How does the nbn™ work?
The National Broadband Network (nbn) is an ongoing project to replace Australia’s ageing copper cable network with newer and more reliable technology. Initial plans were for an optical fibre telecommunications network, supporting both internet access and telephone calls, to replace the old network and reaching most Australians. A new satellite network would be used to reach a small percentage of Australians in very remote areas.
The project underwent several significant changes since it was first announced in 2007, most notably the use of a mix of technology throughout the rollout instead of pure optical fibre. What has not changed is that the nbn still replaces the old copper network, with the latter being decommissioned within 18 months of each area across the country becoming nbn ready. Customers using the copper network to make and receive phone calls or to connect to the internet using an ADSL service, will be notified by their current provider as soon as their area is nbn ready, and again shortly before the old network is deactivated if they have not yet switched to a new nbn plan.
Not everything about how you connect to the internet or make phone calls changes with the nbn, but the mix of technology used can make it confusing for people to understand exactly how the nbn works.
What has changed?
Most of the nbn uses optical fibre to send data via light pulses. The reason for the change is that optic fibre is capable of transmitting data much faster and reliably than copper cables. The internet has become more of an essential service to many people, and we are not only connecting more devices to the internet at once, we are also using new services and technologies that demand faster speeds. Copper cables and ADSL technology are only capable of a maximum potential speed of 20Mbps, though most ADSL users would know this was seldom possible. Depending on the connection technology used in homes and businesses, the nbn is capable of maximum potential speed of 1Gbps, or 1,000Mbps.
How do the different nbn connection types work?
When checking our nbn™ rollout map for the readiness of your address, you will also see what nbn connection type has been used at your location. While they all connect to the same nbn infrastructure, how this happens, and what this means for you, differs.
Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)
The is the purest form of connection, with the nbn optical fibre line running all the way to the premises. An nbn connection box and power supply unit are usually installed inside the premises and your modem connects to this. This type of connection supports all speed tiers offered by nbn providers, up to a theoretical maximum speed of 1Gbps.
Fibre to the Node (FTTN)
This connection type combines optic fibre and existing copper infrastructure. The nbn optical fibre network connects to a node that is installed outside the premises, with multiple nearby premises all connecting to a single node. The connection between the node and the premises uses existing copper cables, but always trying to keep the distance between premises and the node as short as possible. Your modem connects to your existing phone socket or jack, and this type of connection supports all speed tiers offered by nbn providers, up to a theoretical maximum speed of 100Mbps.
Fibre to the Curb (FTTC)
Similar to FTTN, but with multiple premises connecting to a Distribution Point Unit (DPU) installed in the street using existing copper cables. The DPU connects to the nearest fibre node using optical fibre. A nbn connection box and power supply unit are usually installed inside the premises and your modem connects to this. This type of connection supports all speed tiers offered by nbn providers, up to a theoretical maximum speed of 500Mbps.
Fibre to the Building (FTTB)
As the name suggests, this connection type is reserved for building and multi-unit residential apartments. A fibre node is installed in the building’s basement or communications room, with optic fibre connecting this node to the nearest nbn exchange. Each unit in the building connects to this fibre node using existing technology. This type of connection supports all speed tiers offered by nbn providers, up to a theoretical maximum speed of 100Mbps.
Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC)
If you have Pay TV or cable TV installed, part of this infrastructure could be used to connect your premises to the nearest fibre node using an HFC line. The node still connects to the nearest nbn exchange using optical fibre. A nbn connection box and power supply unit are usually installed inside the premises and your modem connects to this. This type of connection supports all speed tiers offered by nbn providers, up to a theoretical maximum speed of 1Gbps.
The above connection types are all referred to as Fixed Line Connections and are used throughout Australia’s largest cities and some nearby towns. Outlying suburbs and regional towns use Fixed Wireless technology. Optic fibre connects nearby transmission towers to the nbn, and these towers transmit data wirelessly to connected premises. An outdoor antenna is installed at the premises to both receive and send data to the nearby towers, with a nbn connection box and power supply unit installed inside the premises and your modem connecting to this. This type of connection supports all speed tiers offered by nbn providers, up to a theoretical maximum speed of 75Mbps.
Sky Muster Satellite Service
Satellite connections to the nbn are used only for very remote premises, with a roof mounted satellite dish sending and receiving data from orbiting satellites. While this does now make it possible for properties that did not qualify for an ADSL connection to now connect to the nbn, it is still more limited than other connection types, with theoretical maximum speeds of only up to 25Mbps.
What hasn’t changed
NBN Co is the entity that was established to design, build, and operate the nbn. Although they manage all the nbn infrastructure, customers will very rarely interact with them directly. This is because connecting to the nbn –and by extension, connecting to the internet–and being able to make and receive phone calls is handled by nbn providers, such as Dodo.
If you currently still have an ADSL connection and want to switch to nbn, you will arrange this through your current or new provider. nbn providers offer different kinds of plans for the nbn, so you should always begin by comparing plans and selecting one that most suites your needs, including the speed of your connection. For new nbn connections, a final bit of installation will still need to be carried out, but your provider will arrange for this to happen.
Similarly, once you are connected to the nbn, any service disruptions would need to be followed up with your nbn provider, not NBN Co. The first step is always to check for any known outages on your provider’s Network status page before opening a support ticket with them.
Finally, the nbn doesn’t affect your ability to have a home phone for making and receiving phone calls. While this now happens using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, most current handsets support this technology, and the main thing that changes is that your handset would now plug into your modem, not the wall socket. The phone service is usually not active by default, but your nbn provider can easily activate it once you sign up for this extra service.