NBN Rethink: Why We Need 'Fibre-To-The-Driveway' Right Now

Ever since the Coalition government came into power and declared it will use the fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) model for the National Broadband Network (NBN), experts and vocal technology-conscious citizens have been up in arms about it. But the argument against FTTN has been mounting for years. Faced with overwhelming evidence and new technology alternatives, the Government can no longer ignore that their NBN vision is short-sighted. They need to act now instead of dooming us to an archaic broadband network just to save face. Here are four reasons why fibre-to-the-distribution point (FTTdp) needs to be adopted for the NBN.

Cheetah shadow image from Shutterstock

Internet Australia has come out to urge the Federal Government to consider FTTdp -- also known as "fibre-to-the-driveway" -- as an alternative to FTTN and upgrading the existing hybrid-fibre-coax (HFC) network. Currently, the NBN model involves a lot of old copper with some fibre weaved into it. It's a patchy rollout model that, at the end of the day, fails to deliver the internet speeds and bandwidth that we'll need for the future.

Putting internet speed rankings aside, Australia's broadband is woefully inadequate. The download speeds we currently have are fine for now but they're not going to be fast enough in the near future. The FTTN model simply won't cut it and, at the moment, FTTdp looks like a viable alternative.

Here are four reasons why it's time we adopted FTTdp:

#1 It Helps The Economy

This is one of those things that is often talked about in relation to the NBN, but it's often vague as hell. For some people, it's hard to visualise and quantify just how faster internet speeds could possibly contribute to the economy.

Yes, you probably don't need 1Gbps to stream videos, play online games and Skype relatives overseas, but high speed internet is vital for businesses that want to compete on a global scale in the not-too-distant future. We also want to woo foreign investment from companies abroad and having high-speed broadband would be an attractive proposition for those businesses to set up shop on our shores.

According to a study by the Melbourne University, the NBN in its current FTTN form could potentially boost Australia's gross domestic profit (GDP) by two per cent in the long term as it has the potential to make valuable services widely available:

"The services we have considered are ones that have documented evidence of their economic benefit. The six service categories included in our study were: cloud computing for small business; electronic commerce for small business and government; a hybrid form of online higher education; several forms of telehealth practice; teleworking; and entertainment services. Of these, telehealth and teleworking stand out as the most valuable contributors to the Australian economy with the NBN."

Two per cent. That's modelled off the NBN in its inferior FTTN form. When you factor in the cheaper cost, upgradability and speed differences of FTTdp, that GDP growth could be significantly higher.

Since we're talking about cost…

#2 FTTdp's Is Arguably Cheaper Than FTTN

The whole reason behind the Coalition's feverish commitment to FTTN is a result of the party demonising Labor's original plans for FTTP as way too expensive and a waste of taxpayers' money. Fibre is quite expensive and FTTN uses copper for the "last mile" (usually around 400m or less) which theoretically makes it cheaper than FTTP.

But it has become clear that the quick savings the Government was looking for are evaporating fast. While the idea was to offset a large portion of the NBN rollout with the existing HFC network, there have been reports that nbn will have to build over it. Then there's the cost nbn has to pay to Telstra to maintain the aging copper network. So far the NBN will cost up to $56 billion but it may only be worth $27 billion after construction is complete, according to auditing firm PwC. All for a network that will become obsolete in the not-to-distant future.

FTTdp sits in between FTTP and FTTN. It's cheaper than FTTP and only a little bit more expensive than FTTN. While it does still use copper to make a connection to the premises, it still brings the fibre closer to the user and makes it easier for future upgrades. I'm loathe to use the word "futureproof" but that is exactly what FTTdp can do. Paired with skinny fibre, which is cheaper and easier to deploy than regular fibre, the cost savings and functional benefits cannot be ignored. It is something even nbn chief, Bill Morrow, has talked about.

But the Coalition government will never give in and go back to an FTTP model for the NBN; not after it spent so much time condemning it. As petty and immature as it sounds, the Government doesn't want to admit that it screwed up and that's just an inexorable part of politics.

But FTTdp can potentially remedy this problem…

#3 Both Labor And The Coalition Win With FTTdp

There really is no going back to FTTP -- for now at least. The Labor party has lambasted the Coalition for destroying the NBN but has not really provided an alternative plan. Meanwhile, the Coalition is sticking to its guns with FTTN because it would rather jeopardise Australia's digital future than admit Labor was right about FTTP all along.

With a double dissolution on the horizon and both parties entering election mode, now is the time for them to use the NBN to woo voters (again) and presenting an FTTdp solution will make the beleaguered broadband network marketable (again).

To put it simply, Labor could talk about how it can save the NBN with FTTdp while the Coalition could talk up how it is improving this vital infrastructure with new technology without conceding that it was wrong about FTTN. Everybody wins.

#4 Copper Is Shit

For the love of God, there is no way to justify using copper, which is not only expensive to maintain but unreliable as well. Anything that will bring us closer to a full-fibre broadband network is welcome news.

GIF from the Australian Young Greens


    Just got my fttp hooked up yesterday after being delayed a week, just been told that Telstra (again) has made a issue and now I won't have nbn or my ADSL connection which was working fine for another week at minimum.

      Sorry but, I GOT MY NBN TODAY!!!!!! :D FTTP *ITCHES... it has been delayed since March 3 though so...

        Yeah. Mine was supposed to be hooked up on 1st of March too, then they told me on the 2nd of april that someone would be over on the 12th of april and he didn't turn up till yesterday so I do know the pain, but it gets worse.

        Last edited 20/04/16 6:27 pm

    I'm on FTTN which I've had for a week, but being in an apartment building my node is on site. Besides the two year delay thanks to fraudband (literally, NBN took hundreds of pictures for FTTP install and ran fibre to our basement under Labor), I don't really see an issue with FTTN in this situation, given we have brand new, protected from weather copper directly to each apartment. 96meg down.

    Having to rely on Telstra's terrible copper in the street though? No thanks, I've been there, done that with ADSL, and had years of frustrating barely working internet thanks to it.

    Last edited 20/04/16 4:37 pm

      You have FTTB (Fibre to the Building/Basement).
      That is even better than FTTdp (aka fibre to the driveway).
      FTTN is stupid. Slightly lower CAPEX offset by much higher OPEX.
      incidentally Quigley's NBN wanted to be allowed to do FTTB under Labor but were told no for political reasons (Fibre direct to >90% of homes was promised).
      Now we have the Liberals stopping Morrow's NBN from installing FTTdp because their rules from the government state they must chose the "fastest and cheapest" to install. Ignoring TCO, ROI, Value of the investment or any other criteria.

      Politicians! grrrr.

        Well FTTB is just FTTN without ending on the street :). It's still VDSL.

          Yes but it's more related to FTTdp due to the shorter copper lengths. Eg FTTB can support g.fast FTTN can't

    Looks like they are rolling out cable in my area now... just my luck to miss out on FTTP by less than 6 months because change Gov, and they roll out FTTN in my area... my luck they switch back again in 6 months... winning.

      My suburb missed out on FTTP by 2 months. Construction was due to start in November 2013. It was strange, you would think it would have been under a contract, but no. Instead, the node cabinets are in. Strangely unlucky.

    Turnbull has destroyed the NBN for most of us.

    As a result, he will lose the election.

      Make sure he does lose by getting everyone you know that wants decent internet to vote against him!

    Think of all the different businesses that would be able to serve customers who are on higher speeds. Think of all the businesses that would directly benefit from having higher speeds. It seems no one in Australia does. They do in Singapore, which is doing everything it can to facilitate an advanced economy including providing universal FTTP.

    That's far easier to provide in Singapore than Australia, but FTTdp would be a fantastic fit for Australia. It gives many hundreds of Mbps from day one, needs very little power and is powered by the customer premises - no power headaches that plague FTTN right now. There is talk of subsequently, (really) on demand, running fibre all the way into the premises for as little as $1000.

    Last edited 24/04/16 7:38 pm

      I really hope they listen to people on this one, FTTdp seems to be the perfect compromise. Definitely cheaper than FTTP and definitely faster than FTTN. It gives a government without the spine to admit it was wrong an easy way out. Finally for the people who need/want FTTP they can pay to upgrade without the general public who only want fast cat video's feeling like they are subsidizing heavy users. I know people who would put down 10K right now for FTTP.

      Last edited 21/04/16 10:36 am

        So do it. There is no reason they can't.


          True that probably wasn't a helpful example if you have the money most things are possible. I was just trying to point out that FTTdp will make upgrading an option for more people. That tech choice program is currently a bit of a gamble, $330 just for a quote?? Does it even give you true FTTP or are you just getting fibre to the node then to the home (FTTNP?) in which case you are still sharing back haul with the neighborhood and have an extra point of failure in your network.

          Last edited 22/04/16 10:25 am

    Both parties just need to push FttDP and get on with it. It gives enough of the speed of FttP, and enough of the CAPEX cost savings of FttN that both parties should be politically able to accept it.

    And when more speeds ARE needed, the upgrade is no more than what a phone line would be. The cost of which is around $500 these days, something any homeowner should be OK paying.

    The expensive part of FttP is the personal touch needed from the pit outside your home to the home itself. This takes that out, but because the copper left is so short, gives enough of that FttP benefit that most should be happy.

    And you dont need to do more planning, you can just recycle the FttP plans and trim that last segment of the build. Its a win for everyone, so it amazes me that its still only a possibility. A very likely one, but neither have committed to it yet

    As someone who now has FTTP, Its no good having FTTP if the ISPs dont purchase enough Backhaul to support the connection. When I first signed up I was one of the first in my area and I was getting 95Mb/s, Now i'm lucky if I can crack 50Mb/s

      You should consider who you are using as an ISP there are only 3 companies with enough end users (I think it has to be +200k) to support buying enough back haul. Those companies are TPG (best option IMO) optus (still ok) and telstra (don't even go there they don't even advertise more than the lowest speed). When I first signed up I too had 96-98 down and when everyone jumped on it went very slow, but I called up TPG and told them and the problem was fixed within a few days they just needed adjusting to the demand. With any other company you are dealing with multiple companies that ensures an issues you have will take forever to be resolved. I tried using DevotedNBN for a while and they were woeful speeds at 30 when supposed to be 50 and a ping of 20-30ms when I now get 96 down and ping of 1-3 ms back on tpg

        IINET ordered more Backhaul and i'm now back to 95Mb/s, and they reimbursed me for the month or so it was so slow.. :)

    All the download stats and speeds are great but what is the chink in the armour is upload. How does upload compare in the different configs (as someone who backs up a lot of data to the cloud, I would like to still have a useable internet while this is happening).

    FttDp or Fibre to the curb or whatever you call it, will still require a source of power provided to the distribution point or curb to serve the optical-to-electrical converters required to demodulate the light so the electrical signal can be distributed to the premise over copper. This will require that each of these distribution points be powered from the grid (with battery backup) and be fully waterproofed to protect the equipment that will sit in that Distribution Point. And like with the FttN architecture, someone will also have to pay for the power. (I have though seen a claim that this could be done without power, but I struggle to understand how this could be achieved...) Nevertheless, all this introduces additional single points of failure to every customer's service that will require technicians to investigate and repair and be more susceptible and sensitive to water ingress than fibre or even the existing copper that can at least deal with small amounts of water. The original FttP, PON (Passive Optical Network) was passive, so required no power once it left the closest Fibre Access Node until inside the customer's premise. Fibre doesn't care about rain, humidity, flooding, power outages, chemical leaks, etc. Fewer points of failure, fewer Achilles Heel's and no power issues to be concerned with in the Customer Access Network. A bit more costly to initially deliver but FAR lower OpEx across the life of the assets, and hugely better reliability. Unless the fibre breaks, you never need to touch it again. As long as there is power at the POI, the Fibre Distribution Node and the Customer Premise, it works.

    Last edited 21/04/16 5:52 pm

      UPDATE: It turns out that these Distribution Points can be "reverse-powered" from the customer premise over the same cable that supplies the connection between the Distribution Point and the Customer Premise, removing the need to power the DP directly from the grid. This reduces significantly the footprint of the DP as well as the power consumption, along with points of failure. The only real caveat is that the power is paid for by the customer rather than the network provider, but its relatively trivial -- probably less than 10watts per customer, so a few $s a year max. So, as long as the DP hardware is fully waterproofed, it actually looks like it could turn out to be reasonable interim solution between the current situation and a long-term FttP solution. FAR better than anything that could be delivered by the FttN nonsense that's currently being rolled out by nbn..

    When the Liberal Party cheer squad is pointing out (on Delimiter) that the current FTTN rollout is "hitting a wall," the situation is very, very bad for those in charge. Expect a change of rollout strategy. But any change is better than what we have now.

    Last edited 22/04/16 11:54 am

    The sooner we can get decent internet into the regions the sooner we can give the collective middle finger to the outrageous city property prices and telecommute. It solves so many problems all in one go. No jobs in regional centres? Bam, work for a Melbourne firm while living in Cowra. House prices too steep in Sydney? No worries, they're cheap as chips in Cunnamulla. East coast too crowded for you? Try West coast instead.

    We've got all this space, this could really give us a chance to use it.

    For the last 15 years I have provided onsite IT support to a wide range of residential users, small businesses, and professional practices in Melbourne and often become involved in assessing their comms requirements.

    I definitely agree with the author that virtually none of my users could care less about the NBN or which technologies it employs. Very few of them are even willing to pay a premium for higher speeds on existing services like Bigpond Cable.

    The typical family I encounter is happy if they can get a streaming video to play smoothly from beginning to end and have no interest in multiple streams playing simultaneously.

    Interestingly some of my more advanced small businesses now use a lot of cloud based services and can see the benefit to higher speeds but are still not interested in the NBN since it only works in the office and most of their paying work occurs outside of the office.

    A few medical professionals would be interested in gigabit speeds to perform overnight offsite backups of critical large databases but otherwise make little use of the internet.

    In a previous life I worked for a merchant bank with an extensive overseas branch network, they needed high speed, secure branch to branch networking. As it happens it was readily available from multiple providers even in the early 90's. Didn't need an NBN just a willingness to pay $20k per month.

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