How to speed up your FTTN NBN connection

NBN node

Get the most from your NBN connection with these seven simple tips

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With fibre to the node (or FTTN) NBN connections, fibre-optic cable runs to the node or network equipment box in your area and from there uses the existing underground copper network for the last mile connection to your premises.

Similar to ADSL, speeds on an FTTN connection essentially hinge on how close your premises is to the node (the big green cabinet installed on the street). The closer you are, the closer you will get to those top 100Mbps/40Mbps speeds. This means that only a limited number of people will be able to achieve top tier speeds when using an FTTN connection.

With over 50% of Australians expected to be connected to the NBN network via FTTN, it’s going to leave many people disappointed.

If you're currently underwhelmed by your FTTN connection speeds, there are a number of things that you can do to substantially improve your speeds. Here are seven tips to speed up FTTN connections.

1. Pick the right modem

Most people don’t realise that different modems will give you different connection speeds. The catch is that finding the modem that will maximise your connection speed can be a case of trial and error. The modem provided by your ISP won’t necessarily give you the best speeds either.

Thankfully, we’ve done a lot of the legwork for you with our roundup of 17 different FTTN modems. In our testing, we found that the sync speeds (the speed at which the modem is synchronising with the NBN network) can vary by as much as 20% between models, so it’s definitely worth exploring.

To check the sync speed, log in to your modem and navigate around until you find "WAN", "Status", "Connection" or something similar that summarises your current Internet connection (it differs depending on the model of the router).

2. Replace the phone cable

This might sound like an obvious one but it’s surprising the number of people who simply swap over their modem without replacing the RJ11 copper phone cable that links the phone port to the modem. With FTTN, you are sending up to 10 times more data than ADSL2 over the same copper wires that run inside your house and out into your modem, which is why the quality of the copper matters.

A degraded phone cable might not impact ADSL performance but it will certainly reveal itself on an FTTN connection in the form of reduced speeds and stability. Electrical surges caused during thunderstorms are one of the main reasons RJ11 cables degrade over time and, for this reason, it is generally recommended to replace them at least every two years. Thankfully, they’re inexpensive and your new modem will include a new set.

3. Clean up your home’s internal wiring

Speaking of copper, it’s important to consider the internal wiring of your home as well. As you push your connection to higher speeds, FTTN becomes more sensitive to noise. A home that has multiple phone outlets, for instance, creates additional joins in the internal wiring which increases the level of electromagnetic interference and crosstalk. At its worst, this can cause your connection to drop out on a regular basis and it can also cause other problems, particularly with throughput, causing speeds to drop off dramatically.

If you have multiple outlets in the house, it's recommended you get a licensed cabler in and have them disconnect the other phone outlets (effectively eliminating the additional joins in the internal wiring) and instead have a single cable going from the lead-in point (look for a grey maddison box located on the outside wall of your house) directly to the single phone outlet that will be used to connect to your modem.

By doing this, you could potentially double your speeds and achieve a more stable connection overall; however, be aware that your mileage may vary. For example, house A’s internal wiring might have more noise than house B and so the speed boost gained from taking this step will be more significant for house A.

Thankfully, getting a cabler in to do this work isn’t an expensive process. Expect to pay around $150 for the one to two hours worth of labour required. You could also take the opportunity to wire your house with CAT6 cable at the same time, although this will dramatically increase the cost.

If you’re looking for a licensed cabler in your area, ISPs like Internode have a list on their site. Meanwhile, the community over at Whirlpool forums also maintains a list of licensed cablers which covers most states.

4. Find out what speeds your home should be getting on FTTN

All homes connected to FTTN are given a speed rating by NBN Co which basically provides a speed range that should be achievable at your premises. The speed range is worked out based on your line distance to the FTTN cabinet or node and the pillar (also referred to as a micronode) that your home is connected to. Your ISP should be able to tell you the speed range that NBN Co has given your home.

If the sync speeds listed on your modem are significantly lower than what your premises is rated, consider getting a speed test from the grey maddison box located on the outside wall of your house. This will give you a reading of the actual speed that is coming in to your home before it travels through your internal wiring and hits your modem. Some cabling companies offer speedtest services for a fairly small fee and will also conduct a speed test from the phone port that connects to your modem inside the house for comparison.

If the speed test from the maddison box doesn’t reflect your modem’s sync speeds, then the internal wiring is likely to be the culprit and you should consider getting it cleaned up (see previous tip for details), which should get you much closer to the rated speeds.

5. Try a different ISP

Some ISPs are notorious for not buying enough network capacity to service densely populated areas, creating congestion that causes speeds to tank during peak usage hours. If you find yourself in this boat, try reporting the issue to your ISP as a first step.

If the issue persists, consider switching to another ISP. Some service providers are actively trying to eradicate the dreaded 6pm slowdown on their network by publicly committing to not taking on any new customers in an area that has reached 80% network capacity until they have more bandwidth available.

Remember to opt for a month-to-month plan as opposed to locking yourself into a 12- or 24-month contract whenever signing up to an ISP as that gives you the freedom to bounce between service providers until you find one that actually delivers in the speed department.

6. Change the line profile of your connection

A carryover from the ADSL days, adjusting the line profile allows you to modify your connection’s technical characteristics to achieve better speeds or improve stability.

By default, your FTTN connection’s line profile is set to a conservative "stable" setting to minimise the chances of dropouts, but this comes at the cost of reduced speeds. Request your ISP to have your stability profile changed to "standard", which should immediately result in improved speeds.

If you find your connection to be unstable after the change, you can always request to have it changed back to stable.

7. Make sure you select the right speed tier

Unless you specifically request a plan from a higher speed tier, most plans offered by service providers are set at the default speeds of 25Mbps/5Mbps. This is because not everyone on FTTN will be able to achieve the higher speed tiers.

If you’re within 500 metres of an FTTN cabinet (check with your ISP what your actual "line distance" is) or maybe not sure on the speeds you should be getting, start by opting for the highest speed tier available and work your way down from there until you find one that actually reflects your current speeds. For example, you might find that you’re hitting close to 50Mbps down while subscribed to a 100Mbps/40Mbps NBN plan and so changing your plan down to 50Mbps/20Mbps tier would be a sensible move.

However, we do recommend trying all of the other suggestions listed above to maximise your connection speed before you start dropping down in tiers. Not sure which speed tier is right for you? Take a look at our speed tier guide.

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Krishan Sharma

Krishan is an award winning freelance technology journalist who writes for a number of tech focused publications. Outside of his journalistic endeavours, Krishan is an IT professional who has established a wide breadth of experience in the ICT industry. Above all, Krishan is a self-confessed tech junkie and can usually be found tweaking and testing out the latest gadgets, home theatre gear, games, software and mobile applications.

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