Why Fibre Connect will Save the nbn

Chris Enger |

It is fair to say that the nbn rollout has had its ups and downs.

When first announced in 2009, the nbn was to be a new national network combining fibre to the premises (FTTP), fixed wireless and satellite technologies. The idea was a simple one; build a world-class fibre optic network that would be largely future-proof and set Australia’s digital economy up for the rest of the 21st century.

When nbn announced the completion of the initial rollout in September 2020, it looked very different to the 2009 vision.

Instead of 3 technologies, it now had 6. The change in government in 2013 resulted in the introduction of the multi-technology-mix (MTM). The 3 new technologies were Fibre to the Node (FTTN), Fibre to the Curb (FTTC) and Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC).

The premise behind the MTM was simple; the initial rollout of the FTTP nbn had been too slow and too costly. Instead of replacing the infrastructure, connecting 93% of homes and businesses in Australia, nbn decided to utilise pre-existing infrastructure to keep costs down and deliver the project quicker.

So, under the MTM, nbn purchased the copper telephone network from Telstra, and the cable tv/broadband network from Telstra and Foxtel to upgrade and allow deployment of the three aforementioned new technologies.

While there was furious public argument about the wisdom of this approach, ultimately the MTM proceeded with short-term politics triumphing over longer-term planning.

In hindsight, the limitations of the MTM are obvious. Billions of dollars were invested to purchase and modify legacy infrastructure to deliver internet services that even on day one of their active life, struggled to meet the needs of consumers.

The result is a multi-tier nbn network that has pre-determined winners and losers in when it comes to equity of access to superfast broadband.

If you are fortunate to live at an FTTP address (and to some extent HFC addresses), you have a technology that is largely future-proof and capable of delivering plan speeds today and tomorrow that will more than meet even extreme residential requirements.

If you live at an address that has FTTN/C, you are limited to a maximum speed of 100Mbps on these technologies, and often FTTN addresses cannot even achieve the 100Mbps threshold.

Perhaps more concerning is that the reliability of FTTN is far less than FTTP. Some FTTN connections drop out daily, due to degraded wiring and electrical interference.

Why does the nbn need saving?

The technological limitations of the MTM have left nbn at risk. At the end of 2020, 80% of the nbn network could not get speeds greater than 100Mbps, and 28% of the nbn network could not support speeds of even 100Mbps.

But as appetite for faster plans increased, internet providers decided to bypass this limitation by heavily pushing their own 4G and 5G wireless broadband networks as an alternative to nbn, particularly in FTTN/C areas.

At its heart, wireless broadband is a poor choice for home internet. As a contended medium it cannot be relied upon to guarantee a specific speed, and the more people that use it, the slower the speed in the area becomes.

But even with these limitations, it can reasonably be expected to deliver speeds comparable to the 100Mbps maximum on FTTN/C. Because telecommunication companies install their own infrastructure, they also don’t need to pay nbn to utilise their network. This often means they can provide cheaper plans than they can on nbn and achieve greater profit margins while doing so.

In the short-term, the take-up of these home broadband options hasn’t had a huge impact on the nbn, but as demand for faster plans increases, the nbn FTTN/C network would become increasingly unable to meet the needs of Australian consumers.

Furthermore, as the demand for internet speed surpasses 100Mbps, FTTN/C would be unable to keep up.

This leaves the very real prospect that nbn the FTTN/C might become a zombie network over time, with consumers switching to alternative products due to the limitations of the nbn available to them. This would leave taxpayers holding the burden for an under utilised and slowly dying network of addresses.

The cost of nbn

The technical limitations combine with a nbn wholesale pricing structure that fails to meet the demands of consumers.

Historically, telco products have largely stayed stable in price, but over time, the value provided to consumers for the price has increased.

For example, when the nbn first launched, to be able to get a plan of between 25Mbps to 100Mbps for a price somewhere between $60-100 was a significant improvement over the variable ADSL2+ products that were sold for between $60-80 in the Australian telecommunication market.

The same can be seen in the mobile plan market, where data inclusions and performance has dramatically increased over time, while prices have remained largely static (or decreased in some cases).

Therefore, consumers have come to expect to receive more capability for the same price over time.

However, because of the limitations of the MTM, nbn cannot offer more speed for the same value because a huge proportion of its network simply cannot deliver higher speeds.

The result is that the FTTN/C footprint would be stuck in time, unable to offer better service or value to consumers.

So how will Fibre Connect fix this?

As outlined in our blog on why you should upgrade to fibre, FTTP is essentially future-proof. Fibre transmits data at the speed of light, which is presently the fastest form of travel we know about.

It is also scalable and upgradeable. The ability to deliver 10Gbps (10,000Mbps) via FTTP has been a computer networking standard for data links since 2010. To upgrade to these speeds nbn, only needs to upgrade the network termination device (NTD) installed in an address and upgrade some network hardware on its side. There would be no need to run new cables and perform civil works which is the most expensive part of the network rollout.

Therefore, by offering a future-proof product, that can offer increased plans to meet consumer needs and value, the nbn can protect itself from other competing networks that might undermine it.

It will also ensure it meets the fundamental reason for building the nbn, ensuring Australians have access to world-class internet that meets the needs of the digital 21st century.

We already saw during the COVID-19 pandemic how fundamental and essential high-quality home broadband has become, and the Fibre Connect program will ensure that nbn can be ahead of the curve, not trying to play catch up.

Please note – this program is only rolling out in nbn service areas.

How can I sign-up?

You can find some great information, including how to sign-up to this program, on Leaptel’s Fibre Connect Page.

There has never been a better time to get fibre, so leap in today with Leaptel, your Fibre Connect experts!