NBN Hacker: The World’s Most Confusing Network Explained

NBN Hacker: The World’s Most Confusing Network Explained
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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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  • “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”

    Some other medium. What a euphemism that is.

  • “Then the politicians got involved” – without the politicians, there wouldn’t be an NBN either. It is lazy not to point out that politicians are not a homogeneous group, and that some might be better than others on a vast array of varying policy. In this case you can thank the Labor party for rolling out the ‘good’ version, and the Liberal party for the ‘slower, crapper, costlier’ version.

    Also, typo “netwrok”.

  • 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 cableEmphasis on last few metres, the average distance will be around 5-10 metres while some like myself will have ~30 metres of copper. Not bad considering my area was just switched from FTTN to FTTC; or FTTK for those triggered by NBN’s improper spelling.

    A funny story that comes from this whole circus act is that politicians lie, I know, it’s absolutely shocking!! My brother went back through old videos and found Malcolm referring to 1Gbps internet as 1Tbps, where on Earth would I acquire such a connection??

    Sure as shit ain’t getting it in Australia anytime soon. All-in-all, we really can’t do anything else but laugh at this point, seeing how the world is laughing at us.

  • The plan for my street is HFC I’m assuming because it’s already in the ground.

    My building though isn’t hooked up to it. Does nbnco run the cable into my place? Will it run from the street over copper into my unit or will I have to pay to get the cable sockets installed?

    I just don’t know.

    • If theres HFC in your street, that’s what you’ll end up with, the run from the street into your house will be done by the NBN installers, but may carry an installation charge (up to the ISP, NBN will charge them, and they can then pass it on)

    • You likely won’t be charged since you don’t have a choice in the matter. I asked the same question when it came time to me getting mine, as I knew the cable that they enabled for NBN in my area was part of the Optus network, yet I only had a Foxtel point in my house (never used it, was here when I moved in.) The installers were happy to see it when they arrived, as they said they could just use that point, but said I wouldn’t have been charged had I not had one.

  • Hey Anthony, thanks for clearly explaining some of the finer points of the NBN to this country boy. Here’s a tip for you: No-one and I do mean no-one in Australia lives on a cattle ranch. To save you any embarrassment when you do finally take a trip beyond suburbia, it’s called a cattle STATION. Cheers mate!

  • I noticed you didn’t discuss Fibre to the Kerb. Apparently, my area on the Sunshine Coast is getting this tech next year July to Dec. I’ve learned not to hold my breath on promises like this.

  • I have a fixed wireless install happening in 30 minutes. The tower is under 5kms away from me and as long as I have line of sight to the tower, I’ll be good to go. People who are up to 12 kms away (one person posted they 27kms away from the closest tower) have been getting ~98down/18up on their fixed wireless connection.

    My area is due to get NBN next year (FTTN) and the node is far from my house. But, fingers crossed on this line of sight, by lunch time I will be on a service by a local ISP getting the speeds that my neighbours will be expecting, but perhaps not receiving, in 12 months time.

  • While I agree that HFC is by design asymmetric, it can still technically support decent upload speeds. DOCSIS 3 specifications allow for in excess of 100Mb/s.

    It’s just the cheap-skate telcos preferentially throttled upstream. The rationale explained to me by insiders was that customers complained more about downloads than uploads. Except this was based on data from a pre-cloud era. I’d argue that both directions are equally important now.

    Which should be less of an issue on FTTP per the article. Except we recently changed telcos since one (no names mentioned Telstra) throttled our upload on a 100/40 plan to little more than 2Mb/s. Switched to a competitor who seem to honour their advertising and make automated backups to cloud feasible.

    • Nah, download still reigns supreme. How many people want to stream Netflix on their big TV, download the latest steam game or big updates for the computer/console.
      Versus a much smaller amount of people that want to upload some stuff to work or send wedding photos to someone.

  • Where an area is listed as being HFC rather than any of the above “Fibre to xyz”, where does that fit in the spectrum? Trying to figure out what speeds to reasonably expect, and most of the articles seem to be around the main options.

  • I don’t think most people realise just how inferior all of the other multi-technology technologies actually are compared with FTTP. Out-of-the-box the original NTUs for FTTP could handle 1Gbps, although it wasn’t offered. They were capable of handling high bandwidth uploads, which is a fundamental featured required by end-users wanting to do anything other than browsing, gaming and streaming. But let’s not forget that the NTUs connected to FTTP, are capable of handling up to four data services on the UNI-D ports, and an additional two voice only services on the UNI-V ports. Whereas a FTTN can handle one slow service with limited upload bandwidth, and is still likely affected by the rain because it runs on copper.

  • The area I live in is all existing cable. Except my street as it had been designated as a thoroughfare for a long time until they gave up on the idea and put some houses with no room for overhead services on it and just stuck some copper underground. There has now been new HFC cable run down these conduits (about a 2 years ago). Another install company came and put in a cable up my telecom conduit and stuck a NBN box above my phone box (about 18 months ago). I was told by that tech that some other company would be coming out soon to join these links. Not another word. My status on the NBN Co map has gone from not planned, to planned to ready – contact your provider (I did got told I was just being silly), to nearly ready, to Sep-Nov (last year), to nearly ready, to ‘We’re currently getting the nbn™ broadband access network up and running in your area -There’s still work to do before your premises is ready to connect, which may take on average up to another six months” about 4-6 months ago. Sick of the crap

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