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Understanding NBN technology

Not sure what NBN connection you have? Here’s the technologies involved and how they work.

Updated . What changed?

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The National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout is set to finish up later this year and over 7 million homes and businesses are already connected. The NBN is using a multi-technology mix, meaning that different combinations of high-speed fibre optics and existing copper wire are delivering Internet to Australians' homes.

The technology used at your address is decided by nbnco and isn't up to residents. The most control you have over it is potentially upgrading to a better connection type under the Technology Choice program, though this isn't available to everyone and can cost thousands of dollars.

What is the NBN?

The National Broadband Network is Australia's new high-speed broadband network. Its purpose is to replace or upgrade the existing telecommunications networks that we currently use to receive phone services and to access the Internet.

The upgrade to the National Broadband Network is compulsory and isn't done automatically. The existing copper phone network and ADSL/2+ services delivered over the network will be switched off 18 months after the NBN goes live in a particular area. However, you'll get plenty of warning from your existing provider and from NBN Co who will mail you to notify you of the disconnection.

Depending on the area you're in, the NBN technology and upgrade process may differ. If you're unsure what technology your area will be covered by, contact your service provider or NBN Co to find out.
Do our household usage quiz to find the perfect NBN plan for your needs.

Here at Finder, we've done a detailed comparison of the different connection types being used in the National Broadband Network to break down the jargon and to make your upgrade process easier.

Fixed-line connection types

These are the regular, wired broadband connections that make up the NBN and make up the vast majority of connections in Australia. Here's a detailed breakdown of the different technologies available.

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)

Population covered: ~25%
Installation: An NBN technician will come and install the external utility box and internal connection box.
Equipment: NBN-supplied network termination box; router (BYO or from your provider).

FTTP is arguably the best connection type you can get. It uses high-speed fibre optic cables all the way from the NBN node to a connection box on your house, meaning you get an excellent signal speed compared to other technologies. You should get at or near your provider's promised speed, even on an NBN100 plan.

FTTP has the added advantage of having an optional battery backup, meaning you can plug your computer directly into the NBN connection box and continue using the Internet during a power outage. No other connection type offers this.

Fibre to the Node (FTTN)

Population covered: ~29%
Installation: None.
Equipment: Router (BYO or from your provider).

In an FTTN set up, fibre optic cables are run to a central node, and then copper wires cover the rest of the distance to your house. One node can service dozens of households, with typical copper lengths of 400m to over a kilometre. How well your connection performs is mostly down to luck: those closer to the node will get significantly better performance than those further away.

Fibre to the Building (FTTB)

Population covered: ~11%
Installation: None.
Equipment: Router (BYO or from your provider).

FTTB connections involve fibre optic cables being run to a box in your building's basement, and then connected to various parts of the building via copper wire. As such, it generally delivers slower speeds than FTTP, but this mostly depends on how far copper has to run from the basement. In theory, you should be able to get an NBN100 connection working quite well on FTTB.

Fibre to the Curb (FTTC)

Population covered: ~4-6%
Installation: A technician may be required for installation, but not in all cases.
Equipment: NBN-supplied connection device; router (BYO or from your provider).

In an FTTC connection, fibre optic cables are run to a node in a 'telecom pit' somewhere outside on the curb. One node may service several houses, but the typical length of copper wire involved to complete the connection to your property is less than 300m. This means you should get at or near the speeds promised by your Internet provider.

These are the easiest kinds of connections to upgrade to FTTP, but will still likely cost you thousands of dollars to do so.

Hybrid-Fibre Coaxial (HFC)

Population covered: ~27%
Installation: None.
Equipment: NBN-supplied network termination device; router (BYO or from your provider).

HFC connections are the same idea as FTTN, except that coaxial cables make up the distance to the node instead of copper wires. Coaxial cables are the same kind that have been used to deliver pay-TV services in the past. Once again, the speed you get is largely dependent on your distance from the node, with quality degrading with greater coaxial length.

Fixed Wireless and Satellite NBN

Some customers are too far away from the NBN's main fibre network to get one of the above connections. Instead, they will be hooked up remotely via fixed wireless or satellite technology.

Fixed Wireless

Population covered: ~5%
Installation: An NBN technician will come and install a wireless antenna on the roof, as well as an internal connection box.
Equipment: NBN-supplied network termination device; router (BYO or from your provider).

With a fixed wireless connection, high-speed fibre optic cables are run to a signal tower. An antenna installed on your roof exchanges signals with the tower, allowing broadband to function within a range of about 14km. Speed-wise, fixed wireless maxes out at about 50 Mbps, but is far more susceptible to interference, meaning typical speeds fluctuate a lot and are generally slower than fixed lines.

Satellite

Population covered: ~3%
Installation: An NBN technician will come and install an NBN satellite dish on the roof and an internal connection box.
Equipment: NBN-supplied network termination device; router (BYO or from your provider).

Satellite connections rely upon the NBN's two Sky Muster satellites, and are usually for customers in more remote rural and regional areas. A satellite dish on your roof exchanges signals with a Sky Muster satellite, which then communicates with fixed signal stations on the ground.

Speeds max out around 25 Mbps, but are even more prone to interference than fixed wireless, making satellite the slowest NBN connection available.

Want to find out what sort of connection you have?

To find out what technology is installed where you live, you can simply use the NBN tracker tool. Input your address and it will let you know what kind of connection you have.

Connection typePopulation coveredMaximum theoretical download speedsMaximum theoretical upload speeds
Fibre to the Premises
(FTTP)
~25%1 Gbps 400 Mbps
Fibre to the Node
(FTTN)
~29%100 Mbps40 Mbps
(up to 40 Mbps)
Fibre to the Building
(FTTB)
~11%100 Mbps40 Mbps
Fibre to the Curb
(FTTC)
~6%100 Mbps 40 Mbps
Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial
(HFC)
~27%100 Mbps 40 Mbps
Fixed Wireless~5%50 Mbps20 Mbps
Satellite~3%25 Mbps5 Mbps
TechnologyPopulation coveredInternetPhone
(including Triple-0)
Fibre to the Premises
(FTTP)
~25%
With the back-up battery option, users can plug their computers directly into the NBN Co connection box to continue using the Internet during a power outage.

With the back-up battery option, users can continue making phone calls during a power outage using a traditional phone set plugged directly into the NBN Co connection box.
Fibre to the Node
(FTTN)
~29%
NBN Co does not provide a battery backup option for Fibre to the Node.

NBN Co does not provide a battery backup option for Fibre to the Node.
Fibre to the Basement
(FTTB)
~11%
NBN Co does not provide a battery backup option for Fibre to the Basement.

NBN Co does not provide a battery backup option for Fibre to the Basement.
Fibre to the Curb/Kerb
(FTTC)
~4%
NBN Co does not provide a battery backup option for Fibre to the Curb.

NBN Co does not provide a battery backup option for Fibre to the Curb.
Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial
(HFC)
~27%UnknownUnknown
Fixed Wireless~5%
NBN Co does not provide a battery backup option for NBN Fixed Wireless.

However, existing phone services delivered over Telstra's phone network will continue operation as normal.
Long Term Satellite~3%
NBN Co does not provide a battery backup option for NBN Satellite.

However, existing phone services delivered over Telstra's phone network will continue operation as normal.

NBN speeds

Across the fixed-line networks, the NBN Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) and NBN Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC) networks are capable of delivering speeds in excess of 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload. Roughly 25% of Australian premises will receive a new Fibre to the Premises connection, while an additional 27% of premises that have access to Telstra and Optus' cable TV networks will be upgraded to be able to access those speeds.

The remaining portion of the NBN fixed-line footprint will utilise a mixture of Fibre to the Basement (FTTB) and Fibre to the Node (FTTN). The speeds that end users can expect from the NBN will vary depending on their distance from the NBN node. NBN Co has a mandated requirement to deliver speeds of at least 25/5 Mbps to all customers across the NBN network.

The NBN Fixed Wireless and Long Term Satellite service support Basic I and Basic II NBN connections with maximum theoretical speeds of 25/5 Mbps to all customers. Some fixed wireless services also support Standard connections for theoretical maximum speeds of 50/20 Mbps.

NBN installation

An NBN technician installing a Fixed Wireless antenna on a rooftop

As NBN Co rolls out new infrastructure parts of its network, an NBN technician may have to come out to your premises to connect you to the National Broadband Network.

If you're in the NBN Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) footprint, an NBN technician may have to come and install the external NBN utility box (if not already installed) as well as the internal NBN connection box to connect you to the NBN. Similarly, in the NBN Fixed Wireless and NBN Satellite footprints, an NBN technician will come to your premises to install a rooftop antenna or satellite dish and an NBN connection box inside the user's premises.

The NBN Fibre to the Node (FTTN) and NBN Fibre to the Basement (FTTB) technologies do not typically require a technician installation. Normally, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will provide you with a new VDSL modem to replace your existing ADSL/ADSL2+ modem. Once NBN switches on your area, simply swap over to your new modem and your service will be up and running again.

In the case where your NBN FTTN or FTTB service is unable to deliver speeds of 25/5 Mbps, NBN Co may send out technicians to remediate (or repair) your phone line.

NBN equipment

NBN Fibre Connection Box

As you migrate over to the NBN, your existing networking equipment such as routers and modems may need to be upgraded to support the new network.

If you're in the NBN Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), Fixed Wireless or Satellite footprints, your Internet connection will be delivered to a single port on the NBN-provided connection box (or NTD). To share your Internet connection with multiple devices within your home, you may need a new NBN-compatible router with Wi-Fi functionality. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may supply you with a compatible router as part of your plan, or you may need to purchase the router yourself.

If you're in the NBN Fibre to the Node (FTTN) or Fibre to the Basement (FTTB) footprints, your Internet connection will be delivered to the first phone port at your premises. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) should provide you with an NBN-compatible VDSL modem.

During a power outage

Unlike your current phone service with Telstra, not all technologies in NBN's Multi-Technology Mix will continue working during a power outage.

If you're in the NBN Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) footprint, you can choose to install the optional NBN Battery Backup Unit to continue receiving phone and Internet services in the event of a power blackout. For phone services, simply plug in a traditional corded phone to one of the NBN voice ports on the NBN Connection Box. For Internet services, plug your laptop directly into the data port on the NBN Connection Box using an ethernet cable to continue accessing the Internet.

In all other NBN footprints, NBN Co does not provide a Battery Backup option. You may wish to purchase an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) to continue powering your networking equipment. However, NBN Co does not guarantee that its network is accessible during a power outage.

Migrating to the NBN is compulsory

Moving to the National Broadband Network (NBN) is compulsory and the process is not automatic. We've written a detailed NBN upgrade guide to help you through the process of switching to the National Broadband Network. Depending on the area you're in, the technology and upgrade process may differ.

A standard NBN installation is free of charge. However, some ISPs may decide to charge a set-up fee or sign you up to a long-term contract. There are also service providers who offer free trials and no-contract options. If you find a better NBN deal, you may want to ask your current service provider to see if it's willing to match the price.

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4 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    SWJuly 12, 2017

    I’m from Victoria, roll-out map indicates my address ‘connected’ in purple while tracker says ‘there is still work to be done’. No idea why the discrepancies but would like to hear any opinion from an expert on the status or ETA of NBN deployment in my area.

    Thanks.

    • Default Gravatar
      JonathanJuly 26, 2017

      Hello SW,

      Thank you for your inquiry today.

      I have checked our NBN Roll-Out Map and confirmed these results:

      nbnTM is expected to commence construction in some parts of this suburb within 3 years.

      Ready for Service: Not Available
      Disconnection Date: 08 Feb 2019
      Rollout Type: Fixed Line

      You may send an inquiry to NBN Co website to confirm the results.

      Hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Jonathan

  2. Default Gravatar
    BarryDecember 23, 2015

    I own a unit in a Strata Title building and the NBN is getting close. I assume we will be supplied with FTTB, but I would like to have FTTP speeds.

    It is unclear whether FTTB will supply these speeds. Can you tell me if this is possible?

    Barry

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      KennethJanuary 13, 2016Staff

      Hi Barry,

      Thanks for your question.

      NBN will guarantee speeds of at least 25/5 Mbps to all Fibre to the Basement (FTTB) premises and will also offer speeds of up to 100 Mbps / 40 Mbps on FTTB — subject to a service qualification check. The availability of these higher speeds depend on factors like the condition of the copper cable to your home and the distance to your assigned node.

      Once the NBN is available and you still find that the speeds achieved are inadequate for your needs, NBN also provides an option to upgrade the technology offering to Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) at your own cost. This is known as the Technology Choice Program and more information on this can be found on the NBN website.

      I hope this has helped.

      Cheers,
      Ken

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