There Is No NBN ‘Plan B’

There Is No NBN ‘Plan B’

As the copper phone network goes from bad to worse, decent broadband is still years away for many Australians. If your phone line is slowly failing but the NBN is still years from your street, what’s your fallback broadband plan? As I personally discovered, the available options aren’t great…

Regardless of how we built the National Broadband Network, some people were always going to wait longer than others before they could connect. That’s not unreasonable, I think we can all appreciate that you can’t build a nationwide network overnight, but the situation becomes more urgent if you’re watching the DSL connection on your copper phone line get worse every year.

I live a few kilometres from my telephone exchange in suburban Melbourne – when I moved in eight years ago I was getting 8 Mbps via ADSL2+ but it continues to drop and right now I’m struggling to get 2 Mbps. Previous line checks have confirmed that my copper line is flaky and I’ve tried some DSL troubleshooting but I’m told that as long as you have dial-tone Telstra won’t do anything about it.

After the latest speed drop I’m about to go through this process again but I don’t expect to get any joy, no-one wants to spend money maintaining the copper lines when the NBN is set to replace them – which might be a great strategy for shareholders but sucks if you’re the one stuck on the other end of a bad line.

Tantalisingly out of reach

There’s 100 Mbps Telstra HFC cable in my street, my next-door neighbour can connect to it but I can’t because we technically live on a split block. My understanding was that the NBN was coming to my suburb next year and that I’d probably get connected to the Telstra cable when the NBN techs come down my street, but now it’s looking like 2018 before relief arrives – and I still might get shunted onto Fibre to the Node.

To be fair I realise that I’m still one of the lucky ones. Regional Australia has lived with substandard broadband infrastructure for decades and even some city dwellers have never had access to DSL due to issues like pair gain, leaving them trapped on dial-up until the NBN reaches them.

Originally I was happy enough to wait my turn but, like many people, my patience is running out as my connection deteriorates – especially as I work from home and it’s becoming harder and harder to get things done while also catering to the broadband needs of my family. I need a temporary broadband boost, and there are several ways to go about it.

A few third-party broadband networks such as DGTek, Lightning Broadband and MyRepublic have emerged to cherry pick dissatisfied customers, but unfortunately they’re yet to make it to my suburb.

Alternatively I realise I could spend thousands of dollars paying for a business-grade fibre line to my house, or perhaps sign up for an expensive satellite broadband deal, but that seems like overkill when I’ll only need it for two years before some form of NBN reaches my doorstep.

Some people argue that the entire broadband network should be a user pays system but instead Australia has decided to treat internet access as critical infrastructure like roads. A completely user pays road system would mean that many suburbs would still rely on dirt tracks, but we’ve decided that the vast majority of Australians are entitled to bitumen to the driveway and broadband should be considered just as important.

Time to choose

So the way I see it that leaves me with two options to get me through the next two years, I can either piggyback my neighbour’s Telstra cable connection – running a Wi-Fi link over the fence – or I can tap into mobile broadband.

I’m sure I could strike some kind of arrangement with my neighbour and contribute towards his monthly bill, even if we’re probably breaking Telstra’s terms and conditions, but I’m reluctant to drag him into my problems and risk my broadband demands taking a toll on his internet speeds.

If I was tapping into his cable connection I’d still need to keep paying for DSL in order to keep my VoIP business phone line, as I’ve found over the years that VoIP supplied by your Internet Service Provider tends to be more reliable than a third-party service.

I’m thinking that mobile broadband is a more sensible option, whether it be a mobile hotspot or a Home Wireless Broadband modem.

A dedicated Home Wireless Broadband modem can offer better value for money, but they tend to be capped at 12/1 Mbps whereas the mobile networks can potentially go much faster. I live in a valley with mediocre mobile broadband coverage, just to add an extra degree of difficulty. Telstra seems to have the best coverage but its mobile data is much more expensive than its competitors.

Even if you avoid Telstra’s mobile network, mobile data can be expensive – so I might end up running a mobile hotspot alongside my DSL connection which offers unlimited downloads. This way I can easily switch between fast, expensive broadband and slow, cheap broadband depending on what I’m working on.

The set-up is going to fragment my home network, which will be a pain, but it will also make it easy to control which devices access which broadband connection so I’m not accidentally sucking down online movie rentals via expensive mobile broadband. It’s going to be a hassle, but worth the effort if it makes me more productive during the day.

Are you still waiting for the NBN to reach your street? Is your copper line on its last legs? What’s your NBN Plan B?

UPDATE: After talking to my ISP’s tech support and running a few tests we agreed the fault was bad enough to log with Telstra, who sent out a technician on Tuesday by which time the line sync was dropping out every half hour. The technician found and rectified a line fault in the street – so I’m now back on reasonably stable 4 Mbps. I still believe there’s an issue with the copper line somewhere between my home and the exchange, considering that my line sync has deteriorated over time, but the tech seemed to think that 4 Mbps is as good as it’s going to get so I’m still weighing up my wireless options.

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald’s home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


  • I think that anyone that writes an article on the NBN needs to state whether they voted for the Coalition or Labor.

    because 1. if you voted for the Coalition you can shut your fat mouth and suffer with your poor speeds, and 2. refer to 1

    • Yeah, because under Labor we’d have all had 100Mbps fibre to the premises for free 3 years ago. Unplanned (except on the back of a serviette), unfunded, undeliverable and quite unbelievable. Believe in fairies too do you?

      • No, Liiike the man who basically invented the internet’s fairy tale about copper being a viable future integral part of our internet infrastructure. You can say what you like about Labor but at least they had FTTP on the table. And you wanna go on about planning? like the plan to use the optus cable network got the go ahead before it was confirmed to even be a viable solution… oh shit this network is fucked too… oh well lets pour millions into this too to try and fix it because we can’t do FTTP because that would be like saying labor was right.. We are really boned now. what large company is going to want to invest in business here when they would have to run there own dark fiber just to get decent internet….

      • Any half brained twit predicted that the Turnbull’s hybrid approach was going to be a disaster! This government had the intellectual capacity of a dead snail!

      • Was labor’s estimates incorrect? Yes

        But at least their plan was future proof. What moron thinks relying on decades old copper instead of fibre is a smart solution?

        • yeah and its not like NBN proper were out by anything like a 10 billion dollar guestimate either.

          Even LNP agreed that if they 100% wrote off MTM it would only cost a max of 70 million to do a full 93% fttp. Labour managed to spruik they’d do a hybrid for around only 1 billion more too so its obvious to all that MTM an LNP have serious larger cost issues (fact taht they could not secure private funding for a govt backed taxpayer secured load is a very telling story about how screwed up MTM is).

          • Im having trouble understand your post due to the grammatical errors but i think i have the gist being the costings by both LNP and Labor. Yes labor’s costing were not correct. But LNP’s plan is no longer cheaper than labor. If you take into account the cost of maintnence of the copper infrastructute and the fact it will have to be upgraded to full fibre in the future anyway. The LNP plan will cost us billions more than labor’s ever would.

          • Not to mention the long term costs of having to deploy FTTP in the future after wasting so much time/money changing the copper to FTTN now.

          • Yup. LNP faithful are very short sited. Only thinking about themselves and now while not giving two shits about the future

    • Because the NBN is the only issue to take into consideration when deciding who to vote lol. Not that id ever vote for the libs but I’m sure they have plenty of supporters that don’t support their NBN policies.

      • Regarding liberal or Labor voting preferences any had last election.

        Let’s face it.

        90% of the country probably felt like they were getting screwed by Labor and Liberal…at the same time.

    • Tragically even those who do get the NBN finds its not quite up to the mark and often worse than ADSL.
      Would the Honourable Turnbull please explain why Australia is always second best when he is involved?
      All those who voted for him …this is what you get: A quick second class solution that will get worse the more people are connected as its a shared service. Turnbull solution is to put good money after bad… and he is leading the country!!

      • Quick, did someone say quick? I live 6 minutes from Perth CBD and I will be waiting until after 2020 before i get better broadband. So it might be second class but definetly isn’t quick.

        • i got bad news for you, you aint getting better broadband, your getting ‘NBN broadband’ which is basically on par with adsl2.

  • The Sydney Morning Herald back Turnbull last election. They have no place to complain about it now. If they didn’t like what he was proposing, they had their chance to speak up about it.

  • If you’re in victoria try clear networks? they have a good price for 25/5 wireless broadband.

  • Personally using the 200GB Optus mobile broadband plan which gives 13mb down 1mb up ($60/month if you have a mobile with them).

    I then using Speedify I can combine it with my wired broadband to give me 18mb/2mb total during the day (I work at home).

    I disconnect from the wired on the evening so that Netflix, HBO, iPad browsing etc run smoothly for my wife and I can still play BF1 on the mobile broadband without getting annoyed about Internet speeds.

    Well worth it.

  • You could look at getting a router that allows 2 wan connections – one for DSL and USB for wireless 4g. I used an Asus AC-RT66u with a very flakey DSL connection and a more stable (but more expensive) USB modem for 4g connection. I was able to configure the connection to use a 3:1 ratio (along the lines of 3 times more data on the DSL to 1 on USB). Was easy to integrate into the network as the router sorted out which packets go where – dont know how it will work with your VOIP though.

  • Similar story close to Adelaide CBD except my ADLS speed at best is 3Mbps and even though I get good 4G in my home neither telco will offer a wireless broadband plan as I’m not on their coverage map. No Unity wireless.
    To top it off NBN site did say 2018 but now says something like no active plans in your area.
    Trying to watch EPL stream through Optus is hopeless and made worse by the fact that they don’t appear to buffer any data at all so any hiccup and the thing goes to crap.

    • Maybe you should call NuSkope. They are probably the largest WISP located in Australia. It’s a local SA company with a local call centre. They do NBN and WDSL.

  • I am in Adelaide (north-eastern suburbs) and had a max of 2Mbs on copper, about 5km from the Paradise exchange. While this may be okay for a single person, it created constant arguments between us two adults and our two teens over who gets to do what on the web (Netflix/SBS/work). I stumbled across Uniti Wireless and had their Wireless broadband installed and it went from 2 Mbs to 21 Mbs. If speeds stay like that, I won’t go near the NBN. Stupid fibre-to-the-node won’t ever be able to match that.

    • We are so lucky in Adelaide because we have Uniti wireless and NuSkope. NuSkope has the biggest fixed wireless network in South Australia and. Uniti is catching up. It’s pointless rolling out the NBN here

      • No no its not pointless. Its been done to death already. To have wireless for 93% you need a massive mobile phone tower on the corner of every street and even then it would suffer congestion issues.

        wireless spectrum just doesn’t have the bandwidth to serve let alone be cost effective on that scale of usage.

  • Hi Adam, technically speaking if you live on a sub divided lot, you can get HFC it is just a matter of speaking to the right people and having the network planners update the network to rectify and recognise your property. Allowing you to be connected. If you would like to drop me an email I can look into it for you.

  • Just to stir the pot a bit more, according to Deloitte and a few other analysis firms, the vast majority of premises around the planet will be connected to networks offering gigabit at low rates by 2020. What you have to ask yourself is, what kind of bandwidth are software and hardware developers creating for in 5 years…gigabit or 25Mbps? How far behind the rest of the world will we be sinking to?

    • yup then you have the scary fact that MTM cabinets don’t have the capacity to provide 100% of their connected premises any more than 5Mbps each (and they don’t have the space to install extra electronics to light more fibre)

    • The federal government (no matter which colour you vote for) have an obligation to act on the behalf of every person who lives in Australia. The cost to build any infrastructure in Australia is exponentially greater than most other nations (massive distances and small population). In my opinion that’s why private companies were never interested in building a fibre network – it simply was not economical to build and I’m sure the government would not have let them just build one in the capital cities…

      In steps the federal government who (to be honest) shouldn’t be in charge of rolling out this type of solution because in this day and age it just becomes a political point scoring exercise. That and the fact that there’s a few other things they need to spend money on to appease the masses and stay elected (because that’s what it’s about these days).

      To be honest, if you really want fast networks, move overseas. To make this type of infrastructure cost effective in this country, the government (most likely run by Pauline Hanson in the not to distant future) needs to force everyone to move to Victoria…

  • Call Telstra and ask for a commercial quote to extend the HFC. They will extend the HFC if you pay for it. -: it’s only over the fence it won’t be much.

  • Look into fixed wireless, I was with Countrytell at the farm for a few years, 12/4 unlimited, $99 a month. Was brilliant! Switched to NBN 50/20 fixed wireless a few months ago when it rolled through.

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