Do Australians Even Care About FTTP Vs FTTN For The NBN?

Since the National Broadband Network (NBN) was first announced, it has stirred up debate among politicians, technology experts and the specialist press about which technologies will best serve the nation. Should we (allegedly) spend more tax payers' dollars for a superior fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) model that will pay off in the future? Should we stick to the fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) approach doggedly pushed by our current government? Or is something in-between required? It seems illogical to be opposed to the "best" technology, but most Australians — the very people the NBN is being built for — simply don't care.

Cheetah shadow image from Shutterstock

There is no doubt in my mind that FTTN is an outdated model for the NBN and that we're better off going full fibre with FTTP or FTTdp. Many of my peers who are in the IT industry or have an interest in technology tend to agree and they are active in sharing content on social media that support FTTP.

Recently, a friend of mine shared a pro-FTTP Facebook post and one of his acquaintances came out of the woodwork to shoot it down, saying that the NBN is a waste of taxpayers' money. Naturally, other people jumped into the debate trying to convince this individual that FTTP NBN will do wonders for the Australian economy and all that jazz but that person would not budge on her beliefs.

It was a frustrating sight, especially when you know the technology is sound and it will genuinely be better than FTTN in the long run. But when it comes to convincing NBN detractors, talking about how great fibre technology is feels like beating a dead horse that's already covered in maggots.

People tend to gravitate towards those who share the same ideology as themselves. That's how cliques form in high school and why our Facebook feed are full of content from our friends that reverberate our own thoughts about certain topics.

Faster internet, fostering a vibrant digital economy and future-proofing a vital communications resource seem to only resonate with the technology savvy individuals, experts and forward-thinking business people.

It sounds absurd to hear Australia's Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne say that "[people] simply didn't need the speeds that Labor was promising" with its original FTTP NBN plan. Yet, it is something that many Australians agree with.

You have publications like the Herald Sun claiming that "[it] is all very well to promise geeks download speeds of 1 gigabyte, not much use if they have to wait until 2030 to get them… The evidence from the MTM-NBN to date is that most people don’t particularly want speeds much above 25Mbps — which they will get totally from the MTM-NBN; and they certainly don’t want to pay for them".

Again, this all sounds ridiculous and short-sighted but there are people who read these articles and nod in agreement. Those people probably don't care that Australia's internet speed rankings have slipped compared to the rest of the world.

Us "geeks" can beat the drum about the benefits of an FTTP NBN but it seems the noise is only heard by those who already support it. Focusing on what technology is better and comparing FTTP and FTTN won't change people's minds or votes. Many people don't understand and, to some degree, don't want to understand how broadband technology works. Why should they have to care about the intricacies of the invisible wires that serve them this intangible thing called the internet, regardless of what technology experts say?

That is why the political rhetoric on the NBN has shifted from what is better for the future to how much it would ultimately cost. Labor's message has changed from "let us invest a lot of money to build a brighter future with FTTP" to "we'll build a better NBN and it will only be a fraction more expensive than the one the Coalition is currently rolling out". The party talks about FTTP but makes it clear that it won't be at the same scale as Labor's first iteration of the NBN which was much more ambitious.

Both of the major political parties are now trying to claim that their NBN will be more cost effective.

On a recent episode of Q&A, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed the Coalition is "rolling [the NBN] out literally six to eight years sooner and $30 billion cheaper than would have been the case under Labor’s plan" (a questionable figure…). Meanwhile, former NBN chief executive Mike Quigley launched a scathing attack on the Coalition's FTTN and mixed technology strategy claiming it will cost taxpayers more in the long run due to complexities in managing this model.

I'll continue to personally support a full-fibre solution for the NBN. As Quigley aptly puts it: "A NBN based on FTTP was, and still is, the right answer for Australia's broadband needs". But sometimes it feels like I'm screaming into the void.

I dare say most of the people who read Lifehacker Australia do have an understanding of NBN technologies and see the value of FTTP. Is there a better way for us "geeks" to get the message across to the wider public? Let us know in the comments.


Comments

    You have to frame the conversation in a way that engages people rather than turns them off. Non tech people (and quite a few tech people) hate acronyms - you start throwing around terms like FTTP, FTTN, Gbps etc and they switch off faster than a FTTP connection. They also aren't interested in speeds or technology as they can't relate it to anything.

    So the best way is to talk about what's possible. eg

    Do you want:

    Ultra clear Netflix on multiple screens in your house without buffering
    You new super up to date TV to be utilised fully
    Your kids to have the best educational opportunities
    To communicate with your loved ones as though they were in the room with you
    To be able to download games in minutes rather than hours

    Or do you want

    Slow and unreliable TV streaming
    To be left behind as the rest of the world advances
    To be stuck with old technology 5 years from now

      It's methods like that, that are exactly the problem though.
      People don't want billions of dollars spent to that their neighbour can play video games and watch multiple netflix streams, when video games and netflix are fine now.
      People don't want billions of dollars spent so that their neighbour can count his grandchild's nose-hair over video chat when video skype works fine without the nbn.
      So really, the only thing there is education opportunities, and without money being spent on education, that's unlikely to be any time soon.

      And those that do back it for those reasons, are probably not actually going to be using it at its full potential. Business competitiveness is where it's most needed. That way the multi-GB data dumps can be sent interstate without waiting overnight, or paying to fly a HDD up.

      I'm all for a FTTP rollout, but people tend to think about themselves in the the present, rather than the nation in the future.

        As someone in the IT industry and with an interest in eHealth - the next big thing is wiring homes so that elderly, disabled or out-patients don't have to be under permanent care. This sort of thing *requires* high bandwidth (although not necessarily speed) so that information from medical devices can be analysed in real-time and immediate responses be sent.
        This sort of thing is better for patients, who get to stay home, eases pressure on hospitals and saves money for the country but it is only possible with something like the NBN in place.
        Of course, it is also only one example of what is possible IF we have decent and reliable connectivity.

          That comes at it from the other side as well which is the uploads (which is definitely where FTTP will exceed).

    i want FTTP. i have had way too many issues with copper out on the street, not being repaired properly, corrosion, moisture, not to mention i live in an area full of gumtrees. i want them to take it out and replace it with fibre.

    Well, slipping from 30th to 60th in world speed rankings gives an indication that the rest of the world values high-speed internet more than Australia. Are they all wrong? Probably not.
    With the average web page (not site) now bigger than an entire copy of Doom, it should be obvious that to remain in the technological age something better than copper is needed to each house.
    The problem with government IT projects is always the same. The government just make poor technology decisions. And fail to manage the project properly.
    As for FTTN vs FTTP - I'll settle for anything that gives me more than the current 4Mbit copper connection I have. Anything.

    its really simple. FTTP could never have cost more. they planned it, set it up, and started rolling it out. What has made this project costs blow out is
    a) stopping the rollout contracts,
    b) spending years doing a new plan
    c) Buying the worst part of telstras network, the one that costs them a billion a year just to maintain
    d) retraining engineers in the new roll out and renegotiating contracts
    e) having to purchase new hardware in the for of 'nodes'
    f) having to fill these nodes with equipment that requires power (that's power that is not required for FTTP)
    g) having to remediate the useless copper you brought from Telstra
    h) not having revenue from satisfied customers getting the full consistant speed they paid for, not getting hardly any reccvenue from fttn because the ones they have put in half of them are complaining about drop outs and poor speed, so they are spending time and money chasing their own tails.

    I don't think there is a way back that any party could sell now. it really will cost another 50 billion to fix how much its been screwed over.

    quite apart from the fact you wont be able to stream 4k content from Netflix, rending the 4 grand you spent upgrading to a 4k TV wasted.
    If Australia had the fastest internet in the world ( lets be honest with the number of people we have that's easily achievable ) where do you think the tech giants would want to host their servers ? Australia could easily become the physical location for the cloud. with that sort of overseas investments coming into Australia we really would be a world leader.

    Or we could just pay 60 Bn and end up with much the same as we already had.

      "where do you think the tech giants would want to host their servers"

      Not Australia. The latency to the bulk of users world be terrible and halt any development of cloud services.

      As for power consumption the difference in the total system consumption is negligible in the order of 20-25%. There is more power wasted in inefficient street lighting in one street than in the FTTN node.

      You missed duct remediation and asbestos in your list. Considering the ducts are being leased either way we are getting screwed long term.

        stop this argument a can tell you the answer even if we got fttp there will be hfc and all that stuff connected to the same network so it doesn't matter it would be slow. it like pipes for water there this little pipe that go to the big pipe but all the water comes from the little pipe.

    If all Aussies read LH and Giz then most would prefer FTTP. However, most Aussies, have completely different and diverse, ideas, education and interests, so getting them all on board is going to be onerous at best. Our fractious little nation needs to understand that we cannot do without the NBN and that FTTP is the most efficient way of securing our future.

    Customers should be given the option if they wish to pay for connecting their home to FTTN with Fibre cable OR Copper. This is all they have to do.

      Why is this not possible. Like I need faster speeds but not sure how much. Like their should be an option for satisfied users and if their is a need(not streaming netflix 4 k) then they if they are prepared to pay should have that option for fttp/fttn.

      The nbn has a broadband choice program where you can do exactly that.

    I recently received a letter letting me know that NBN was available in my apartment.
    Funny thing is, I already had 100Mbps cable. So NBN represented a 75% reduction in speed at a higher price! What a joke, can't believe my tax dollars paid for that.

    FTTP is and should have been the only way forward.

    Reminds me of that famous quote about computer memory.

    "When we set the upper limit of PC-DOS at 640K, we thought nobody would ever need that much memory. — Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft"

    This party has no vision for the future. I'm sure there are lots smart people advising the government on these issues, most would be saying FTTP is a critical component of the underlying infrastructure for the future. The fact that Malcolm is ignoring this advise is arrogant and not in the best interest of this nation.

    Stop trying to buy votes with lies about how much time and money you will save by taking shortcuts which will cost everyone directly or indirectly in the future. Uff.

    FTTP is preferable of course, but let's put a $3000 connection fee on it and see who is in a rush to get it. In the meantime continue to get the 80% fit in a more timely manner that FTTN can provide.

    Business connections for any speed are available already in metropolitan areas.

    The good thing is that there's an emphasis from both governments to bring improvement. Looking at our ranking for peak speeds is very one dimensional. Are we really expecting to compete with Hong Kong, US and European countries with our population density. Our mobile broadband in the meantime peaks at number 1 with 153Mbps - go figure.

    I'm an IT geek and not aware of that many people or business's limited from what they need to do online. We have other issues around infrastructure, healthcare, industry and employment to worry about before we get concerned about not being able to stream 4K TV.

      So you're going to spend 40 bux a month for 4G mobile broadband with 4 gigabyte of data? and here you're calling yourself an IT geek yeah right. I'm a day trader and with high ping times I can't keep up with the big boys for my buy / sell trigger as they're directly connected to the ASX exchange data centre but of course you're narrow minded IT geek probably having fetish over dial up modems and using a commodore 64 down in your parents basement.

        I think you're confusing latency and bandwidth. How much bandwidth do you need for your trading? A few Mbps... The NBN will not change your latency, if you have a business requirement for a leased line to the ASX, then get one.

          There is much more latency in a copper connection, on top of that, bandwidth does play a HUGE part in page loading & refresh speeds.

    For what ever reason I was driving around flicking through AM channels and there was some guy on 3AW taking questions about the NBN. He was clearly a right wing person with his rattling on about Tamil refugees.
    Essentially he had people calling in saying they had NBN and were happy with it. No examination of what they had or anything.

    One chap called in who had FTTP who said it was great. The host was quick to say that some people will still get that under the Liberals. The caller then mentioned his parents have NBN but not FTTP and they are happy with the speed. Everyone seems to say they have fast internet except to him who finds it very slow compared to his FTTP. The host of course ended the call and moved on.

    I reckon this gets to the point, better is of course better but people don't know what they are missing out on.

    I've found the best way to explain the difference between the two is a tired-old car analogy, because most people can grasp the differences when explained as such. I even use the pricing models that have been shown to be invalid, but to demonstrate the point.

    FTTP is the brand new Tesla model 3 that costs $56k, can drive at 1000km/hr and has bugger all running and maintenance costs and is designed to last at least 50 years and comes with super-cheap upgrades beyond 1000km/hr

    FTTN & HFC are the the 30 year old Datsun 120y for $40k that can drive at anywhere between 25 and 100km/hr but isn't guaranteed to get to 100km/hr, needs around $2k of servicing and maintenance cost per year, and will need to be replaced with a new model like the Tesla in around 10 years at a further $56k as there is no replacement $40k version

    Now change the $k values to $b values and look at the ten year cost - $56b for the FTTP version vs $60b version and over 10 years, the initially more expensive version yet far more capable version becomes a lot cheaper.

    Once explained like that... most people understand.

    FTTP is desirable and we need optimal internet speeds so we can keep up with the rest of the world. A more clever person than me is needed to explain the need for fast and efficient internet in the spheres of education, business and health. Our previous prime minister and his troglodyte besties, considered the Internet a vehicle for fourteen year olds and the unemployed to use with their boxes and playstations. He had no insight into the way the world runs now that it isn't 1950. Unfortunately, this is still a belief in some of our current representatives.

    I think the best analogy to use are other nation building projects like the Snowy Mountain Project.

    FTTN is like building a full width Hydro power tunnel 95% of the way to the generator then switching to a tunnel half that width. It will still work but you are wasting the potential of the technology, and it will cost you much more in the long term to fix it.

    For the record I have FTTP and love it.

    Martin

    The libs are offering the option for businesses (and I think home owners) to access fibre and potentially gigabit speeds, but apparently it costs a ridiculously exuberant price out of your own pocket, some people its been north of $20k... some people have been told it can't be done or get thrown around by the telecoms and NBN co saying the option doesn't exist.. fttp is meant to cost only a few hundred dollars more than fttn per premises, if even that. the other problem with this is that businesses and people move.. we already have the issues (that I personally have experienced) of moving from an area serviced with cable to an area with very poor adsl2 service only.. it shouldn't need to be a factor when moving, all premises that physically can have fibre should receive fibre and have 0 throttling.

    Sobhow is that 640k going for you? Or has the computer you are using got much more and you wish the limited memory was not the bottleneck?

    Part of the problem is short-sighted thinking and the desire for immediate results/gratification. The NBN is a vital infrastructure project, just like roads, rail, airports, power, and so on - that will, if done properly, have lots of benefits that most people can't imagine.

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