This Is The State Of The NBN Since The Coalition Took Power

This Is The State Of The NBN Since The Coalition Took Power

At the time of the 2013 election, then opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull promised an alternative National Broadband Network that was going to be faster, cheaper and delivered sooner. After three years, most analysts and industry experts have been less than satisfied with the results. Is it really as bad as people are saying? We take a look at the evidence…

The National Broadband Network (NBN) – originally Labor’s slightly disorganised baby – promised fast full-fibre broadband for the entire country. It began in 2009, but the roll-out was significantly slower and more expensive than first promised and became another stick for the Coalition to beat the Rudd/Gillard era with as another policy failure.

Three years on, with Turnbull now in charge of the nation, the shoe is on the other foot and Labor is using the NBN as an election tool, although the opposition’s plan is still light on detail beyond the promise of a “first class” NBN.

Let’s take a look at how the Coalition has faired with the NBN during its time in power.

The promise

“We will complete the NBN, we will ensure all Australians have very fast broadband and we will do it sooner, cheaper and hence more affordably than the Labor government can.”

That was then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull’s promise to Australia just before the election in 2013. He planned on doing this by scrapping a full fibre-to-the-premises broadband network, instead upgrading and repurposing existing infrastructure.

The fixed network was split in three parts, all roughly one third of the network. Full fibre to the premises (FTTP) broadband, the old cable HFC TV network, and fibre to the node (FTTN), which used a mix of fibre optics and existing copper phone lines.

A quarter of the 2.2 million homes being connected to NBN fixed lines are getting FTTP. Most of those are in new developments or areas where the roll-out was already underway since Labor’s roll-out began in 2009. While the speed potential is significantly higher than both HFC and FTTN, it’s also significantly more expensive, costing $3700 per household – a point Turnbull hammered home during the 2013 election. Those costs are mostly due to ripping up the nature strip outside each home and laying down new fibre.

The HFC network – the old cables originally deployed in the ’90s for pay TV – will make up a little over 30% of the NBN. This is meant to cost around $1100 per household, including upgrades to improve speed and capacity. The government paid $11 billion for both Telstra’s HFC network, and its copper network, which they originally planned to decommission, before Turnbull decided to reuse it.

Using HFC was meant to deliver a faster roll-out, because the upgrades required were initially believed to be minimal.

The final piece to Turnbull’s NBN puzzle is FTTN. This is where fibre optics are laid to the big green box you see in the street. From there, the existing copper phone lines connect to homes. The NBN says this costs $1600 per household to connect. Speeds would average 25Mbps even in peak periods.

A revised target was released in 2014, which said by June 2016, 3.3 million premises in Australia would have access to the NBN.

The reality

By the end of March 2016, the NBN has delivered access to just over 2 million premises, with 900,000 using it. The company says that by June 2016 it will pass by 2.6 million premises, 700,000 less than promised in 2014.

Laurie Patton, CEO of Australia’s peak internet body, Internet Australia, says that while the Coalition’s multi-technology mix (MTM) model was promoted as being able to deliver broadband faster and cheaper, this has not been the case.

“Over the past three years Australia has dropped from a poor 30th on global internet speed rankings to an appalling 60th,” Patton said.

“One of our biggest competitors as a regional technology hub, Singapore, already has internet access 100 times faster than ours.”

Despite public perception, this isn’t due to the shift in the technology used in the roll-out, but rather the delays in delivery and low uptake. Too many Australians still use old, slower ADSL connections.

In fact, since 2013, the majority of the roll-out has been FTTP, with 725,000 of the NBN’s 900,000 customers accessing the network using that technology. And those users have reported mostly positive experiences, with the only real complaints coming from technicians cancelling appointments.

According to the NBN’s last financial results, FTTP has cost them $3558 per household.

Patton said when the NBN announced this week that it had “passed” two million homes, they meant running the cables along the street.

“What we need to do now is to concentrate on getting customers signed up,” he said.

“The more customers on the NBN, the more revenue they’ll receive and the less money they will need to borrow to complete the roll-out.”

The FTTN roll-out finally began in September 2015, and has already available to 300,000 premises, slightly ahead of schedule. Of that 300,000, just 43,553 are using it. The results have been fairly lacklustre too, with peak hour congestion bringing speeds down below the levels customers were used to via ADSL.

Customers are reporting speed fluctuations of between 90Mbps download and 12ms ping in off peak times to as low as 3Mbps and 140ms ping during peak times between 4pm and midnight.

That equates as 2 mins 30 secs to download an HD episode of Games of Thrones in offpeak, or a little over 60 minutes during peak periods.

Patton says that the move to fibre-to-the-node has been a retrograde step, and it will need to be upgraded again to meet international standards by the time the roll-out is completed.

“Millions of dollars of ‘sunk costs’ will have been wasted,” he said.

“In the meantime, all those homes connected via FTTN will see their Internet access speeds remain fairly static while others on the technically superior fibre service will see their speeds keep increasing over time.

“There is a technical limit to how much faster we can make the copper go, whereas fibre networks will experience significant speed gains in coming years.”

While HFC trials have officially begun in Brisbane, the official launch is due for the end of June, just a few days before the election. How it will perform when it comes to speeds and congestion is still unknown, but the NBN is planning upgrades (to DOCSIS 3.1) in early 2017, to deliver download speeds of up to 10Gbps.

There are also concerns around the Optus HFC network, which makes up around a third of the total HFC footprint, with leaked documents reporting it’s in poor condition in many places and some parts even need to be ripped up.

The bottom line for Patton is that the political squabbling over the NBN needs to stop so it can be built.

Like Australia’s $50 billion submarine program, he says everyone needs to think in generational terms.

“We need to be valuing it over the long term – 30 to 40 years – not over a four-year budget cycle,” he said.

“We didn’t have this sort of squabbling when it came to the Snowy Mountains Scheme or the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“These projects, like the NBN, were long term investments in the country’s future and were rightly seen as such. Once construction began everyone acknowledged that they were much-needed, just like fast, ubiquitous broadband is today.”

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This story originally appeared on Business Insider.


  • What is with this Ripping up the nature strip STUFF??

    The way it was installed in my town is they used the exsisting tubes that the copper runs in to the pits, and then from the pits they used the pvc pipe from the pit to the house!
    The only reason to rip up the nature strip and the front yard would be because the pipes were chrushed or damaged in such a was as to not be able to run cable.

    • Some older areas they simply buried the cable instead of using conduit, or the joints are in a spot between homes to share etc. in those cases they need to rip everything up to do it again properly

      • Actually, im a communications officer for a telstra contractor, and the need to rip anything out is not really necessary. You will only find direct buried fibre if you are way out in the bush as it is relatively new compared to telstras copper infrastructure. The state of some (or most) copper joints are appalling (no wonder people have ‘water on the lines’ and crappy internet). In older areas the most times I have seen, it has been buried in an asbestos pipe, but I digress. Lord bluray is very correct in the saying that they wont tear open the nature strip (much), as they would rather core hole unless you were one of the poor sods in caboolture (my deepest sympathies)

    • In my town about 1 in 3 houses had new trenches dug, and 1 on 5 streets needed new piping as well, anywhere with asbestos and possible damage got replaced. Got FTTP because the whole town is a flood area and the copper network has been submerged at least once every 4 years. But the entire NT is getting FTTP no matter what the quality of the copper.

    • Its the nature of the beast, so to speak. When things go right, you can use existing infrastructure, but when things go wrong, its a whole new access conduit thats needed, and thats where the expense is.

      Some areas need that, some areas dont, but all places need an evaluation before they know what work is needed. I was lucky, I have a new enough conduit into the property that it was a very straightforward build, but the house next door needed a new conduit because their phone line was 50 years old and needed replacing.

      The negative of FttP is that every house needs that personal decision to be made, and that gets expensive. Most of the time economies of scale work in your favor, but that part of the build is the opposite for that reason.

      Still worth it in the long term, but its the core problem with FttP. The problem with FttN being that there is way too much copper still being used, meaning no medium to long term benefit from the expense, and depending on your stance, no short term benefit either.

      FTTdp is that middle ground that works for both builds, it amazes me they still havent come out to say its an option.

      You dont need that specialised last mile interaction (the “ripping up the nature strip” stuff) so have the bulk of the cost savings, and you dont have the hundreds of meters of copper still in play, so dont have the long term issues FttN will have.

      Let the home owner decide to run that fibre the last 10m or so (or not), where its basically no different to a new phone line.

  • Let’s face it, the NBN was always going to be a political football. What’s needed is to force the pollies to drop the NBN from their machinations and give the NBN a mandate to just get on with it. The NBN isn’t optional, it’s one of the most important steps needed to bring the country up to international standards and get the economy moving again.

    • Congestion is an ISP problem not an NBN technology problem. If the ISPs aren’t buying enough upstream bandwidth it doesn’t matter what technology the end users are using.
      Case in point: Tassie has a high number of FTTP NBN connections. When Basslink got taken offline, TPG hadn’t bought enough bandwidth for their non-direct clients (so iinet, internode etc) which meant it was pretty much impossible to stream anything, even on fibre. Then TPG got forced to buy more, and the problem went away.

      • You may be right, I’m not an expert on the subject, so my opinion is based on the big picture as I see it. That being the case, I still think the NBN should be out of the hands of ill-informed Pollies with a paid for agenda. Just sayin’

      • Congestion in the internet can be the fault of many different things, it is not purely an ISP issue. A website experiencing high traffic volume will lead users to experience congestion. You already meantioned undersea cables but it can also occur in the last mile when a too many customers attempt to access the internet within a shared node. 2.5Gbit GPON ( Labor’s FTTH) almost eliminated these issues at that level by sharing its 2.5/1Gbit connection among a maximum of 32 homes. The fttn mtm shares its own (approximate) 2Gbits among somewhere closer to 300 homes.

        At the moment this isn’t so much of an issue, but as more houses switch on and attempt to fire up their 100Mbit connections, many homes will find themselves slowing to a crawl, even if their ISP has paid for a decent amount of CVC.

          • Not true. 2500Mbits split among 32 households leads to a minimum value of 78 Mbit/s per household attached to the 2.5GPON. 2000MBits split among 300 houses is a minimum of 6.67 Mbit/s per household. One of those represents an acceptable loss at the local level and puts the onus on the ISPs to perform better. The other means that ISPs can blame node contention ratios and hide their own failures and lack of CVC.

  • I can get almost 25Mbs on the wireless internet I have, with better peak speeds than fttn. For probably less a month.
    No wonder not many people are signing up and those that do aren’t happy.

    • Yep… every time I try from my home, I get 220MBits per second/over 29 megabytes per second. I’m having trouble with my more so now and it maxes out at 3.8Mbits downstream… this is ridiculous especially considering I’m 4km from Perth CBD and right near a very main road.

      If my mobile speed is 10x faster than the expected FTTN without congestion (when in reality it’s not so great), with my home not even on the rollout list plan yet… this is a truly ridiculous situation.

  • Nonsense. Both sides share fault, but mostly Labor for thinking such a gigantic undertaking in a geographically remote country with huge labour costs was possible at nearly any cost – let alone on the timeline proposed, but also the Libs for continuing the nonsense when it should have all just been dumped and losses cut. The NBN is a colossal stuff up from politicians, bureaucrats, outsource-labour hire companies, economists, even the engineering design decisions made, but no-one who really understands this stuff is brave enough to tell it like it is.

    The reason the rest of the world is moving so far ahead of us is precisely *because* of the NBN. Other telcos aren’t prohibited from rolling out fibre to their customers if they want it; that’s competition. In Australia a monopoly is protected by legislation. Yes, the NBN is actually now working against us.

    The economic development opportunities are massively overblown anyway; we’ve had 3 million people capable of getting 100Mbps Internet if they wanted it for nearly a decade on Telstra cable and up to 30Mbps since 1996! I know – I had it from day one.

    Now we have more than 100Mbps in most cities with LTE-A and a 30+Mbps backchannel – set to double again soon, data caps rising all the time and the race is on to roll out 5G, probably before the NBN is even finished. That’s throughput of 800Mbps or so and already in testing here in Australia. Sure we need fibre, but proper DWDM multiple strand single mode fibre to mobile towers for the backhaul – not passive into our homes. And those towers are getting closer and closer as the cells get smaller, meaning the speeds are ramping up … and that’s mobile data – not a tethered link to our homes.

    • “Competition” is why only 30% of the country has access to the HFC and we live with a patchwork of decaying telco infrastructure.

  • Oh and the ‘old’ HFC is not a mix of fibre and copper telephone lines; for starters it’s all less than 20 years old – that’s new compared with the old copper network designed for 3kHz – and uses shielded coaxial cable which has a bandwidth of well over 1000MHz. That can deliver enormous bitrates; DOCSIS 3.1 is theoretically 10Gbps already and while it’s shared with your neighbours, just like the NBN’s passive optical cable – it’s shared with about 30 other houses. All this technology talk is a waste of time anyway as the investment in the NBN is all money down the drain. Technology always gets faster and cheaper and investing so much capital cost on its roll-out was always going to be economically flawed because it locks in a fixed cost of data when that cost is always falling – a direct consequence of Moore’s Law.

    • You’re wrong on a number of counts. Fiber connections will be able to be ‘current’ for another 50 years if not more. The speed of light is still a practical and theoretical limit. Copper has lasted as the transfer technology for 100 years, fiber is still getting huge performance gains squeezed out of it on a monthly basis and our starting point is well behind it’s proven maximums.

      Additionally, you’re stating we should give up on telecommunications infrastructure investment altogether. Stick with copper?

      Your comments are ignorant to an astounding degree.

    • The HFC is not shared with 30 neighbours. Numbers currently sit between 50 and several hundred customers sharing that connection. Splitting nodes can reduce this but has an exponential increase in costs as the customers per node decreases.

  • Just remember that the Opera House was only built with the help of a special national lottery when the state Government could not afford it.

  • 3mbps in peak times? Wow. That is just a big joke not to mention ripoff.
    Can’t move to NBN because we constantly get removed from the list and then put back
    on again so will most probably see a connection around the end of the rollout.
    Hope things will have been improved by then.

  • This is a serious issue. Running a small media business that relies on a fast connections both up and down (I don’t just watch GoT, but need to create content as well!), the idea of being stuck with my current 2.4mb upload speed is making things virtually nonviable. Ironically, my upload speed is considered quick!
    When even my mother who lives in a country town in Germany (we always made fun of how backwards and sleepy it was) has just had a 450mb connection installed, it’s laughable that I can’t get anything better that 100/2.4 5 km from the Melbourne CBD! And if I see the PM smirking and boasting about his NBN vision again, I’ll scream!

  • I don’t believe delivering faulty obsolete ADSL and HFC what people already have as delivering anything. The number is fraud , it is much less.

    No only did they spend billions on HFC which was supposed to be discontinued this year, which goes down for days at a time when it pleases. They’ve already blasted all the money recycling deprecated assets while Telstra has run with the money.

    A dud investment for their dud failing economy.

    Their faulty crap is not adequate for business especially like we currently do are kept offline for hours, days, weeks , months . Seriously bad for productivity and the economy.

    They are economic vandals just to save Murdoch.

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