NBN plans G.fast to speed up copper in 2018

Angus Kidman 25 October 2017

POI738

Gigabit speeds are promised, but there's a lot we don't know yet.

Yes, the timing is deeply suspect. In a week where the failings (real or apparent) of the National Broadband Network (NBN) have been on the agenda after a Four Corners NBN special, network builder nbn has announced not one, but two, speed-enhancing projects.

On Monday, we learned that the first site to use fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) had been activated. FTTC promises a cheaper, faster deployment, but its reliance on using copper to connect back into premises means that it maxes out at around 100MBps in a best-case scenario. In the worst case, the copper is rusted rubbish and has to be replaced, at which point it's no longer particularly cheap.

Fast forward three days and nbn suddenly announces that it will be rolling out G.fast technology in 2018. G.fast means that speeds of up to 1Gbps (10 times faster than the current network) will be possible on both FTTC and FTTB (fibre-to-the-building). Gigabit speeds are already available on fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and HFC (cable) connections, though not many Australians have signed up for them.

The announcement is very light on detail: we're not told, for instance, how many of the 1 million premises planned to connect via FTTC will be able to take advantage of G.fast. Given that the rollout isn't due until 2018, it seems reasonable to assume that people who are due to be connected in the next year won't have access. (You can find out what kind of NBN connection is planned for your home by using our NBN tracker.)

This isn't the first time nbn has tinkered with G.fast: it ran a test back in 2015, achieving speeds of 600Mbps on 100 metres of copper. The announcement emphasises that the cable in question was 20 years old, which is a tacit acknowledgement that many people view copper as an unreliable and inferior alternative to fibre. The fact that deployment plans are being announced three years later is a function of politics; I'd lay money we wouldn't have heard about this without the Four Corners brouhaha.

The key lesson for consumers? The NBN is designed to become (potentially) faster over time, but the lottery of what ends up connected to your house is something you still don't have control over. You do have control over which provider and plan you choose, so research that carefully: not comparing will cost you.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on finder.com.au.

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