Giz Explains: Every NBN Technology, Compared

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Feeling a little bit confused by the stupidly complicated and ever-changing rollout of the National Broadband Network around the country? Us too, to be honest with you. Here's our quick guide to the different types of NBN that might be installed at your home or business.

Fibre to the premises (FTTP)

Fibre to the premises is generally thought of as the best NBN connection you can get.

With FTTP, sometimes known as fibre to the home (FTTH), a fibre optic cable runs from the closest fibre distribution hub and passes by each premises on a street, with an entire fibre of the multi-fibre ribbon cable dedicated to each house.

FTTP offers the fastest possible connection — the lowest latency (ping, or 'lag') and highest potential for download and upload transfer speeds. It also offers the most headroom and room for future expansion — think of it as the widest possible pipe from your house to the wider internet.

You can apply for an Individual Premises Switch to upgrade your existing NBN connection to FTTP, but you'll have to pay the (almost certainly astronomical cost) to have the new installation. If you can convince enough residents in your area to switch over, the cost per user will come down — but don't ever expect it to be affordable.

Fibre to the node (FTTN)

Fibre to the node is widely considered to be a cheaper alternative to FTTP that is also faster to install and roll out to high density suburban areas. Opinions vary on whether that's true in practice, but at least that's the theory behind it all.

With FTTN, a fibre node is installed at the end of a street, or a compromise mid-point where multiple shorter streets can be served. That node has fibre running from the closest fibre distribution hub, but at the node the existing 'last mile' of copper telephone cable from each house in the street is connected.

FTTN's use of older, existing copper cable — which doesn't have the physical bandwidth of newer optical fibre — and the extra network infrastructure of the node means that latency is higher than FTTP, and the maximum potential for download and upload speeds is lower. A FTTN node has little headroom for future expansion using those existing copper cables (although more efficient FTTN tech like VDSL2 improves transmission speed), but does allow for those cables to be replaced with fibre in the future.

Fibre to the basement (FTTB)

If you're living in an apartment connected to the NBN, a fibre to the basement setup will be your default connection to the NBN. It's the most efficient way to use existing building infrastructure to connect to the fibre NBN quickly and easily.

With a fibre to the basement installation, the NBN is delivered piping hot to your apartment block's telecommunications infrastructure room via a full-fat fibre pipe. From there it's distributed to your individual apartment using whatever cable technology is already in place.

In older apartments this may mean a copper cable giving you speeds roughly equivalent to a fibre to the node hook-up, but newer installations may use Ethernet network cable and allow for speeds significantly closer to FTTP.

Because most apartments have reasonably modern copper versus what's in the outside pits in suburban streets, we'd rank FTTB in between FTTP and FTTN in terms of both latency, speed, and future upgrade potential. Apartments can apply to switch from FTTB to FTTP.

Fibre to the driveway (FTTC / FTTDP / FTTD)

Fibre to the distribution point is, in a lot of ways, the future of the NBN and the NBN we all should have had in the first place. It sits in the Goldilocks zone between the difficult installation of FTTP and the compromised speeds of FTTN.

With a FTTdp — or fibre to the driveway, or fibre to the kerb/curb — installation, fibre is essentially run along the underground pits in each street in a suburb. Then, from the closest possible point at which the existing copper telephone cable leaves a premises and meets the street pit, a distribution point unit FTTdp Think of it as 'the last ten metres' versus 'the last mile' for FTTN.

Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC)

The oldest technology component of Australia's multi-technology mix NBN, HFC is the old cable network you might have connected to in the past to get Foxtel subscription TV.

You'll only be stuck on Optus' HFC network in the long run if you're one of the 25,000 premises in Redcliffe, QLD where NBN has already installed the necessary networking hardware. Most of the Optus HFC network, the same as Telstra's, is being switched over to FTTdp or FTTN tech.

HFC NBN is not great; you're dealing with one of the highest contention ratios on a relatively slow technology, which means that while your peak download speeds may be acceptably fast, they'll slow in busy periods. Upload speeds are consistently terrible on HFC. If you have it, you have our condolences. But hey, at least you have the NBN in the first place?

Fixed Wireless

Fixed wireless is an in-between technology that connects rural and regional areas to the NBN. It services areas that might have otherwise only had access to satellite wireless, but uses ground-based base stations to communicate with premises wirelessly.

Fixed wireless essentially uses the same technology and wireless spectrum as existing 4G networks from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone already existing around the country. Fixed wireless cells are optimised for the number of users in each location and have dedicated fibre backhaul to the nearest point of interconnect, so as a wireless tech goes it's one of the best you're going to find.

We're seeing huge and speedy improvements continually rolling out to Australia's existing 4G networks, a potential upgrade to a fixed wireless connection speeds requires that new tech be installed at each fixed wireless tower and some of the hardware at each user's premises. As upgrades go, it's probably less painless than fixing up HFC or FTTN.

Satellite (Sky Muster)

The long distances and contention that come with any satellite connection mean that latency is, comparatively, the worst of any possible NBN connection. Download and upload speeds are reasonable once they get going, though, and for areas covered by NBN satellite that previously had no internet or were stuck with a flaky long-distance mobile connectivity, it's a massive improvement.

Upgrading a satellite connection requires, y'know, another satellite as well as a hardware upgrade in the end user's premises, so it's definitely the most complicated to wring extra speed or potential out of in the future.

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