6 Reasons Why We Don't Need Fibre-To-The-Premises NBN

Image: NBNCo

Back in 2006, when the first seeds of the NBN were planted by then opposition leader Kim Beazley, we were promised a super fast network. By the time Rudd 1.0 rolled into Canberra, more detail was provided with the promise of optical fibre cables being distributed to almost every house and business in this wide brown land.

But then Rudd 1.0 imploded and by the time Rudd 2.0 was bundled out of office, the Abbott, and now Turnbull, government opted for a multi-technology mix that uses cables laid last century. So, why don't we need FttP?

It's too expensive

One of the primary arguments made by the Liberal Party, when Tony Abbott (The Minister for No) was running the party, was that the original $43B price tag was too expensive.

But recent reports suggest the costs are now closer to $50B using the new multi-technology mix while even NBNCo concedes that the cost of fibre is falling.

In other words, we are now paying more than was originally estimated for a network that is being cobbled together with some fibre, copper, HFC and other technologies.

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.

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No one needs 100Mbps

I don't know about your household but I currently have a 100Mbps HFC connection over Telstra Cable (coincidentally, a Telstra technician is currently outside my house surveying the local cables as part of the HFC remediation work that is delaying the NBN rollout in some areas) and it gets plenty of use.

With five kids in the house as well as two adults who work from home a lot of the time, a fast connection is important. And while not everyone needs 100Mbps or more today that will change. As we decouple ourselves from traditional TV we'll only stream more and more content. And as more devices in our houses connect to the Internet there will be more drawdown on the megabits we need.

The neat thing about the NBN is you can choose the connection speed you want. If your needs are simple, just pay for a 12Mbps connection. If you need more, jump to 50Mbps or 100Mbps.

And besides, if no-one really needs 100Mbps, why has the PM had it installed to both his residences?

So, perhaps no-one other than the PM needs it.

The multi-technology mix is "better"

We all know that the NBN, as it was originally envisioned was meant to deliver FttP to most of the country, but not all. There are some areas that are so remote as to make it really uneconomical to run fibre. For those areas, satellite was proposed as the preferred solution.

But now, we have a mix of FttN (fibre to the node) where fibre is delivered to a box where the connection is then distributed to houses using existing copper or HFC cables, as well as satellite, Fibre to the Basement (in buildings where Ethernet of something else is used to get connections to all the apartments or offices) and the lesser known Fibre to the Distribution Point (which will use whatever it can to get from the edge of a property to the house).

The reality is, there are remediation works happening on the HFC network that NBN procured from Telstra, the HFC network from Optus has been scrapped as it's... well, the documents don't officially say crap but that's what they mean, and there have been problems using copper.

With myriad complaints from people saying their NBN connections are unreliable and slower than their old ADSL 2 connections, it's hard to argue that connection over old cables are better than a shiny, new piece of fibre.

In other words, this excuse seems pretty lame.

We don't need it today

Running alongside the "No one needs 100Mbps" argument is we don't need FttP now.

Several years ago, I interviewed the IT director for a major health care network spanning an area of about 300km. That network connected hospitals, clinicians and doctors working in many different places. Some were in large buildings where a basic network connection was relatively easy to deliver while others were doctors working solo from private rooms in small country towns.

The healthcare network management wanted to connect everyone over video-conferncing (this was in the days before FaceTime, Skype, Hangouts and others were in wide use) so the decision was made to deploy a WAN connecting all the sites. But the management didn't want to spend the money to do this right the first time.

So, the technology lead built the network his budget allowed and, pretty soon, everyone was complaining about shaky connections, pixelated images and spotty audio. That's when the budget to do it properly appeared.

We can build a half-arsed NBN. Then, when we discover it's not fit for the 21st century, we can go back and fix it. Experience tells me the labour cost alone will what's been spent already pale into insignificance.

If we build it right today, it will be ready for what we need tomorrow.

The technology will become obsolete

The beauty of fibre optic cable is that it uses light that travels at... well, the speed of light. Thus far, nothing we know of can go any faster.

While it's true that the devices connected to the ends of the fibre will get faster, it's unlikely that we'll find something that travels faster than light any time soon. So, upgrading a FttP network to get better performance will be a matter of upgrading end-point devices, not ripping and replacing all the fibre.

While it's likely that the modems installed in homes and business, and the switching equipment in exchanges and other core distribution points will be upgraded over time, the likelihood of needing to replace the fibre because we find something so much faster that we need to replace them is quite remote.

But... wireless!

I feel like we're in an episode of The IT Crowd when this one comes up. Yes, wireless can deliver really fast connections and 5G will make them even faster.

I've already covered this recently but, in summary, wireless costs a lot more to access. And while recent data points to how slow our internet services are, I think the numbers are pulled down by poor ADSL services that drag the averages down.

And we won't see our rankings on those lists rise because many people will, at least initially, choose slower services such as 12Mbps and 50Mbps services, depending on their current needs and budgets.

What's your favourite excuse for why the NBN shouldn't be built on a FttP foundation?


    The project is a dud. You knew something was up when Telstra were very quick to sign away ownership and control of their HFC to NCN Co. Turns out their HFC was a dog's breakfast. Optus's network would've been slightly better but the feeling was they didn't want the money to go to an offshore company in Singapore. All I can say at the end of the day we should learn never to let politicians run projects that they have no idea about.

      we should learn never to let politicians run projects that they have no idea about

      That'd bring every Government project to a screeching halt but!

      Optus's network would've been slightly better but the feeling was they didn't want the money to go to an offshore company in Singapore.

      Uhm, Optus's network WAS bought, and they WERE paid, and the network IS absolute crap.

    So, you say that fttp shouldn't have gone to remote areas, and yet one of the first to go RFS with FTTP was Alice Springs...

    And you make no mention of the fact that under MTM, we went from less than 5% of the population connected to greater than 50% in less time than it took the 5% to get connected.

    You also conveniently ignore that your HFC is capable of 300 Mbit years ago (Docsis 3.0), soon to be gigabit, but this didn't happen because of anti competition clauses created by spams and scams Conroy at the helm.

    You also state that people *need* gigabit, but ignore that 90% of those who connect at all think $20 for quadruple the speed isn't worth it.

    You also blame HFC as bad with no nuance, when the real issue is that they are giving too much grace period before switching Telstra users off which is where their lower frequency spectrum suffers from interference.

    And make no mention of the fact that NBN HFC is all-around better value than Telstra cable, with something like a tenfold increase in upload speeds for most people, depending what they pay/paid for.

      Umm - what did you read? Where did I say "fttp shouldn't have gone to remote areas"?

      I never mentioned Gigabit anywhere in what I wrote. Where are you getting that?

      I mentioned that there are HFC remediation works in progress, noting it was happening in my front yard today. And HFC can be capable of lots of things. I'm capable of lots of stuff that I don't do. Can you point to a single installation of HFC (outside of carrier trials) that does much more than 100Mbps?

      Or did you read the headline and just scan a few paragraphs and jump to some wild conclusions?

      You use a username with the word 'logic' in it. I see that as false advertising.

        I was taught that electricity through copper travels at close to the speed of light? Is that right?

          No. electricity has mass in a cable

          Light does not.

          What is the light travelling through?

          If its just travelling through the air then electricity travels at 1/100th the speed of light. If its opitical fibre then light is still faster.

            Maybe don't use the 1st answer at the top of google next time.

          Electricity travels through cables at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light, yes. Ignore the other people. The problem for copper cables actually relates to various other things: degradation of the wire itself will reduce the speed of the connection as well as the amount that can be shoved down the pipe. Copper wire is affected by the presence of water, degrading the signal quality, meaning that bits sometimes have to be sent multiple times to ensure they arrive.

          Think about it this way: You have a road that people can travel down at 100 km/h, but is only a single lane. The road is fast, but the amount of cars that can get to the destination is limited by the amount of cars that can fit bumper to bumper, and any potholes will slow everything down. That is your copper cable.

          Another road has the same, or slightly higher limit at 110km/h but the road is five lanes wide, is hardly ever fully congested, and takes a long time to develop potholes, if ever.Clearly more cars are capable of travelling down the 5 lane highway than the 1 lane that it replaced even though the speed limit isn't all that different. This is a fibre connection to your home, except that the 5 lanes can be more like 50-1000 lanes depending on how much you want.

          Ignore djbear, if you have studied any physics you would discover that electricity travels very close to the speed of light in metal.

        Sniping at someone's username. Getting low at personal.

        Having been a supporter of fttn I now believe Mr Turnbull had no idea what he was selling us. Naively I thought the Coalition was building many thousands of nodes that could be used down the track when the country believed we needed fttp. It now appears these nodes wil be decomissioned when fttp is installed. I spoke to an electrician who said he had a job for life because not only do these nodes have to be commissioned by a fully qualified electrician, maintained by electricians but also decommissioned by an electrician. I understand there will be over 60,000 of them. The nodes all require battery backup and are very costly to build and maintain. Fibre connectors are simply specialised junction boxes. The point is we are spending a packet unnecessarily for a grossly inferior product. I was advised by the NBN installer in my area to stay with adsl for as long as possible because the nbn is not as good as adsl. This is political con job and I now believe the Govt used the nbn for wedge political purposes by conning the electorate. I believe Turnbull has no credibility on the subject and should be voted out if he is not prepared to own up to his folly.

      As a retired project manager involved in many major construction works my experience was that most start slowly as things get set up then gather pace as it proceeds to completion. This is why I saw the early slow start as perfectly normal despite the rhetoric of the lnp.

    I was lucky enough to have fibre connected to my home before Abbott got in and fucked everything up, just because he could. I can't give you a reason why it shouldn't be FTTP, but I can tell you if everyone got FTTP, then most of those stupid poor connection issues would never have happened. The reason the current system is a dog's breakfast is because of politics, pure and simple. I blame Abbott and the idiots that came after him. Labour may have made some silly mistakes when Rudd was in, but if they had been allowed to finish the job, the system would be a damed sight better than it is now.

    You can't put a price on hindering small business and innovators by building a network fit for yesterday while watching tomorrow's world leaders build a network for the future.

    I had to calm my rage after reading the name of the article and the headings... read the entire article and realised it was a joke. i feel slightly better now haha.

      Glad you read it! Thanks

        Can you get rid of the clickbait title then. It enrages the people smart enough to know we need better and reinforces to the dumb that internet isn't important.

      I was ready to come in and shout at Anthony, who is normally a very reasoned and knowledgeable reporter, for going over to the dark side.

      The only shouting I can do after reading is shouts of agreement. "Hear hear"

    Am I the only one thinking that if the nbn was fttp, not this outdated cluster-f*ck we're getting, it would be future proofed.

    Saying that fiber cables don't age and only the equipment does is a bit of a misnomer, but it's miles and miles better then copper! Not all fibre is the same, and future equipment may need different needs to go 'up a generation'

    the biggest flaw by far of fibre vs copper is the need for battery backup for emergency services, but the masses have shown they are ok to cheap this out for mobile phone uses anyway, but there's still the elderly and sick that may really appreciate having something resilient. Not that mixed technology is any better, they ballsed up on that front for little reason as well.

    That said, the electrical grid is due to get more and more decentralized as more people install batteries and solar, so maybe the systems as a whole will adapt.

    I just wished they had kept it simple, there must be so much overhead in the mixed technology... If Amazon was going to wire an entire country, they would have bought out the fibre factory to dominate from the earliest supply, then export our mass fibre to the world.

    The thing that gets me the most is I used to get 176 Mbps down via Telstra HFC and now if I end up with the FttP, I can't even get anywhere near that on the top speed tier.
    So much for a network for the future when 20 year old cable offers almost double the speed.

      No, you didn't. The Telstra HFC Speed Boost boasted speeds of 100Mbps, and sat somewhere around 115Mbps at it's peak speeds. Not a single retail customer obtained 176 Mbps on Telstra HFC. The burden of proof in this instance is on you for making that claim. Prove it, or you are lying.

        A bit hard to prove now I'm not living there anymore.
        Knew some troll would jump on something I said though.

          You should be able to find some evidence, somewhere of someone saying they receive those speeds and being able to back it up with a speedtest.

          For example, in this Whirlpool thread https://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/2631426 you'll see someone claim they got 140Mbps, and then be told unequivocally by many people that the Max attainable rate was about 120Mbps. I know. I was on Telstra HFC before the NBN and I'm on NBN HFC now. My speeds dropped from 112-115Mbps down to approx 95Mbps.

          I did lose speed, just like you mentioned. I'm just telling you that your quoted 176Mbps is a bullshit claim because it never happened.

          Edit: Look, here is a link to my Speedtest http://www.speedtest.net/result/7030674074

          Last edited 01/03/18 6:15 pm

    It's funny to me because in the senate estimates they were saying it costs $20 per meter for new copper +$10 to lay it...

    The Technology Choice quote I got places diver at about $17 per meter including all the ancillary hardware that would be used to connect up other houses, not just mine, that I shouldn't have to pay for. This is the price for in the ground, hooked up, and functioning

    I'm always disappointed that no one ever talks about upstream speed. All those ads for NBN showing video conference in perfect 4K - complete BS without decent upstream. If you want to work from home like you're in the office - upsteam speed. Twitch streamer/YouTube star/Camgirl - upstream speed. Once people stop being consumers and start creating you need upspeed.

      Agreed. But with the article being about deployment and infrastructures, I didn't get into the up/download debate. Which, as I understand it, is not a technical issue but driven by upstream infrastructure companies and how they charge for traffic.

    I've worked a lot with image files generated by medical researchers. These images are acquired so quickly now that we needed fibre-optic simply to move them from the "microscopes" to storage. Getting them to distant collaborators is challenging enough with Australia's poor infrastructure that couriering HDDs by courier has been the fallback. But when you're generating around 10TB/day per device then that becomes ridiculously expensive. When the next firmware/software update comes around that may double/quadruple.

    This sort of bleeding edge stuff is trickling (gushing!) to the consumer end very quickly. As storage costs fall and recording equipment becomes more omnipresent, people will be recording and storing real-time video of their lives 24/7.

    Tried to get a speed guarantee on nbn connection,lol.
    Moved to wireless. 164Mbps down 78Mbps up.
    Really not much of an argument. You can keep your Liberal party stuffed up internet.
    We can only dream of what may have been had the nbn been able to create a modern internet.
    Please send the remediation bill to the Liberal party. they stuffed it, put it on their credit card.

    Your light speed analogy is a but on the nose and incorrect. Last I checked, electrons travelled at light speed as well. Fibre can still become obsolete just as easily as existing technologies.There are many different types of fibre optics that NBN Co. could use. Its more about carrier wave frequencies and the data capacity of that carrier wave. This is what gives you the speed.
    Simply put - The limitation comes in with the cables medium (copper, glass, gold, string) and construction type effecting its ability to deal with signal loss, signal reflection and what is referred to as crosstalk (interference) over distance at various frequencies. This is what limits through put not the speed of an electron or a photon. A common misconception.

    Last edited 01/03/18 2:19 pm

      Electrons don't move at light speed. Electrical signals travel slower than the speed of light, and electrons drift at a rate that is best expressed in millimetres per second.

      Last edited 05/03/18 10:44 am

    So when did you start getting personal Antony. Your reply to Logiwut seems a bit out of line.

      It's hard to get personal to a pseudonym. But, the response the commenter wrote made no sense and made reference to things I did not write. Picking on the word "logic" seemed reasonable enough to me. But it was meant to be humourous, not offensive.

    Well done Anthony. Separating the sheep from the wolves. I like it.

    I'm sorry to say , but as someone who works on the network this article is obviously not researched well .

    But - wireless!

    If I can't use it for my desktop (remember those), it's irrelevant how fast it is. I sincerely wish people would STFU about wireless. As your article points out, we could have had both an FTTP NBN and good wireless by now if Canberra had stayed out if it.

    We missed out on FttP by six months. NBN contractors were measuring and checking our pits when fuckwit Abbot put it on hold. SIX YEARS later and were 2 months away from getting a FttN connection in a suburb that is over 90% FttP.

    Any article about NBNco fucking infuriates me.

    Last edited 03/03/18 11:38 am

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