Home Telecoms & NBN NBN Co home wiring checks 'deserve applause – and condemnation'

NBN Co home wiring checks 'deserve applause – and condemnation'

One of Australia's better-known network experts says the move by NBN Co, the company building Australia's national broadband network, to use a diagnostic tool to check home wiring to see if it may be causing speed issues should be both applauded and condemned.

Mark Gregory (below, right), an associate professor in network engineering at RMIT University, told iTWire in response to a query that "the announcement should be applauded because there is an urgent need to identify and fix the network connectivity problems caused by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's decision to use obsolete FttN technologies".

NBN Co's acting chief technology officer Carolyn Phiddian said in a blog post on 20 September that, "in coming weeks we will begin a trial of a new diagnostic tool that we hope will quickly and accurately detect premises that may be suffering from speed issues related to in-home wiring faults".

Phiddian added that NBN Co had decided on the trial "after an internal study we conducted earlier this year on nearly 800 premises found that, of those studied, speed performance issues identified in one in two premises on FttN networks were caused by in-home wiring. In many of these cases poor wiring caused download speeds to degrade by more than 50%".

The original plan for the NBN, proposed by a Labor Government in 2009, envisioned rolling out fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) to 93% of premises, with the remainder to be served by wireless or satellite.

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Four years later, when a Coalition Government was elected, the plan was changed with fibre-to-the-node (FttN) becoming the option for a majority of premises and HFC cable also being added to the mix. Initially there were plans to use both Optus and Telstra cable but the former was found to be unfit for purpose.

Later, fibre-to-the-kerb (FttK) — what NBN Co calls fibre-to-the-curb (FttC) — has been adopted for some residences. NBN Co has used the term fibre-to-the-distribution-point (FttDP) and FttC interchangeably.

But Gregory has, in the past, been careful to point out the distinction between the two: FttDP means that the last bit of copper leading to a customer's premises is about 40 metres while FttC or FttK means fibre is rolled out to within 300 to 400 metres of premises to either a pit or pole, and copper cables used for the lead-in.

Regarding the home wiring checks, Gregory said the announcement should also be condemned.

"Technical problems with the ageing copper were identified as a key reason why FttN should not be used long before the decision was taken by Turnbull to adopt a second-rate solution that has condemned Australia to third-world broadband status," he said.

Australia now stands at 50th in the global rankings for average Internet connection speeds, according to content delivery network Akamai.

Gregory said the copper remediation costs were likely to be passed onto consumers. "And maintenance costs for the copper network are about twice that for FttP whilst providing a far inferior service to consumers," he pointed out.

Gregory, who has been a critic of the so-called multi-technology mix solution chosen by the Coalition for the NBN, added: "There is nothing in the announcement by NBN Co that is encouraging other than to identify that a game of catch-up has already commenced and will continue until FttP replaces the inferior FttN."

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.