The NBN: Everything you need to know

Everything you need to know about the National Broadband Network

The NBN Co was originally planning to use just three different technologies to bring high speed broadband to Australians across the country.

NBN diagram

The reason for the different technologies comes purely down to cost. While the bulk of Australia's population lives in cities, the cost of running fibre to remote parts of the country is far from cost effective.

By using fixed wireless and satellite services, NBNCo is able to manage the expense of building the network, while providing rural Australians with an internet connection speed that is actually usable.

The Coalition's introduction of the Multiple-Technology-Mix (MTM) in 2013, adds another three variations to the equation. Technologies implemented will be determined on a case by case basis and could include fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB), hybrid fibre coaxial HFC, fixed wireless and satellite.

The government released a reform policy alongside the Telstra and Optus deals that stated the NBN Co would be the broadband infrastructure provider 'of last resort'. NBN Co will be required to maintain separate accounts for its satellite, fixed wireless,FTTx, HFC and transit networks, in order to ensure that each can be priced competitively and reviewed accordingly.

Fibre to the premises

Fibre to the Premises, or FTTP, is exactly what it sounds like. Optical fibre runs from the local exchange to the house directly, allowing for super-fast broadband speeds.

FTTP networks offer download speeds up to 100Mbps and upload speeds of 40Mbps. But the company has already announced its intention of upgrading that to 1Gbps download speeds before the network is completed.

Though this was largely the ALP infrastructure, the Coalition intends to use FTTP wherever Telstra's copper wires are damaged, in new large scale housing estates and throughout high demand locations like business centres, universities and hospitals.

Fixed wireless

Roughly four per cent of the population living outside the fibre footprint will get access to broadband using a fixed wireless service. But what does that even mean?

For the NBN, fixed wireless will use a version of the LTE 4G technology, running on the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrums.

Unlike the 4G services from Telstra and Optus, the NBN fixed wireless technology will deliver a set amount of bandwidth to a set amount of people.

Where mobile networks can have lots of different people accessing the network at the same time, slowing the network down, NBNCo can effectively guarantee enough bandwidth for each user by having a pre-determined amount of people on its fixed wireless network.

It also won't be affected by changing distances away from the mobile towers like your 4G smartphone.

Initially, NBNCo's fixed wireless service will be limited to theoretical maximum speeds of 12Mbps. It has stated that it will improve those speeds in the future, although no timeframe has been given for the upgrade.

NBN Co purchased a chunk of spectrum from Austar in early 2011, plus an extra bit of spectrum from the ACMA in July that year to help deliver its fixed wireless network.

Fibre to the node

Fibre to the node (FTTN) only delivers the optical fibre to the local node, relying on Telstra's pre-installed copper connections to connect each house to the network. An independent website providing statistics on the progress of the NBN rollout has calculated broadband speed estimates for FTTN areas.

Households within 300 meters of the node can expect the maximum theoretical speed of FTTN connections of 80 mbps, but if your house is any further than 1.1km from the node your predicted internet speed will be under 25mbps. Since the Government has committed to a minimum of 25mbps by 2016 and 50mbps by 2019 they will likely be planning to eventually place nodes closer than 600m from every household.

Fibre to the basement

The telco TPG is largely leading the way with fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB) making the surprise decision in September of 2013 to roll out its own fibre infrastructure to new apartment blocks. New apartment buildings represent a slice of the market that has lots of customers serviced by less infrastructure and tenants who can afford unlimited broadband plans.

In the basement of apartment buildings, TPG had worked out a business model that would allow it to create its own infrastructure and compete with the NBN on a small scale. FTTB is often connected to non-fibre wiring from the basement to each apartment and so trial speeds are equivalent to the best results seen on the FTTN network.

In response to this, NBN Co announced its own release of FTTB to block other telcos from absorbing all of those premium customers. In December 2014, the Coalition announced that there would be a blanket tax on all new build houses and apartments connected by the NBN and this will likely affect FTTB connections most. $900 will be the final cost passed on for a new residence connected by FTTP or FTTB broadband.

Fixed wireless

Roughly four per cent of the population living outside the fibre footprint will get access to broadband using a fixed wireless service. But what does that even mean?

For the NBN, fixed wireless will use a version of the LTE 4G technology, running on the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrums.

Unlike the 4G services from Telstra and Optus, the NBN fixed wireless technology will deliver a set amount of bandwidth to a set amount of people.

Where mobile networks can have lots of different people accessing the network at the same time, slowing the network down, NBNCo can effectively guarantee enough bandwidth for each user by having a pre-determined amount of people on its fixed wireless network.

It also won't be affected by changing distances away from the mobile towers like your 4G smartphone.

NBN Co's fixed wireless service currently has theoretical maximum speeds of 25Mbps.

However the Coalition is planning to introduce an upgrade to 50mbps where the signal strength is high enough, a pilot is scheduled for the second quarter of 2015.

Satellite

About three per cent of Australia's population lives in areas so remote that the only realistic way to offer a broadband connection is via satellite.

Satellite technology is hardly an ideal solution for broadband delivery. The interim offering currently available from NBN Co can only deliver up to 4 Mbps download speeds.

The current solution involves using bandwidth bought from Optus and IPstar satellites, but NBNCo has also made plans to build and deploy its own satellites.

Due to launch in 2015 by Space Systems/Loral, the two Ka band satellites will deliver 80 Gbps worth of bandwidth each, and will deliver peak speeds of 12Mbps to the 400,000 premises outside both the fibre and fixed wireless areas of the NBN.

HFC

Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) is currently used for delivering subscription television and the technology will require upgrades to the connections in order to be able to deliver broadband. Picking up the HFC was a gamble by the Coalition. In 2011 it was identified as a poor investment by Optus's director of government and corporate affairs Maha Krishnapillai. Expensive to convert to broadband usage and unable to handle large volumes of connections the HFC was identified as having limited growth potential as a broadband network.

The HFC is already connected to 1.7 million homes and has passed another 1.5 million. Considering that HFC with low demand can reach speeds of 100mbps acquiring these connections will help the government dramatically reduce the timeframe of the NBN rollout.