A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Australia’s National Broadband Network was conceived, changed, and ultimately implemented. What started as a grand vision (perhaps unrealistic) for near universal fibre to every premise in Australia wound up as something a little different, with fibre to some of the earliest premises connected to the network, and a wide variety of other technologies used to connect premises later in the roll-out due to the perceived cost of running Fibre to the Premise for everyone.
At the outset, let me say this isn’t a story damning the “multi-technology mix” policy adopted by previous governments, or the far-from-universal fast broadband speeds we were promised and mostly haven’t got. That’s been done.
What this is, rather, is an exploration of what it’s like to get fibre to your premises if you didn’t get it to begin with and either need or want the fastest internet available today.
What technologies are in the NBN mix?
After years of living in houses missed by the NBN rollout and struggling with ADSL, cable or – shudder – 4G home broadband, we finally got lucky 12 months ago and moved into a rental that came with NBN Fibre to the Curb (or FTTC).
This technology which is almost as good as full Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) brings those optical fibres tantalisingly close to your house, but not quite into it. Instead, those fibres are terminated in a piece of equipment called a Distribution Point Unit (or DPU) which lives in the Telstra pit somewhere near the front of your place. Your internet connection is then, ultimately, delivered to your house over the copper phone cabling, either in the ground or – in some places – aerially using poles.
As NBN connections go, FTTC isn’t bad, but it’s certainly not the best. For now, in 2020, FTTC connections max out at 100mbps, and if you want something faster, you need to be on an HFC (cable) connection in some areas, or on full FTTP.
As things go, if one were to order the list of preferable NBN connection technologies, it might look something like this:
- Fibre to the Premises – maximum future proofing, high speeds, and the best technology. Capable of gigabit speeds today, and goodness knows what into the future.
- Hybrid fibre/coax (HFC, or Cable) – delivered over the coax cable used by former Pay TV networks, capable of up to gigabit speeds in limited areas, and up to 250mbps in some others, while most will be capped at 100mbps. Considered pretty reliable and quick so far as NBN connections go.
- FTTC / Fibre to the Basement – slightly different technologies, but about on par in terms of service quality / speeds. Can generally reach 100mbps speeds, but some connections – especially those relying on aging copper which might already have issues – will be much slower.
- Fibre to the Node (FTTN) can use copper runs hundreds of metres long to a Fibre distribution point in your neighbourhood. If you live close to your node, you might get some pretty decent speeds, but at the other end, FTTN NBN might be no quicker than your ADSL connection from 20 odd years ago.
- Fixed wireless or Satellite – generally not very quick, and while Fixed Wireless can be marginally better, both technologies are limited in the speed they can deliver and reliability, being impacted by obstructions, weather or both.
What if you want FTTP?
Until recently, the answer may as well have been “too bad”; NBN has offered a technology choice program for some time now, offering NBN customers the opportunity to upgrade their connections from whatever was installed to Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). However, in many cases, these technology choice changes were not cheap; even what may have seemed a relatively simple upgrade – bringing fibre from the top of your driveway to your house – may have cost many thousands of dollars, and that’s assuming fibre was close.
For those areas where fibre was not in the street or anywhere near, a FTTP upgrade could cost far north of $25,000 or even $30,000 … or significantly more. I’ve seen quotes closer to the $40,000 mark, and these are in somewhat suburban areas. If you’re out of the way and on NBN satellite, running fibre could be impossible (or, at least, impossibly expensive).
Now that the NBN roll-out is mostly finished (there’s reportedly around 100,000 premises left in Australia which aren’t presently connected, out of many millions), users are reporting the cost of FTTP upgrades seem to be dropping, especially for those connections where fibre is already so close (such as FTTC).
It is with this in mind that we’ve pulled the trigger and decided to apply for an upgrade. Here’s how it’s been so far.
FTTP technology choice process
Most things these days start with something simple, and a technology choice application is no different; filling out a simple online form is about all that’s needed.
We did this on the 6th of August. We’re upgrading a FTTN connection (which is connected to our new house) to FTTP, mainly for the future proofing and value it brings to the house – we’ve got a relatively short copper run to our local fibre node, so our connection speeds should be pretty good as-is.
Once you apply online, NBN will be in touch within a week or so to provide a rough estimate of your FTTP upgrade cost; in our case, we were quoted “between 6k and 11k” for the upgrade. To receive a firm quote for the build, you pay NBN a “quote fee”, and for this they do some preparatory design work to understand exactly what’s involved in bringing fibre directly to your house from the nearest connection point (which might not be the nearest fibre node, or even from your Telstra pit if you have FTTC – more on that later).
That quote fee is $330, and once paid, you’ll typically receive a build quote within a few weeks.
In our case, we waited a week or so, and received our final build quote for around $5,900 (from which the $330 already paid for the quote was deducted). Being that we want fibre, we accepted the quote and paid NBN Co for the technology switch build.
As of the end of August, we’ve been advised to wait a couple of weeks for a more detailed estimate of when works will begin and be completed by. Worst case, says NBN Co, it could take 3 to 6 months, but best case – especially if the works required aren’t especially complicated – it could be much faster.
So, for now, we wait — we’ll be back with you in a little while with the outcome of our technology choice fibre upgrade. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the process please let us know in the comments below!