Australia’s NBN – the disaster you can’t avoid

It’s been a long time coming, yet in over 5 years of construction we aren’t even close to completion, and they keep moving the goal posts. The National Broadband Network was a great plan to begin with, but the scale of the job was heavily underestimated, and we are left with a patchy system that will be obsolete within a decade.

Before I get into your options today, let’s understand the process from the beginning. Back in 2013, the promise was a fibre optic network connected to every household in the country, allowing for up to 1000 megabits per second as a connection speed, thus future-proofing our national network. The current system of copper cabling on ADSL 2+ maxes out around 20 megabits, so this would be 50 times faster than the best, and most residential areas can only achieve 1-3 on a good day, so that would be up to 1000 times faster.

About 2 years ago however, the plan changed. Installation of fibre to every household was taking a long time, was expensive, and the process of physically installing the hardware was messy and inconsistent. Some genius at NBN Co decided that fibre to the premises (FTTP) was not really necessary, instead opting for a node in the street and connecting the fibre to the node (FTTN) and from the node to the property would be existing copper. That presents a bottleneck that will affect everyone in a different way, as your distance from that node would determine your theoretical speed, and if you have old copper, it would be worse.

This would be a much faster installation, but not the dream speed originally promised. Combine that with congestion at the node during peak times (usually evenings when everyone is using their internet) and giant holes in the network that leave people disconnected with no resolution, and it’s all become a bit of a shambles. There are plans to improve the network, once the first stage is complete (connecting everyone), primarily upgrading the FTTN to FTTC – fibre to the curb. Micro nodes will be installed in the footpath pits in front of houses, so you will only use copper for a few metres to your house, instead of up to 400 metres.

They have also tapped into the coax cabling installed in the early 2000’s for foxtel. Many people already have that as their internet connection, and it was achieving up to 50 megabits back then. It’s better than using your old copper, but still 20 times slower than the original plan.

Now, I play a bit of devil’s advocate here. Australia is a big country, with vast expanses between populated areas. A job as big as this was always going to take a long time, and cost a lot of money, but it has to be done. We’ve also had a copper phone system for almost 100 years in some areas, far sooner than many countries around the world. Due to that fact, I don’t like hearing comparisons of our speed to other european countries (much smaller than us) or third world countries (who have had nothing until now, of course it will be better). It is a bit sad to know that countries like Finland have free, unlimited 1000 megabit broadband to every household, but we will get there. Eventually.

Problem is, with 5G mobile networks just around the corner, posting speeds of up to 10,000 megabits per second, you can see our NBN will quickly become obsolete, and it’s not even finished yet. That’s not money well spent.

If you want more information on your NBN connection, or need help and advice with setting it up, email me and I’ll be happy to help.

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