The Questions To Ask Before Switching To The NBN

When you sign up for the NBN in search of a broadband boost, telcos don't tend to mention the hassles you might have with your home phone line. Here are some questions you need to consider before you move your phone to the NBN.

Whether we use it every day or ignore it completely, our home phone service is something Australians generally take for granted. By now most people realise that switching to the NBN means your home phone will no longer work during a power outage, unless you opt for the battery backup service, but we're not told about the other complications.

My friend Michael is a perfect example, he got caught up in Optus' push to quickly shift HFC cable customers across to the NBN but, despite the shabby treatment, decided to stick with the telco.

After threatening to cut off his home phone and broadband if he didn't move to the NBN, Optus' call centre staff kept insisting that "nothing will change, everything will be exactly the same". Michael soon found out that wasn't the case.

Firstly, Michael discovered that moving from Optus cable to NBN cable meant losing his long-standing "Optus TV featuring Foxtel" legacy pay TV service, which has left him weighing up the alternatives and contemplating a Fetch TV Mighty PVR. This week Optus has finally enabled the multi-room features linking the Mighty PVR in your lounge room to the Mini set-top box in your bedroom.

Then, at the last minute, Optus also told Michael that it was his responsibility to pay someone to rewire his home phone so it would work after the NBN switchover – an issue which wasn't raised at any point during the Optus sign-up process or mentioned in the paperwork.

Not So Plug And Play

The trouble is that Michael has his new NBN wall socket, NBN NTD modem and Optus NBN Gateway router installed in the spare bedroom alongside his computer. Meanwhile his home phone is plugged into a wall socket in the kitchen. This would be a common set-up across Australia but unfortunately it causes complications when switching your home across to the new national network.

The problem is that once you're on the NBN your home phone needs to plug into the NBN Gateway router supplied by your Retail Service Provider (RSP) – in Optus' case a Sagemcom [email protected] 3864 Gateway.

If you want to keep using the telephone socket in another room then you need to rewire that socket to connect to the Optus Gateway, but Optus doesn't always tell you about this. Alternatively you could plug a cordless base station into the Gateway and keep a second cordless phone in the kitchen but, like Michael, you might not want a phone in the spare bedroom if guests sometimes sleep in there.

According to Optus; "Customers only require a professional install with NBN when the end user is unable to complete the installation themselves or would like to continue to utilise their existing phone jacks, as opposed to a connection via the modem."

This wasn't explained to Michael. He was initially told that his home would require a "professional installation" – although exactly what this meant wasn't explained – and Optus would waive the cost. Then he received conflicting messages from Optus telling him that his home was designated as "self-install", so they posted him the Gateway and expected him to plug it into the new NBN modem himself.

Of course this didn't sort out the phone wiring, so Michael was told to pay someone to fix it or else he wouldn't be able to use the phone socket in the kitchen. It's not a one-off issue, as two of Michael's friends who've signed up for Optus cable have been through the exact same situation.

Once the phone was up and running Michael discovered that when people called his home an automated Optus service answered the phone after six rings to announce "The person you have called is not available" – not leaving enough time for his home answering machine to kick in. It even happens when he's on the phone, rather than the caller hearing an engaged signal. He also found that outgoing Caller ID was disabled. He's in the middle of another round of calls to Optus to sort out these issues.

Ask Questions

If you're getting hooked up to the NBN, make sure you ask about your home phone arrangement upfront – explaining the exact location of your current telephone sockets and the preferred location of your new NBN wall socket. It's also important to discuss issues such as security alarms, medical alarms and other complications.

If the phone and NBN sockets are not alongside each other you'll need to rewire your telephone sockets, so make sure you clarify who will foot the bill for this work. If you're paying someone, you might consider getting them to also run Ethernet cables from your Gateway to behind your television.

In Optus' defence most telcos seem to be the same, treating the home phone as an afterthought during an NBN migration even though it's still considered an essential service by many Australians. Whichever internet provider you choose, you need to ask questions about the home phone service rather than assuming everything will take care of itself.

Telstra says; "To have a home phone connected in a different area of the house, customers will need some rewiring done so their existing phone sockets will work on the NBN. Alternatively, they can use a wireless handset that connects back to a base hub plugged in to the modem. The Telstra sales teams are trained to tell customers about this before they migrate to the NBN and it is also included in the welcome letter and modem install guides we give to customers."

"Telstra will arrange rewiring of existing phone sockets for customers with a voice-only service, customers with priority assist services and senior concession card holders at no additional cost. Customers on a bundle can choose to order a Telstra technician to professionally rewire their existing phone sockets as well as setting up their new modem and home phones for a fee of $240."

Listen Up

The fact is that all NBN home voice services are actually Voice over IP, using the Gateway from your telco as the VoIP adaptor. NBN grants all Retail Service Providers 200 kbps per customer to use for this home VoIP service, but there are no rules as to how the RSPs run their VoIP networks and whether they offer Quality of Service to protect voice calls against interference from other internet traffic. Michael has already experience several call dropouts.

Of course many tech-savvy Australians already take advantage of VoIP at home, plugging their handset into a standalone VoIP box or a VoIP-enabled router like the FritzBox 7490. Unfortunately most telcos won't let you run your new NBN home phone service via your own Gateway. They refuse to hand over the VoIP login details to configure your own gear, so you're forced to stick with the teclo's Gateway in order to use the phone.

This has resulted in a lot of unhappy Optus NBN customers who would prefer to ditch Optus' mediocre Sagemcom [email protected] 3864 Gateway in favour of something better. Telstra NBN customers face the same restrictions, forcing them to stick with the Telstra-issued Sagemcom [email protected] 5355 Gateway if they want to use the home phone service.

The situation makes a mockery of the push to sell high-end NBN-ready Gateways over the last few years, if you need to plug your expensive Gateway into the budget Gateway foisted on you by your telco.

Your mileage may vary depending on your choice of Retail Service Provider. It appears that some progressive RSPs are prepared to hand over the NBN VoIP login details, although they might also let you use their own VoIP service with any Gateway.

The moral of the story is don't assume it will be smooth sailing when you move your home phone across to the NBN. Have you made the switch? Did you run into trouble?

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.



    Haven't had a landline in about 7 years so I find this a little alien

    (also got lucky and have had FTTP for about three years…)

      I live in a FttP NBN area and I have a 100/40Meg connection with Telstra. My mother, who lives nearby, has a 12/1Meg FttP connection with iiNet. Our data is great. Our voice calls, not so much. There are always problems and a need to regularly re-boot the modems but even that has not eleiminated the nuisances. Our problems are no different to others who live in the same area.


      I will be one of the many who are "guaranteed" to get between 20-80MB. Considering where I am in the street I wont bother upgrading from the minimum plan because I wont be able to actually get any more speed.

      Last edited 24/04/17 11:16 am

    I have a landline. I get the internet over it. I can make calls over it but get charged so I use my mobile instead. Can't use my home phone in a blackout as the base station is mains powered and dies when the power does. I would assume a large number of people are like that if they have cordless phones. Been 15 years at least since I had a corded phone powered off the wall.

      FTR, cordless phones can come with built in batteries to keep the base alive during a blackout now.

    ...Voice over IP, using the Gateway from your telco as the VoIP adaptor.

    Not correct. It's intended for people with life threatening medical conditions verified by a Doctor, but anyone can request the service be activated through the UNI-V ports, which bypasses the router. It also has the added benefit of, if you got the UPS installed and have a phone that doesn't require mains power, keeping the phones going when there is a blackout.

      This is only true for fttp and fixed wireless/ satellite connections. Fttn/c and HFC have their uni-v ports located on the modem. No ifs or buts.

        This would seem to imply that one of the big promises of the pre-Turnbull NBN - that you would be able to obtain telephone and internet services from separate suppliers if you wished - doesn't apply to HFC connections? You have to bundle your phone and internet from the same company?

        How does it work if the customer simply wants a POTS with no internet service and they live in an HFC area? Do they have to get both an NBN modem and an ISP router to plug their handsets into?

          For HFC:

          If they only want the landline sans internet, I assume the company providing the service sends a router out then they only provide a phone service.

          If you want internet from one provider and telephony from another, that is currently impossible. In the future, it may be possible, as the arris 3800b has two UNI-D ports, but one is deactivated in the firmware until NBN figure out how to deliver multiple services to one address. Doing so will require an entire power board: You would need power plugs for the arris modem, two routers and the handset. Fun times.

          For the other techs, I'm not 100% sure, because I have hfc and haven't really payed a huge amount of interest to tech that i can't use.

    Ironic that the man who "invented the internet" in Australia also decided to destroy it. I hope his internet is no better in the Caymans once his dirty deed is done.

    My area has just been moved to the NBN in the last week. We are on HFC NBN. My current internet is Telstra cable, where I have been getting up to 130Mbps, and I pay about $70 a month for this (500GB) and a landline. As far as I can tell my costs will be going up and speed down... apparently this is the future... I haven't seen any 100Mbps plans for this price... has anyone moved to HFC NBN? I'd be keen to get you thoughts on this.

      I deeply regret moving from Telstra Cable to HFC NBN (Yes I know it will have to happen but I wish I delayed for as long as possible). I had consistant 110 Mbps down 2.5 up and a 9ms ping. Now on HFC I have 23 down, 14 up and a 75ms ping (100/40 connection with MyRepublic). This is a better evening..
      I'm paying the same as I was with Telstra just under $80 per month.
      Don't rush this one. NBN Co are too busy rolling out new connections to be able to resolve substandard connections. Let the dust settle for as long as possible IMHO.

      Delay as long as possible. I was forced to by Optus to switch. Slower speeds, more dropouts, higher cost.

    Its not 2010, why is not having a landline phone a problem?

      I know several people who have no internet connection at home, no computers, tablets or smartphones. If they have a mobile phone at all it's a cheap flip phone with a pre-paid plan for emergency use only. They just want their bog standard POTS to keep working once their area is switched to the NBN.

      It sounds like this may be an issue if they're in an HFC area.

        It will be an issue, period -- copper is going byebye. The phone will still work, but they will need nbn connection.

      I'm highly considering getting rid of my mobile phone. I'm sick of being a slave to the convenience of others. A landline+answering machine changes your priorities and reduces stress. You're not that important, your calls can wait. Life is important and should always come first.

      Many, many reasons. I have a Samsung Galaxy 7 which is so messed up that it freezes and/or restarts on the boot screen. This is a growing problem as phones become higher powered computers rather than, you know, phones. There's also reception, living outside of a major city means mobiles aren't as reliable as you may think. Or even in a major city with some telcos; I've dropped out in the middle of Melbourne with Vodafone, hence the SG7/telco switch.

      There's also service reliability in emergencies to consider as generally speaking a landline is more useful for longer during an adverse event. Mobile towers get bogged down faster than a landline, and just seem to go down more often although that bit's just my experience.

      Then there's battery. A landline without a need for a power connection will work in a blackout. Your mobile should work, but only till the battery dies.

      I don't rely on my landline but I'd hesitate to completely remove it. It's a bit like a radio. I love the digital world but I've still got a small radio tuned to 774 for bushfire season and general emergencies as that's more reliable than an internet based app.

    Telstra actually have 3 different routers for NBN - the Sagecom [email protected] is just the entry level one, they also have the Gateway Max 2 and the Frontier. You can pay extra for the more advanced models or negotiate a better model than the Sagecom when signing up.

      The easiest way to achieve this is by telling Telstra during your signup process that you require a modem with 4 ethernet ports included for you to proceed with the connection. Don't say yes until they give it to you free of charge.

    I have a landline basestation in the garage plugged into NBN. If we ever needed it we would walk to the garage to answer it. It's 2017, this is a non-issue.

    Important reminder -- if you have a fax or medi-alert device there is a chance that it will not work. there is no such thing as medical priority any longer. switch to 3/4g medi devices.

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