You Can't Blame The NBN For Cordless Phones Requiring Power

National broadsheet The Australian has plenty of form when it comes to uninformed and often downright wrong criticism of the National Broadband Network. Its latest questionable NBN attack centres on the installation of backup batteries for the network. If you believe The Australian today, the fact that cordless phones won't work when there is no power is proof that the NBN has been poorly planned. Yes, that's actually what the paper claims.

In typical attacking style, The Australian comes out swinging in its first paragraph:

THE federal government's ability to manage the complexity of the National Broadband Network has been called into question after it insisted on installing back-up batteries that are redundant for most households.

It won't surprise you to learn that the only actual source of "questioning" is the paper itself. But what's the gist of its argument? NBN Co is installing backup batteries into all premises which get an NBN connection, which ensures a power source in the event of a blackout, allowing you to make emergency calls on an analog phone.

Old-fashioned analogue phones draw the tiny amount of electrical current they need from the copper network, but that won't be an option once that network is switched off. The batteries weren't originally part of the standard NBN rollout, but were made compulsory as an interim measure late last year. (Which in itself raises the question of why this is a leading story for the paper six months later.)

There has indeed been a lot of argument over whether it's worth making those battery installations mandatory, given that many of us use cordless phones which need a full 240V connection, not just a basic battery backup. A reasoned and logical discussion on that would make sense. But the Australian tries to twist that argument to suggest to casual readers that the NBN is creating a problem which didn't exist before. Here's what it says:

As part of its national rollout, the NBN Co has already installed thousands of batteries that are designed to keep old-style analog phones working during power blackouts.

But the batteries are of no use to modern telephony equipment, such as cordless phones, which need to be plugged in to a power point.

The paper thus ignores what anyone who actually already owns a cordless phone knows: it can't draw power from the existing copper network either. If there is a power blackout, your cordless phone won't work right now, and you'll have no way of using your phone line. That's not a consequence of the NBN. It's a consequence of wanting a more sophisticated phone.

In this case, you have two main options. You can plug in an older analog phone if you have one (I know people who keep one as a backup). Or you can use your mobile, which is what I imagine most people would do given the near-100 per cent ownership mobiles enjoy in Australia. (If you have a laptop and wireless broadband, you could also make VOIP calls using that.)

All of this was true before the NBN was mooted, and it would remain true if the NBN was cancelled after the next election. It's a basic fact of physics. But the Australian (which sadly will be quoted uncritically on a bunch of radio stations) downplays that fact as part of its ongoing anti-NBN/anti-Labor/anti-everything agenda. Honestly, is it any wonder that people remain confused about the NBN when this kind of rhetoric is passed off as political reporting?

Questions raised as Labor orders NBN to install useless batteries [The Australian]



    Journalistic integrity has become an oxymoron. Whether that is through ignorance or design is irrelevant - they need to be held to account for the misinformation and forced to provide the truth. Undoubtedly there will be some corruption and mismanagement within the roll out of the NBN and I'd want that brought to light but this nit picking over known technical requirements is ridiculous.

      Some WA consumers will be without power for a week after yesterday's storm. If they were NBN connected they would have no home phone line. This is not a trivial point, and to assume everyone has mobile coverage is a inner city centric view of the world.

      Unfortunately the NBN remains popular with the rent-seekers in IT (what industry doesn't think it's a good idea to spend $50 billion on it). This doesn't mean that it's a good idea on a public policy scale.

      The true measure would be to ask how many people think the NBN is worth it if they had to pay $3,000 to have it connected to their house.

    It's shocking that they are allowed to print rubbish like this. Nothing wrong with arguining against the NBN on legitimate points. But this is just trying to drum up negativity from people that don't have a basic understanding. Really disgusting by the Australian.

      Meh.. Abbott is doing a pretty good job on the negativity stakes anyway. As for this paper, it doesn't really matter anyway, because the NBN will prove too expensive to stop now and Abbott would get a fair ass kicking if he tried.

    That is probably the worst argument against the NBN I have ever heard. Also, it is pretty clearly outlined in the NBN User guide.

    The nbn should supply backup batteries for my computer as well! Oooh and my tv. These are very import things to have backups of.


    Quality of tech reporting in The Aus + their paywall = irrelevance these days

    I have been wondering how much the mandatory batteries add to the price of the NBN. Any ideas?

    I would be good to offer an opt out option.

      Probably a pretty tiny fraction of the whole.

      OTOH, those batteries will have to be replaced every few years. They're sealed lead-acid and should last 5+ years, but you'll have to buy new ones yourself, it seems.

        Where does it say they're SLA? I was of the understanding they're Li-P (Lithium Polymer), similar to what started being put into mobile phones a couple of years ago, and now laptops are getting them too.

        I have one of the battery backups from Feb 2010 when I moved into a Telstra Velocity community and it's Nickel metal hydride, not exactly the most efficient, but it's gotten us through for any of the blackouts we've gone through (well, blackout is a bit of an understatement, the developers in the area cut out power on a pretty regular basis because they're incompetent).

    People have been abusing Telstra for years because they dont have a backup, non powered phone for when the power goes out. Why shouldn't NBNCo cop it too?

      Did you even read the article? The Australian is criticising the government BECAUSE they're supplying the backup batteries. Now we all know they would have also vociferously criticised the government if it DIDN"T supply the batteries. Or even if they cured cancer News Ltd would find something to blame the govenrment for.

    Seriously, if you get a decent modem like a Fritzbox 7390, which is also a DECT base station, then all you need is a small UPS to keep that running and you're cruising. The Fritzfon has its own Li-ion battery, the base for it is only a charger.
    Do your homework and you won't have a problem.

      This guy knows.

      (I have a 7390 as well)

    The paper is just trying to print sensationalist shit stirring articles.

    If Abbot got in and canned the whole thing the papers would then attack him for cancelling it too far in and wasting money, with a "what about the people who didn't get it" angle.

      They are the ultimate culprits of the whole 'anti-government' culture we have. Don't people realise a government works FOR the people? News Ltd is a business trying to maximise shareholder value. It doesn't care one jot about jouralistic integrity or the truth

    If you want your internet/phone to work during a blackout, then you should already have a UPS. Duh.

    Angus...great bit of writting there and yes. The media have always bashed things that they don't understand in order to get sales. Take the Y2K Bug, what a complete joke that was and the media blew the whole thing out of the water big time. Scarying people into spending money when they didn't really needed to.

      There's a name for that. It's called the Manufacture of Consent, there's even a book about it.

      Barry... I agree with you on your first two points, but your point about Y2K is wrong. I work in the IT industry and know from first hand experience that the Y2K bug was a real problem and the only reason that it seemed to have been a lot of scaremongering was that a lot of programmers (myself included) spent a lot of time going over old code (in old systems that, to be honest, should have been replaced 10-20 years beforehand) and correcting date related errors.
      Sorry to single you out for my little rant, but I hear this type of comment a lot and it really irks me because if it was all a lie then I want the last 2 years of the 1990's back.
      Also, the 21st Century started on January 1st, 2001, not 2000 - another old argument that still irks me :-)

    Good article, Angus. The Oz is supposed to be the News Ltd flagship. It's fine if they want to push a certain political line, but the paper is just embarrassing these days.

    i think YOU missed the point Angus... yes, you are correct for blackouts and cordless phones not working... but the point THEY are trying to make is: why install batteries for most households who use modern equipment such as cordless phones?!?!

    waste of OUR money.. perhaps!

      Steve' your ignorance is showing. The NBN is funded by bond sales and private debt. So it's not your money.

        our - the word has an 'universal quantifier' meaning within logic... not individual like ME, but ANYONE and EVERYONE who has invested whether by bond holders or whatever... in this universe, and all universes!

        yeah.. i love predicate logic!


        The reason they have to instal UPS batteries is because of USO, Universal Service Obligation. The same USO that Telstra has been strugling under for decades. It states that customers must be provided a robust and relyable telephone service. This includes during blackouts. If your too stupid to realise that when the power goes out your cordless isn't going to work thats your problem, as long as, if a standard phone is pluged into the socket there is a dial tone and you can call 000, obligations under USO are met. Telstra got its ass kicked when it first started roling out FTTP in Velicity communities for not having installed a battery in the PSU for the ONT, NBNCo has gone "we don't want that bad press". The fact is that if NBNCo didn't install these batteries The same reporters at the same news papers would be screaming that NBNCo wasn't meeting its obligations under USO.

        All they are doing is selling papers. FFS stop reading mainstream news media and educate your self. Stop being a sheep.

      If I'm not mistaken, the battery backup is for the NBN box in your house, not just your phone. So the point of it being there is to keep your Internet up, which could then be used to make Voip calls.

      This makes perfect sense. I'd suggest you first learn some grammar, then think for yourself.

        If mains drops, internet stops. the battery only powers the phone side.

          That's actually not true. The NBN is a Layer 2 wholesale provider and won't discriminate against phone traffic vs internet traffic. There is no intention to block internet traffic in the case of a blackout.

          I dont know about that. They are talking about having analogue phones working in a blackout with this battery backup. The analogue phones still use the fibre line, as it's plugged into the NBN box. Which means that the fibre/NBN Co side of things is still powered.

          So if the box is still powered, and the fibre is still lit, why would the internet connection not work?

            It happens. I can tell you that. I have friends on the NBN here and if the power is turned off to the PSU the WAN light goes out on the modem but the phone still works. Perhaps is a QoS setting in the ONT??? I dont know. Also they are in the trial so it may change.

              That's really quite interesting, and I must apologise if it turns out I'm wrong on this one - it's hard for me to stick to my argument when you've got a real-life counter example right there :) I work in the industry, so I can confidently say I know more about the nitty gritty details of the NBN than most of the general public. I definitely want to research this one, when I get time, because I'm sure the WAN connection isn't supposed to go dead in a blackout - but I could be wrong, and it wouldn't be the first time that NBN's management and publications didn't understand it's own technology and equipment.

              So humbly, I admit I might be wrong. :)

                Confirmed - I am well and truly wrong. In a power-out scenario, the PSU and NTD will only provide service to the UNI-V ports (i.e. the RJ11 telephone/voice ports, and not the RJ45/Ethernet/Cat5e ports). This means if you only have a VoIP service via the UNI-D (data) ports, rather than POTS over the UNI-V (voice) ports, then in an power-out emergency you will not be able to call 000 over the NBN.

                See Page 8 of the "NBN Users Guide" here:

                  Did ... did someone on the internet just admit they were wrong?? *faints*

                  I'm not totally familiar with all the hardware but at a guess I would say the battery only has enough power to make a phone call and not power the modem for internet purposes as well.

                  I'd be interested to know if you had your own UPS backup could you hook it up to keep the modem alive and keep the internet on in a blackout?

        thanks tony... stupid...? i'm offended... at your stupidity! i guess you didn't read my post... duh!
        THEY = (not me) The Australian... duh!

        USO.. yeah, i know... like why we have public telephones.. duh!

        educated.. have four degrees son!

      Pretty sure that they started doing this because of the media storm created by newspapers like The Australian saying that during a blackout you would get murdered cause you couldn't ring the police.

      Also, I'm not sure Angus has it right, saying you can use your VOIP, I haven't read anything on it recently but when they were first talking about putting in batteries it was only going to supply power to the telephone ports not the network ports...did they change this?

        Placing a single phone call will not stop you from being murdered.

          But The Australian and papers and media like it said that you would. That is the point. Several months ago the editors have gone, "Lets attack the NBN over not having UPS ffor the phone, then whey they do put UPS in we will attack them for wasting money to put in something that is essencialy useless. Muahahahaha SHOW ME THE MONIE$$$$$$"

          The the sheeple of Australia then go and swalow the horse $hi7 hook line and sinker.

        The backup battery will supply power to the NTU, which is the entire device that powers the ethernet, voice and RF ports. So in a power blackout, you will be able to connect your laptop (charged already) to the NTU by ethernet cable and continue downloading your umm... totally legitimate and no-x-rated material. For emergencies, ya know?

        NTU = Network Termination Unit = the NBN fibre modem

          NTU = Network Termination unit
          ONT = Optical Network Terminal (

          As to whether or not internet and data will work while on battery read my previous post at 12:35.

            Likewise, see my replies to that comment. For other readers - I was wrong. See Page 8 of the “NBN Users Guide” here:

    The Australian is an absolute disgrace.. All political motive, no factual reporting.. We should have media enquiries like that in UK. at present..

    Just use your mobile?
    I like that the copper network powered itself, very tidy. Pity this can't do the same.

    Why not just use power over fibre? Sure its a little more tricky that straight copper... and I haven't done much research on it, but a few quick links...

      Because unfortunately implementing that would be more expensive than just giving everyone a backup battery.

        Rolling out a national broadband network costs more money than using the copper that's already there

        Rolling out a national broadband network costs more money than using the copper that's already there

          Fair call. However, and I admit a number of people would disagree with me here, upgrading the copper network is a necessity for future proofing this country. On the other hand, there has been a resounding agreement in the comments, in the gizmodo article and in the (dubious written) The Australian article that the whole idea of backup power for emergencies is useless these days since (1) almost everyone has a mobile phone that they'd go to first, and (2) cordless landline phones have become the norm, so backup power isn't meeting the needs that the USO originally intended anyway.

          I'd also point out that a PoF solution would still leave us with the same problem - cordless phones that require a power outlet and so wouldn't work in a power outage, even with PoF or batteries available.

    Just wanted to point out that the gizmodo article above mentions our cordless landline phones need 240V AC power. Not true. I've never seen a cordless phone that *didn't* have a "wall wart" transformer/adapter - most cordless phone base units would require something line 6V, 9V or 12V DC. While you wouldn't legally be allowed to tinker with the NBN backup battery, it's certainly technically possible to use a simple DC-DC converter and run your home cordless phone off the backup battery in an emergency. Automatic fall-back might be harder to implement for simpleton DIYers like myself, but a manual switch to flip over to backup battery power is do-able.

    Notice The Oz have not opened comments on that story - because even they know it's nonsense.

    The Australian is complaining that batteries are compulsory even in circumstances where they will serve no purpose - that is clear from a reading of the article.

    Giz are doing exactly what they accuse the Australian of doing - i.e. twisting the facts to suit the argument. Nowhere does the article "suggest to casual readers that the NBN is creating a problem which didn’t exist before" - other than the "problem" of pointless batteries - which is an issue created by the NNB which didn't exist before.

    Sounds like TheAustralian is taking credit for what they've now just publicly dismissed..

    "A compulsory back-up battery system was never on the cards under NBN Co's original plans, but a report in The Australian two months ago forced a rethink."

    That statement was taken from an article written in The Australian: Source:

    Looks like they are being hypocrites. On one side, they [The Australian] say, that they forced a rethink of adding the batteries (unsure if that's a true claim by them). Then on the other side, when it happens... They poke holes in the idea. In one sense.

    I'm happy that Conroy acknowledges their poor reporting: "unlike The Australian, I'm not going to engage in an ongoing war". Source:

    If you read more of their articles... they actually publish the NBN Co's apparent solution to the issue!

    " NBN Co is now advising customers to keep an analog corded phone in case of any emergencies."


      Oh well, at least there's documentary evidence they're full of sh*t

        May08daiveedino I see what you mean but most of the WWE fans now don't even know what a gimmick is, I mean come on they even boo Christian they hate Cena and it's acautl real hate, they don't realize it's like hating edward scissorhands. If Cena wants to change his character and go back thuganomics is not his decision.

      I'm sure Media Watch might like to hear about it

    It's good to know that if I ever receive a debilitating brain injury there will be a low paying job safe and secure for me as a journalist for The Australian. That'll be such a load off of my damaged mind. :)

      Lol. Ozone, you'll never be accepted by The Australian- You just tapped out an entire PARAGRAPH (technically) that didn't once devolve into "the so-called "plan" of the so-called "government" and their so-called "policy""

      Your debilitating brain injury may however be suitable for a job at the Daily Telegraph.....

    I learnt during a blackout during a terrible heat wave a few years back to keep an ordinary phone on hand for such things.

    $25 at Telstra solved the problem.

    the annoying thing is that the Australian newspaper was responsible for the forcing the government's hand on batteries in the first place.

    from december 2010

    "A compulsory back-up battery system was never on the cards under NBN Co's original plans, but a report in The Australian two months ago change their mind"

    I have no Telstra mobile coverage at home and during a power outage would rely on an analog landline in an emergency so this was of interest although old news. But by the time I see the NBN Telstra may have lifted their game and I'll have mobile coverage. Maybe??.

    As the saying goes "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story" it's like in WA a local "paper" has decided that Telstra 4G is better speed wise than a basic NBN connection. Yet no-where do they talk about what happens as the local area is saturated with connection nor do they say anything about not always getting the same speeds due to the various issues such as being in buildings etc. Which is why I don't tend to read the "established" news print anymore, it's just all BS.

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