NBN Hacker: The World’s Most Confusing Network Explained

We thought we were going to enjoy 100Mbps of speedy internet access. Then the politicians got involved and we ended up with something of a dog’s breakfast – or dog’s vomit according to some. So, what are the connectivity options that the NBN will deliver and how do they differ? Let’s take a look.

The NBN’s controversial “multi-technology” rollout is delivering a mix of fibre, copper, satellite, coaxial and other carrier technologies. (To be honest, I’m surprised tin cans connected by string aren’t on the menu!)

Fibre optic cable will still be part of the technology mix bringing data to your home or office. But it might not be the only component.

You get NBN! You get NBN! You all get NBN!

First things first – the NBN is being delivered on the Oprah deal. Like it or not, the old copper phone line many homes still rely on will be decommissioned and the NBN will replace it. So you’ll all, eventually, get NBN – even if the proffered technology is worse than what you’re getting now.

Already, some people are discovering that alarm systems that relied on the old telephone system will need to be either upgraded or replaced and the phone system they used isn’t there anymore.

If you’ve got an alarm or some other service that depends on the phone system, do your homework and make sure it’s NBN-ready.

Getting fibre in your NBN diet

Fibre optic cables are still a big part of the NBN. But we won’t all get a fibre dragged up to our front door.

Depending on your property you’ll either get

  • Fibre to the Premises (FttP): this is fibre all the way into your property
  • Fibre to the Node (FttN): this is fibre to a point near your home/office. The connection from the node to your property will be carried over some other medium
  • Fibre to the Basement (FttB): if you’re in an apartment building, then the fibre might terminate in the building’s basement and then be carried to your home using copper or, more likely, Ethernet
  • Fibre to the Distribution Point (FttDP): Fibre will be drawn to the edge of your property with the last few metres carried over copper or some other cable

Coaxial is not dead

Many of us – and I’m in this group – have enjoyed reasonably fast and robust Internet connectivity over coaxial cables. I’ve had a cable connection at each home I’ve lived in for almost 20 years. I had to wait initially because the USB cable models of the early 2000s didn’t play nice with Windows 98.

However, HFC (hybrid fibre coaxial) is a technology of yesteryear. It has some limitations – mainly around contention ratios and poor upload speeds. This is something many people don’t understand.

A big part of fibre’s value proposition is that it supports fast upload, as well as download speeds. While dragging down the latest episode of Iron Fist on Netflix is great, being able to upload large files for work is also useful. The asymmetrical nature of HFC and DSL technologies in Australia is a serious hassle for many people.

So, some of us will be receiving services that are being sold by NBNCo through Retail Service Providers (RSPs), but we’ll really be getting 1990s tech.

On the upside, it’s likely the HFC network deployed by NBNCo will use the newer DOCSIS 3 standard which should drag out some more bandwidth.

Sky Muster – satellite for the bush… and QANTAS

Dragging fibre or some some other cable into a cattle ranch 2000km from anywhere was never in NBNCo’s plan. For remote locations, the use of satellites was always on the cards.

Satellite does work but it does have limitations – and the big one is latency. Whenever you make a request for some data over satellite, you’ve got to wait for the signal to go all the way up to the Sky Muster satellites and then back down to the receiving station. That takes time.

I’ve got a few friends already on the Sky Muster service. And while it costs around the same as an urban NBN service each month, download allowances are generally lower and speeds are slower for the same money. However, it’s a lot cheaper than relying on cellular connectivity for 50GB of data each month and it’s better than the crappy ADSL services many country towns have had to contend with for the last 20 years.


Every few months a news story pops up telling us how some comms company has managed to send data at some previously unimaginable speed over wireless. Of course, what is often missed is that they are point to point tests, with no network congestion, no interference and optimised end-point equipment.

Still, wireless tech is a part of the NBN mix. Fixed wireless will allow some properties to get a reasonably fast connection by wirelessly connecting their home of office to a connection point that has fast connectivity.

Rather than using copper to connect to a node, it’s FttN with the last mile covered with wireless tech.

This story has been updated from its original publication.

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