understated and the cost of rolling out FTTP is overstated. New lower-cost FTTP construction techniques and cost increases for FTTN have changed the equation.

“While public attention has generally focused on the fixed network in urban areas, people in rural and remote areas will use NBN’s satellites. Qantas also plans to use nbn’s satellites to provide video entertainment on its flights, sapping bandwidth from people on the ground. A third satellite will alleviate this problem.

“My advice to the Senate Select Committee on the NBN is that the FTTN rollout should be abandoned before it is too late, and replaced with FTTP.”

Arthur Lowery, Monash University

“I have been in telecommunications for over 35 years now, and co-founded VPIsystems, a company that develops software tools for optimising and rolling-out telecommunications systems using multiple technologies, such as national broadband connectivity.

“The goal of the NBN is laudable: to provide decent connectivity to everybody in Australia. I’m interested, as a taxpayer, in how this can be done in a cost efficient manner. One of my points is that a rollout is a longish-term endeavour, and maybe it should provide long-term employment for its skilled-up workforce.

“Thus, when designing the rollout, a staged approach should be used. Because civil engineering is a large part of the cost, it is prudent to defer decommissioning existing infrastructure close to dwellings (which can support > 1 Gbit/s, as it is short and not shared), and concentrate on the real bottlenecks nearer the exchanges.

“This means “fibre-to-the-fence” (G.fast). The fact that many period Australian homes are being rapidly replaced also makes FTTP question somewhat academic. Of course, once fibre is at the gate, it’s relatively easy extend to any building in the future, if needs be.”

Thas Nirmalathas, University of Melbourne

“The rapid proliferation of connected devices is transforming connectivity between people, places and things and creating a networked society. This presents many opportunities for citizens, businesses, and governments through the advancement and use of connectivity.

“The NBN presents Australia with an opportunity to provide the critical infrastructure for the networked society. It remains the essential launch pad for transformation of key industry sectors, for a data-driven economy, and for delivering greater social equity across the Australian society.

“Global rankings of internet connectivity and speed show that Australia needs to improve its standing or risk being left behind by the current wave of innovation. Australia falls short particular on broadband subscriptions and faces a widening gap between peak and average speed of internet connections.

“The NBN rollout provides an opportunity for Australia to increase bandwidth and capacity to support innovation. However, in order to meet growing demands to enable innovation the NBN rollout must improve.

“The actual rollout rates is falling short of the original targets promised under the NBN. Despite a change in the technology mix and revised network architectural options recommended through the strategic reports, NBN deployment remains slow across both new and existing sites.

“The NBN should plan for a third satellite without waiting for demand saturation. Machine-to-machine traffic arising from connected devices across many key sectors of relevance to regional Australia will demand cost-effective wireless access using satellite or other wireless alternatives such as those that could take advantage of optical fibre networks to provide improved wireless coverage and access.”

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia; Arthur Lowery, Professor of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, Monash University; Mark A Gregory, Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering, RMIT University; Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne, and Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas, Director — Melbourne Networked Society Institute, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Co-Founder/Academic Director — Melbourne Accelerator Program, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


  • So… essentially what any already informed tech reader already knew. FTTN = expensive bandaid to a broadband problem we had 10 years ago. Always grinds my gears whenever parliament tries to bring up reports to “justify” FTTN as being good enough

          • My 3G (Not 4G) is many times faster than my home broadband. Too bad it’s capped at 3 gigs a month.

          • See this is why I’m glad I still have the old Optus $2 days plan. For $2 a day, unlimited texts, calls AND data. My partner is also lucky enough to still have a sim with that old plan. We don’t have broadband, we use our mobiles exclusively (mines currently tethered to my pc) and it’s 4 – 6 times faster than my old ADSL2+ was.

  • The original article headline is “Expert panel: the state of the National Broadband Network” modified to be more clickbaity so you don’t even have to read the article.

    tldr version: FTT fence, NBN wireless for all, FTTP + 3rd satellite, FTT fence, satellite + improve rollout. All agree fibre is endgame, but brief is suggestions on how to improve current plan.

  • Improving the current plan is to stop the government penny pinching it and re-consider it a major infrastructure. They spend just as much on roads that benefit 100,000s of commuters, but cant see the benefits all 23 million people and every industry in Australia and they cant see the value in spending more for a guaranteed benefit to communication, entertainment, eduction, health, business, tourism is beyond insane. Cheap high speed internet could also have a huge impact on the small business industry, improve exports and imports, and make dot.coms from overseas come to Australia.

    Turnbull wants a Silicon Valley industry out in Sydney’s West… umm… not going to happen if you dont bring the internet of Australia up to the top 10 in the world. Computer industry needs the internet to be fast, not just for themselves, but for every customer they want and need to survive.

  • Infrastructure Bonds, Hell give every citizen a share in the god damn NBN (cause we know your going to privatise it in 10-20 years anyway). Do something to get the money, get it built.

  • Malcolm Turnbull’s determination to force upon the Australian public an inferior, obsolete and overly complicated broadband network will be his downfall.

    When Abbott was booted out by his own party, I thought the coalition had come to its senses and the Abbott legacies would be turfed. Instead we got another puppet who is really just Tony Abbott in disguise.

    Hence the idiotic version of the NBN remains as a monument to the incompetence of Turnbull, Mitch Fifield and the board of the organisation formerly known as NBNCo.

    • I’m a staunch Labor supporter, but I think Turnbull is more or less locked into the Abbot legacy because there are a lot of his cronies still sitting. If Turnbull gets re-elected and unfortunately from my point of view that just may happen, he can set his own agenda, without the crap Abbot left behind.

      • Agreed, most people bash Turnbull for the state of the NBN but I don’t think he had any say in it. He was told to make it FTTN as per the party policy and now he’s in too deep and without enough support to backflip.

      • Can’t remember where I saw it recently, but I did read an article which argued that Malcolm Turnbull’s position as leader of the party will be weaker after the election.

        Many of his supporting MPs hold marginal seats which they are likely to lose if there is even a swing to the ALP (something many are predicting). The conservative MPs who supported Abbott hold most of the safer seats. After an election, even though the coalition may retain government, Turnbull is likely to have his progressive support base in the party room eroded due to losses in a number of the marginal electorates. If this happens the conservatives may end up with more influence which he will need to yield to if he wishes to retain the leadership.

        This could mean the continuation of the poor NBN policy established by Abbott, and let’s not forget, executed by Turnbull. Turnbull is too deeply linked to the current NBN fiasco to change course now without considerable loss of face. It’s why Abbott gave him the job in the first place.

        • You may be right and I’m cringing at the thought of that debacle, but I think you give Abbots intelligence too much credit, the man’s a Luddite.

  • FTTN or FTTP is all old technology and as a 35 year veteran of the ITC industry it makes no sense to me to be investing in any fixed line technology when the world wants mobile, business that require high speed fixd line already have it through dark fibre. Mobile technology is progressing so rapidly that before the roll out is complete mobile services will be delivering 100G reliably and that is what consumers will buy. The ALP and The LNP are simply out of touch with technology developments and as are most of the so called experts.
    As far as the nonsense about speeds people choose th real world example of FTTP ie Japan and Sth Korea show that on average homes choose about 12MPS because of cost. So I’m or for the best world class solution in internet access but not for throwing billions of dollars at out dated solutions.

    • ” business that require high speed fixed line already have it through dark fibre” – Nope

      Only 10 years in the ICT industry but several sites in my organisation are running over ADSL because there is no fibre in the ground. This has a serious impact on productivity, the lack of upload speed means even basic stuff like keeping the web site up to date takes forever. Not to mention trying to get remote training and video conferencing working. We are what you would consider a regional town but with over 30k people we are not exactly in the sticks.

      ” Mobile technology is progressing so rapidly that before the roll out is complete mobile services will be delivering 100G reliably” – That would be great but historically mobile data bandwidth has never been able to catch demand. I’ll admit I need to research this more but at the moment i’m not buying it. Sounds like a pipe dream to me. Just like ADSL the telco’s advertise theoretical limits and don’t deliver anywhere near it. Even if they do your tech and the tower both need to be updated relatively frequently. We only recently got 4G and even that gets congested and works only in some areas.

      “I’m or for the best world class solution in internet access” – If your referring to the 100G mobile data, you want the government to install a technology that doesn’t exist yet? I’ll admit that’s one way to future proof.

      Fibre is the best tech we have at the moment, WWAN may turn out to be an option but it is by no means a certainty, particularly if it is left to the telco’s who will happily charge 10x as much as fixed line would cost.

      • Funny how everyone is happy to throw upwards of $60b to $100b at a solution that at best would put Australia on par with a small group other nations because it will somehow make us more competitive but simply can’t see that this should always have been a free market investment. The reality is if the demand for high speed access existed then government involvement would be unnecessary.
        Some facts for the people who think they know Japan has an average access speed of 15Mbps (so is some one is actually getting 150Mbps they are the exception not the rule0South Korea 20.1Mbps (average purchase rate in homes is 12Mbps) you can check this data by simple internet seaarch. Fibre or hybrid coax to premises in major cities has been available since the late 1990 (I sold services in all capital cities including Hobart during this period). any business stuck on old copper are simply not interested in a technology solution or dont want to pay for it.
        Wireless services in trials in China have already matched fibre speeds this isnt some pie in the sk technology and if people think it is they are simply poorly informed. Mult thread wireless research is well advanced solving the biggest issue of shared spectrum, it must be said that all services including fibre eventually share bandwidth at some point its not like you have a direct dedicated link to the content.
        i feel sorry for the state of knowledge about emerging technology in Australia

        • The demand is there, we just don’t have a free market in that area. The only reason telstra has any competition at all is because of government intervention. Your example of Japan shows a solid demand for at Minimum 12mbps right now. Thats something that a lot of people and businesses don’t have and potentially won’t have even under FTTN. That really is a minimum too, some areas are only able to get 10Mbps and around 25% are still not on fiber.

          Your examples of fiber hybrid coax to major cities is great for the people who live there but desperately missed by the other half of the population. I would guess that most business with more than three employee’s in the area and pay for fiber showing the demand is there when the infrastructure is.

          To word your sentence a different way, wireless research has not yet solved the issue of shared spectrum and to assume that it will is a risk not a certainty.

          Trails in china managed to squeeze 1gbps to a few users within the same office floor. Trials in Sweden manged 10gbps to a single device in the same room. Fiber will currently do 1Pbps over 50km’s.

          Yes all services are shared and there will be congestion issues if it’s not managed properly but these points of congestion can be upgraded. I’ve only got to compare our sites connected by fiber to those on microwave, 4g or ADSL to know that fiber is the best for business and once its in the ground also the most cost effective. Your wireless or FTTN are going to be pulled out and replaced multiple times before they ever reach the speeds fiber gives us now. Do it once and do it right.

        • Mate, you made the statement people choose 12Mbit in Japan and Korea because of cost.

          You’re blatantly making things up. People in Japan do not choose speed tiers like with the NBN, you order a service and you get the maximum speed capable on that line. You literally do not know what you’re talking about.

          The averages you’re talking about, that you can “read online”, are averages of all the different services in Japan and Korea. Some people still have very limited VDSL based connections in apartment buildings only capable of 12Mbit, but they are NOT choosing that speed they are getting that speed because of the outdated technology and copper in their building.

          Anyone with fibre in Japan, and I mean anyone, will get speeds that I get, because thats the only option given. You don’t choose a speed tier, you purchase a service and that’s it. So, don’t be trying to claim I am the exception, I am the norm.

        • this should always have been a free market investment. The reality is if the demand for high speed access existed then government involvement would be unnecessary.

          So instead of one complete infrastructure you would prefer multiple sets by different companies. Guess where the cables would be? Capital cities and that’s about it. The rest of the country would be left alone – too expensive. Before you mention wireless again, I spent the last four days perambulating North central Victoria – the only mobile service I got was in a couple major towns. If current providers cannot see the worth in delivering a mobile service NOW why would they suddenly provide it later? Not sure if you have been outside of a capital city but give it a go and let us know how you went. Perhaps talk to a business owner or two. Also cannot resist your statement of 35 years in the industry – as you obviously believe it has cred. It has nil. Knowledge has cred and there are plenty of readers of this site who are masters of their trade and share it with accurate information. They are a joy to read

    • Not so.

      Mobile tech is hobbled be the fact that it is a shared medium. Also environmental factors like location with respect to the access point and building make up etc massively effect the connection speeds you will see.

      A fibre-based fixed infrastructure will always be superior to mobile.

    • If you’re a veteran of the IT industry and don’t understand the inherent weakness of wireless you need to go back to school.

    • “As far as the nonsense about speeds people choose th real world example of FTTP ie Japan and Sth Korea show that on average homes choose about 12MPS because of cost.”

      Evidence please? I live in Japan and pay 4,000 yen (~$45AUD) a month for unlimited FTTP getting on average 150Mbit down and 90Mbit up. And I live in a more expensive area in western Japan, those living in and around Tokyo in the east pay on average about 500 yen a month less than I do for the same or better product.

      Meanwhile for a 10GB cap on my phone, I am paying 10,000 Yen a month.

      I know which I would prefer to not have to pay so much for…..

    • There is a reason why the mobile providers don’t offer 500GB of data on their plans, or even 100GB of data. Even Telstra’s 4GX network will not be capable of giving even a significant percentage of home users the amount of data they’re used to on ADSL2+ and cable internet. Nor will it be able to support that many users.

      Want proof? Go to the MCG during an AFL game or cricket test match, when a number of users similar to a large suburb are there on their smartphones. Mobile internet is unusable.

  • It’s a shame that even with expert opinion siding towards fttp, the government will not backflip on their fttn plans.

  • I wonder if giving some areas FTTP and other areas FTTN is illegal under the Australian Constitution? Section 99 of the Constitution says:

    99. Commonwealth not to give preference
    The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue, give preference to one State or any part thereof over another State or any part thereof.

    Any Constitutional lawyers in the house?

  • Of my friends, who are small farmers in North Queensland, only I have ADSL2+ via phone line since I am close to the village exchange. All the others have to rely on mobile technology which they find woefully lacking in speed, often hardly better than dialup. A new satellite is promised to be better for them. Back in 2007 when the NBN was first proposed, it looked like a terrific idea, but 9 years later it seems to be going nowhere, as evidenced by the experts’ statements, and comments of people above.

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