The NBN Debate Will Never Be Over

Opinion: "Let's quit fussing around." The chief executive of the National Broadband Network company hopes that we are "past that" annoying war over fibre to the node versus fibre to the premises, and that we can all as a nation just concentrate on getting everybody connected to the NBN. But it's not that easy.

NBN / shouting images via Shutterstock

The magic number is 7.7. That's the net promoter score that NBN says shows FTTN customers are equally as happy and as likely to recommend their services to friends as FTTP customers are. And, if satisfaction is the key metric you're concentrating on (and it's not a terrible metric, when you're talking about the majority of the Australian public who just want to watch YouTube and read NineMSN or the Daily Tele website), then FTTP and FTTN are equal -- and one costs significantly less.

That argument, though, is not a technological one. The technological argument of FTTN's importance -- it's rolling out faster, and it's fast enough for Australians in 2016 -- is another key line of reasoning in NBN CEO Bill Morrow's call for an end to the broadband wars, as reported by the AFR. When you have a goal of connecting a nation to the Internet, doing the job more quickly is a great goal, but feels shortsighted when you're using parts of the network that already exist and just re-branding them with a fancy logo.

Morrow: "[MTM] does it faster, it does it cheaper. Yeah, there is a bit more pain in the neck maintenance with it, and if we ultimately need to get fibre closer to everybody's house we will need to go back and retrofit again … but the logic here is that you don't spend what you don't need to. Consumers right now just aren't willing to pay for anything more than 25 Mbps, so why would we build it with fibre today?"

This isn't a reasonable conclusion to the debate, though. We've had a taste of fibre as a nation, and the most technologically savvy and politically outspoken citizens of the internet are pushing hard for a return to the pre-MTM days. If you believe Morrow, consumers aren't willing to pay for anything they don't need right now, but that was the entire point of the National Broadband Network -- future-proofing Australia's communications in as many locations as possible, building a world-class network that wouldn't need constant upgrading and maintenance. (That copper network, in the future, will cost millions to fix.)

We're seeing early reports from residents that congestion on FTTN nodes is cutting speeds massively during busy periods -- from a real-world 85/35Mbps with 12ms latency (on a 100/40Mbps plan) in off-peak times to 3.5/5.5Mbps with 130ms latency during peaks. That's 13 times slower during busy times. And, yes, this way well be a problem at the retail service provider (RSP) end rather than with the backhaul from node to exchange, but it's a poor reflection on the network itself -- no matter whose problem it is.

NBN itself doesn't see FTTN as the be-all and end-all for its MTM network, for what it's worth. It is investigating fibre to the distribution point, commonly known as fibre to the curb -- as a middle point between full-cream FTTP and skim FTTN. It's investigating DOCSIS 3.1 for the cable network. It is readying the Sky Muster satellite for service, and further developing fixed wireless to connect rural customers over 4G. These are important developments, and are technologically advanced, but it's the debate over Australia's already-served-by-ADSL streets in cities and towns -- areas already with decent internet -- that the FTTN versus FTTP debate is focused on.

FTTN gets more people connected to the NBN faster, sure -- that's laudable. But FTTP does the job once and for all, without worrying about the future. And when copper, the last mile of FTTN, is being re-rolled around the country, and it's government policy that Telstra says is forcing it to do so, spectators look on with incredulity -- when fibre has been used in the past for almost exactly the same installations, and is genuinely future-proof where copper is not, they are right to be annoyed and upset on behalf of those customers who will be stuck on an older technology and disadvantaged, comparatively, in the future.

That is the reason that so many FTTP zealots still exist; the ghost of the fibre to the premises network -- partially built, not abandoned but scaled back massively -- with its consistent per-user performance with no widespread report of peak-time slowdowns, with its unbeatably low latency, with its reassuring network construction of a fibre-optic cable all the way to your doorstep, is always going to be part of the debate. Even if it's not as easy a discussion in the NBN corporate boardroom right now.



    Agreed the debate will never be over as it never stops becoming a stupid decision.

    Why do it properly once when we can do it 2 or 3 times gradually and triple the cost when adding in the upkeep of a short sighted system. But yay for votes now!

      To keep the money flowing into contractors hands over the foreseeable future, that's why.


      This is just scary and worth a watch.

    Yes let's all stop discussing the tens of billions it cost the nation on the NBN alone to get Abbott elected.

    Consumers right now just aren’t willing to pay for anything more than 25 Mbps, so why would we build it with fibre today?

    This is just not true. 50mbs is the minimum standard for Virgin Media broadband in the UK, they have over 4 million customers and it costs $40 a month. I would be incredibly willing to pay that!

      One of the problems is that Australia has ridiculous download quotas. The rest of the world pays for speed with unlimited download quotas. We pay for speed and download quotas, and our speed sucks.

        Yep very true.

        I appreciate that Australia is about 30 times larger than the UK and only has a quarter of the people, so it's hard to get major infrastructure down, but sometimes I think we are being taken for a ride.

        Fuel is half the price here than in the UK, so that clearly isn't affected by the vastness of the country, so why should our internet be?

        Last edited 11/02/16 8:27 am

      Yes, my in-laws were happy with their Internet. Until they tried to upgrade their version of Office over four frustrating days. It came down eventually.

        Yep it's a stupid thing for them to say.

        It's like having a car limited to 50km/hr, sure, it's fine during rush hour in the city, but highways would be crap!

      Last time I checked and recorded prices for comparison:
      iinet NBN 25Mb $74.90 / month 250Gb data ($49.95 for equiv plan on ADSL2+)
      Telstra 25Mb $110 / month 200Gb data
      Optus 12Mb $80 /month 200Gb data

      add the cost of batteries for your UPS and power to run the thing..

    Now vs the future is what it boils down to. And large scale infrastructure should always be built for the future or it will quickly become an obsolete waste that needs fixing again. Especially nowadays with the rate of technologal improvement and change.
    But the pollies don't care about the future, about genuinely improving the country.
    They just care about their career.

      * for their relatively short career..

    No one can argue that at some point the nation will need FTTP, so the only debate is whether you suck up the cost now, or defer it later which also means a greater cost due to double handling and inflation.
    It is inevitable that we will have FTTP, so just suck it up and do it right first time, then later you can boast that it was your wonderful decision that has future proofed the nation.

    Haven't met a single person on fttn nbn so I wonder where this magic 7.7 satisfaction rating comes from and I highly doubt they be as satisfied in 10 years time when bandwidth requirements have quadrupled

    I've been connected to FTTN NBN since mid-December. I went from receiving 3mbps down/dial up speed up to now getting 80-85mbps down and 35mbps up. Clearly, a HUGE improvement, a much bigger one than I expected. Measuring on Google maps the route to walk down the road and around the corner to the Node/Pillar my front gate is 480m - at that distance I didn't really expect to get these speeds. So I am mostly satisfied (for now), though I would much prefer a fibre connection of course.

    The connection is not perfect though. Congestion isn't yet a HUGE problem, but the download does occasionally dip down to 35-40mbps, strangely usually early in the day with my connection being fastest in the evening. The other aspect is my ping, which is 30ms when doing speed tests to a server in Sydney (I am in Newcastle). Move the server out of Sydney and that number rapidly gets bigger. I am with Optus by the way.

    Last edited 10/02/16 12:15 pm

      Congestion is the next problem, but it is a minor problem compared to the last mile.

    There were two parts to the NBN policy when it was introduced. Part One was levelling the technological playing field between the regions and metro. Part Two was creating a future proofed next generation of network for Aus to compete with networks internationally.

    Part One is the much easier political sell, and especially for for the Libs who have a lot of regional seats.

    So what the Libs should have done was this: *Cancelled* the NBN for metro areas, and just deployed it in regional areas, where people would see a great deal of benifit.

    Now I believe in Part Two of the nbns plan, but if the Coalition doesn't, then they should stop wasting massive amounts of money "faking" the nbn in metro areas that basically already had what it now promises. Of course its rolling out quicker: Its not achieving any benefit either, just costing hundreds of millions buying copper back from telstra etc..

    If there really isn't enough money for Part Two (and there is argument for that) Then they should just abandon it outright, leave the metro areas in private hands, and focus on Part One.

    I think not doing Part Two takes an incredible lack of fore site, especially when innovation is critical to the country, but what can you expect from the Libs.

      The problem with your proposal is that
      a) it wouldn't have levelled the playing field at all (regional would now be faster than most metro),
      b) there's much smaller demand (and population) in regional areas, so takeup would be far lower (and thus income),
      c) there's a large proportion of metro users who get crappy or no fixed-line internet as well, due to long distances to the exchange or unavailability of DSLAM ports, so these (arguably more numerous) customers would not be served.

      Since bandwidth demand has increased at 50%/year for 30 years, few people could credibly deny that we'll outgrow FttN capacity in 10-15 years tops. So it's obvious FttP will be needed soon, and the added cost of rolling it out must be considered. To ignore this can only be wilful blindness, which I must assume is politically driven - save a little short-term cost and let a later government deal with the mess.

      Do it Once, Do it Right, Do it with Fibre.

    When compared to the amount of money we spend on roads that service only thousands of people versus a telecommunications product that will service all... the decisions, justifications, and wasted expense chasing old technology for a smaller return to the dollar is a moronic decision and will never end the debate. Seriously you only have the right to justify yourself if your delivering results... your already overbudget and underdelivering NBN.

    Phase 1 should of been Fibre to Node, Phase 2 Fibre Node to Home. Like they did in a suburb I lived in, Telstra built a new node for the local hospital and then a year later rolled out to the neighbourhood. They managed to do that without mistakes, old technology and underbudget.

    On the plus side, when the machines finally take over, Australia will be safe.

    You can't compare happiness factors between the two technologies if both technologies were not used by a single party. Neither party has the alternative to compare to, so each improvement is not relative to each other, but relative to their previous techs (ie. ADSL). Everyone (albeit some outliers) is going to be happy when they notice the difference from adsl to FTTN/FTTP, that's a no brainer.
    Which is irrelevant, given the aim is to provide the superior and longer lasting experience for a competitive cost. The argument isn't about whether FTTN is better than ADSL, it's about FTTN vs FTTP on a service delivery to cost factor.
    "It's good enough for now" is not a responsible argument for management of public funds.

    how does NBN get NPS (net promoter score)?

    customer who have issues wouldn't directly contact NBN, they will contact their service providers.

    Just give me internet!
    I dont even care if its a tin can on a string, just give me something!
    NBN construction started in my area 3 years ago!
    The only fixed line internet I can get is dial up and im a bee's dick from a major CBD

      What!! How is that even poss... oh right, Australia!

    People are "happy" with with FTTN as they know what the alternative is.
    As Eddie Murphy said in Raw: "You didn't make love, it just felt real good. You know why? Because you waited 5 months. If you are straving and someone throws you a cracker, you are going to be like this 'God damn, that was the best cracker I ever ate in my life'."
    People are happy to get anything now so that is why they say the FTTN is good.

    There is no NBN debate, just like there was no Climate Change debate.
    We need FTTP. Pretty much very single expert says we are going to need faster internet in the future. And pretty much every expert will tell you that upgrading to FTTP in one go is a lot more efficient than rolling out FTTN and then a few year upgrading to FTTP - Which is what we have to do no. Just like Climate Change this has been politicised for ideological reasons, not science, not logic.

      Yet every other country in the world has implemented FTTN just keeps getting faster and faster.

      100 million people worldwide will have gigabit speeds over by 2020

      You can't blame the government for not going all fibre, they did it because the salary rates in this country are unreal, especially for "tradies", and installing fibre to every house takes considerable time and manpower.

      Unfortunately the idea of training, then forcing, people on the dole to do it didn't get up.

      Last edited 10/02/16 2:43 pm

        I wasn't sure if you were being sarcastic there but you weren't right?
        You just went full on politicising the NBN.
        And that's how we got into this mess.

    I was over the NBN debate long ago.

    Now I just want it to come to my house, I don't care about the technology used initially because I know that will be upgraded over time.

    I blame the Liberal for crap cheap NBN.
    In the next 5 to 10 year Australia internet will be outdated, compared to other country's around the globe in next 10 years.

    So they are using comparisons between people using different systems and then making a judgement about both? Shouldn't you be giving a large group of people access to FFTN for, say, 3 months and then FTTP for 3 months and then ask them for an opinion on one versus the other?

    100MB sounds fast compared to my ADLS2+ today but will it be in 3 to 5 years time (given that many countries are currently getting or have Gigabit networks)?

    I might be a bit uneducated on the matter, but why not FTTN now, then once everyone is on board that, start replacing the final mile to make it FTTP?

    I'm on a Telstra RIM with ADSL1 speeds at the moment, if FTTN means better internet sooner, I'd much rather have that if FTTP means I have to wait longer.

      Because that's more than double the cost of fttp.

        Why's that though? Sorry I don't know the specifics in how it's built.

          FTTP uses a much simpler network design which does take longer to install in most cases, but benefits greatly from as it requires only an OLT (Optical Line Terminal) at the end of your street which acts as the connection point between your house and the exchange. This type of connection point doesn't require any direct power to operate since fibre uses electricity at both ends of the line to send and receive data.

          With FTTN, a node is needed which requires direct power for the copper line and the fibre line coming from the exchange. Existing copper network consumers needs to be migrated to it with each request resulting in time-spent by your chosen ISP compared to FTTP which doesn't require any down time. Other costs include the batteries that are stored in the node as well along with the shell.

          FTTN also has issues of continued maintenance due to the copper between your house and the node.

            my info might be a tiny bit off but i think it was in the region of 75000 nodes for australia and all those nodes take 8 batteries as a redundancy for black outs. those batteries need to be replaced every 3-4 years at a cost of ( lots).

            There is plenty of info from reliable sources on this one.

            Yes it doesn't make sense to fun fibre to remote cattle ranches, but for major hubs and cities not putting firbre to the premises is just stupid.

            And don't forget it was supposed to be finished by this year. ROLF



            Last edited 11/02/16 9:33 am

          This will give you all the info you need:

    I just want the NBN rollout in my area to finish. For the past month I've had intermittent dropouts, occasionally crackling phone line quality and ridiculous drop in speeds. Just this morning our internet speed dropped from 1.25 Mbps (which prior to mid-January dropped from a paltry 3.8Mbps - the standard speed) to 96/54Kbps. That's right, I'm getting 96Kbps because someone somewhere today rooted the line...again. 1+ Mbps was bad, but 96Kbps... :'( I just cannot stand this any more!

    According to the MyNBN website, my area will be "Ready for Service" this Friday. I can't wait to get off this bullshit ADSL2+ (which we weren't even getting our money's worth speed-wise) and get on 100/40 FTTP ASAP.

    Last edited 10/02/16 3:53 pm

    The magic number is 7.7. That’s the net promoter score that NBN says shows FTTN customers are equally as happy and as likely to recommend their services to friends as FTTP customers are.I find this hard to believe that since there's really only what I would consider to be a handful of users on FTTN.

    I still have solid plans to get the last mile to my house connected with fibre regardless of the cost, ain't no way I'm staying on copper while waiting years to have it upgraded.

    Every time there is some sort of article or statement regarding NBN I can't help but feel angry.

    The reason why it's the same ol story is because we have dinosaurs in charge of our infrastructure/future.

    Why can't we get a few young guns up in the rank ie Scott ludlam - He know's his shit.

    Last edited 10/02/16 6:22 pm

    As a taxpayer of this country I cannot object strenuously enough my disgust and hatred for Tony Abbott who trashed the NBN out of sheer bloody minded spite just because that is who he is. He does not care that he has wasted tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on his crock of shit MTM network. He does not care that fibre was always the best option, he chose MTM just because it was different to the ALPs NBN. He does not care that he has made Australia the laughing stock of the world for rolling out copper networks in 2016. He does not care that he has completely destroyed any chance of this country having a competitive digital economy into the future. He does not care about transparency in government by keeping secret almost every detail of his abomination called MTM.
    Now Turnbull is PM and he continues down the same road he travelled as Communications Minister with Fifield his replacement an even bigger retard than he is.
    There is no debate at all, just facts. Abbott destroyed the NBN just because he could and because of who he is.

    Spent eight years overseas in a boarder line third world country only to return to a third world country. They started rolling out FTTP almost 4 years ago and we're still debating FTTN. Unbelievable! Makes me feel embarrassed to be an Australian.

    Last edited 10/02/16 10:21 pm

    Only about 20% of Australian taxpayers are net financial contributors to society - i.e. pay more in tax than they consume in government services. I'd wager that those whining most loudly about receiving FTTN rather than FTTP are among the 80% expecting someone to else to pick up the bill for the shiny broadband toy they want. Don't worry boys and girls - you'll still be able to play World Of Warcraft on a FTTN connection.

      Haters gotta hate.

      Once again politicising something and making ideological judgements not fiscal and/or scientific. Big infrastructure projects like this should be decided on by EXPERT bipartisan committees who are acting on our behalf not Politicians who are acting in their own self interest. The experts said FTTP was the best most cost effective solution [long term] and that's what we should be doing. We didn't listen to them and now we have this sub standard system that will cost even more and will need upgrading as soon as it is finished.

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