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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Comments

      It will. But, to be honest with you, I'll believe it when I see it installed and running. Same as G.Fast and XG.Fast for gigabit-plus speeds over copper FTTN.

      (and then you could apply the same R&D to speeding up fibre...)

        Actually the fiber standards for those speeds have been around for a very long time. NG-PON2 was released in 2015 and offers up to 10GB/s/subscriber which is what US is aiming to meet for their 20-25 target.

        Here's a question for you that might have article potential - how do we find out what technology a property actually supports?

        If I look up my address (I have FTTP) I just get "NBN is available" which is the same message my friends who have FTTN and Fixed Wireless see on their addresses. So when it comes time to buy a new house is there anyway of determining exactly what you'd get (short of asking the person who owns the house)?

      Depending on your area, HFC has struggled to offer the faster cable speeds that providers like Telstra have sold for an extra $20 in the past!!! This will be true to any upgrades you provide to old technology. It is after all still copper. Hybrid fibre coax' last mile will always be copper and thats always going to throttle the bandwidth in comparison to straight fibre

        I will back that up. I live in Redcliffe Qld, went from Cable to NBN - Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC) - heck I cant even watch *any* video without it buffering - at anytime... Slow , slow, fast,slow,slow, fast - very inconsistent and I am with Optus and man their support tell me it isnt real. I gave up calling - I even do a daily speed test and the result are shocking - but they dont want to see the data anyway.... sadly I seem to be stuck with it.. Wating for a rollout of empty Milo cans and new string connect for faster delivery...

          I also live in Redcliffe and my results are the complete opposite on HFC - i'm on TPG's 25/5 plan and I've never seen a speed test slower than 20/4 in the last 6 months even at peak hours.

          I plan to move to aussiebb's 100/40 plan soon so it'll be interesting to see if there's a difference.

          Wow i feel for you man!!! I went onto fttp in my area and after a month or two it actually became really sluggish. Kept getting told it was congestion lmao

          Thats nice - but if you are allowing this much congestion when you are offering higher tier speeds then you may want to upgrade the network else it is false advertising - was just the gist of the Emails i sent around through all of the exec team members I could find info on...

          Within a couple of weeks - top notch consistent speeds after an upgrade at the exchange.

          I guess the thing to watch out for is they are not maintaining their tech at the exchange side of things they are just operating on some new tech that has been rolled out in the street - and getting MORE customers on it too. There needs to be a two pronge approach at least - the NBN is upgrading the infrastructure to the homes but ISPs still need to be kept honest and upgrade their tech at exchanges!!!

    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.

    While this is certainly true at present, I think it's a bit misleading to suggest that this will always be the case. I hate what the Libs have done with the NBN as much as the next tech-savvy person, but I will at least point out that their plan for the HFC is not simply "install the lead-ins.... profit!"

    They claim (but take it with a grain of salt) they'll be using node splitters to reduce contention ratios, thus (hopefully) eliminating potential bottlenecks during peak periods. Furthermore, their plan is to begin rolling out DOCSIS 3.1 this year, which should allow for greater overall speeds.

    Finally, with respect to upload speeds, while they can't be as good as FTTP, they will not always be "consistently terrible." Shitty upload speeds on Telstra and Optus' HFC networks is a limitation THEY imposed. Given that HFC bandwidth is shared, Telstra and Optus decided that people valued higher down speeds than up speeds, and so the network is set up so that downloads are much higher overall, rather than splitting the difference with lower down speed and higher up speed.

      I agree but it also depends on how many "nodes" there are on HFC. I think the proof will be in the pudding once DOCSID 3.1 is rolled out and how it performs on the Foxtel based HFC network. I think a large amount of the expectation is driven by the Optus trials which showed poor results but how much of this was due to their lack of investment / maintenance?

    Thanks, it all makes sense now. We're supposed to be getting nbn later this year, not sure which type, but to be honest I'm not fussed, anything will be better than the rubbish ADSL we're on now.

      Careful what you wish for!

        failing that SpaceX are deploying a global satellite network offering gigabit speeds and reduced network latency down from 600ms to 20-35ms. They begin deployment on 2019. Revenue will be used to finance their mars missions.

        Last edited 13/02/17 2:54 pm

    What I can't see explained here (sorry if I missed it), is what will happen to Telstra Cable connects once the suburb is NBN connected. I'm served by Albany Creek and have Telstra Cable to my property, will my cable connection be HFC NBN or will my cable line be connected to a FTTN?

      The difference between the tech behind HFC and FTTN is mostly indiscriminate to what service/speed you will receive in the end. They are essentially the same tech imo

      The suggestion that HFC will be able to reach gigabit speeds with this docsis upgrade is something i will have to see the speedtest results at someone's premises before believing it!!! I've had HFC in two different houses and its just so inconsistent for me its not even funny!

      You'll get the cheapest option no doubt. If its FTTN, pray its faster than your old HFC...

        My cable is currently 115 down and 2.2 up, so I'd happily sacrifice some of that down speed for 40 up.

    So we've got HFC but i'm wondering if it worth upgrading to woeful to okish ADSL. Currently getting 6 down on a good day.

      Sounds like you already know the capabilities of your ADSL? Speeds on that depend on many things, though the major factor is distance from the exchange, probably closely followed by that state of your copper and house/apartment wiring. My connection suffers from all those fronts and I get around 4.5 mbps.

    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.

    I just cannot agree with that. FTTP is the best option but politics and bad management got in the way.

    Last edited 13/02/17 4:37 pm

    I really want to see what one of these fttdp converters looks like? I just can't imagine an old Telstra pit full of these things. They would have to be very rugged, tiny and where is the power coming from?

      Fttdp is powered by the client devices but because it is spread out over all connected clients, you won't even notice it on your bill

    I live in Redcliffe Qld, went from Cable to NBN - Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC) - Try living with it.... why did I have to move from my reliable supersonic cable Optus !!!!!

    BTW - If 2 empty milo cans with stings is "mostly indiscriminate" to what service/speed - I am going back to Dial-up at least I know what to expect and it was consistent.

    scarnon "The difference between the tech behind HFC and FTTN is mostly indiscriminate to what service/speed you will receive in the end. They are essentially the same tech imo"
    well..LOL -

    theory and life differ as most technologists will tell you. particularly when the term "mostly" is applied

    Last edited 13/02/17 5:05 pm

    Just FYI I recently connected to the NBN with Telstra on HFC on their 100/40 plan and I'm getting very close the those speeds.

      Does your connection have a data limit? According to NBN, and my current internet provider, TPG, I will get HFC soon (although the Telstra website doesn't agree and as a result shunts me to their ADSL plans!). Its likely I will, at least initially go with TPG as my RSP on a month by month contract. They have a decently priced uncapped 100/40 plan. Whether I will get 100/40 remains to be seen...

    My suburb went live with the crappy HFC on 21st, January,2017.

    Mind you type in the address and NBN says yes you can.

    Reality the NBN exterior cable box may arrive in or around July, 2017.

    The race is now on as to when the old PMG laid telephone cables in this suburb of the nineteen sixties vintage era dies from time expired plastic and severe corrosion.

    Telstra, after having sold off the badly corroded, tired and decrepit external copper network in 2014. Do they have any incentive to repair maintain and or replace this fit for scrap heap copper in NBN HFC areas? The answer is..............

    There will be some four million home users stuck on the crappy obsolete before birth HFC! Only time will tell when these same premises are properly upgraded to FTTP.

    Given the random telephone exchange fires. Who knows when the local same vintage era exchange catches fire?

    I Just signed up to tpg 100/40 on hfc in caulfield and I can confirm the upload speeds are terrible, http://www.speedtest.net/my-result/6051237780 while I have not experienced congestion slowdowns yet since it just became available im apprehensive of whats to come.

    Lots of assertions in this article I disagree with. HFC will run faster than FTTN and is the best option after FTTP. DOCSIS 3.1 and NBN's Arris NTD's are spec'ed to 100/40 but are capable of much faster speeds with latency in 10's of ms. FTTB is VDSL to the apartment, not Ethernet (unless your ISP sticks their fancy gateway in your basement - which will make WiFi impossible...). So FTTB will have the noise issues that VDSL is subject to. Wireless is subject to performance fluctuations and is the worst option for speed potential. Satellite is just expensive.

    We have had FTTP since the initial trial period, but over the past few months (perhaps with the uptake of Netflix) all is not well where the NBN goes down to the sea in ships. We still get 22Mbps down and 4 or so up on our 25/5 plan as far as Australian servers, but speedtest to Singapore or Japan and you are talking 4Mbps down and about the same or a little more up, on a fairly consistent basis now. It wasn't the case very often, a year or so ago, when it didn't matter whether the server was Australian or Asian. So the issue today is not so much the pipeline size and the ISP purchase of connectivity it seems. Tethered to my mobile instead I can still get 30 down and 17 up to the same servers in Asia. If anyone has knowledge of these connectivity bottlenecks, I'd be interested to know.

    I know for a fact the optus hfc have just started theyre node splits in redcliffe. I was talking to the techs today and was told nbn were not ready for the mass transfer of customers. I was also told there was massive political issues in the background between optus and nbn. 1 was optus being greedy which slowed the project and made the budget boil over. They have currently split 6 nodes in redclife and in the process of splitting them again. 1 node is complete (my node) so they have upgraded to new gateways, theyre are 4 nodes now where there use ti be just 1. after a quick speed test i am currrntly getting 82 in download and 44 on upload. this was done at 8pm

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