The NBN

We’ve now had the National Broadband Network (NBN) through fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) installed since October 2016; however, I wasn’t particularly fussed about getting the NBN, as we’ve had a reasonable ADSL 2+ connection that’s worked reliably enough for the last five years since moving to Mirboo North. We were perhaps one of the lucky ones, as I’ve met many for whom the opposite was true and there was often a run of complaints in the local paper prior to the NBN arriving. So when the NBN became available, I transferred almost immediately, as there was no point in holding off and waiting for the final rush. And, being an early adopter, it meant that we’d hopefully be connected fairly quickly, which is exactly what happened. From putting in our order and being up and running took no more than a week (it may have been less). Others are only now trying to connect and experiencing all manner of issues, given what’s in local reports.

NBN Co Logo (source: NBN Co)

NBN Co Logo (source: NBN Co)

While we had the option of going with ostensibly any provider, we stayed with Telstra and, to be honest, no other provider seemed to be on the ball at the time with offers. Telstra was the only reasonable provider of ADSL services in the area and, despite Telstra being on the receiving end of a lot of flack all the time, we’ve found them to be fairly good, responding to issues quite rapidly and satisfactorily. Some may read this in disbelief, but that’s what we’ve found to be the case. The Telstra Gateway Max modem arrived several days later by courier, before the planned connection date, which gave me time to read up on what needed to be done. On the day that we were advised that we were connected, I simply swapped over my existing modem, plugged everything in and powered up. I subsequently logged in with the supplied user ID and password, which proved to be a straight forward process for all of our devices. To be honest, things were a lot easier to set up than with my previous Billion BiPAC 7800N ADSL 2+ router.

Billion BiPAC 7800N - (source: Billion)

Billion BiPAC 7800N – (source: Billion)

Telstra Gateway Max - (source: Telstra)

Telstra Gateway Max – (source: Telstra)

While we could have selected a faster plan, we opted for the 25/5 plan as we really didn’t have a need to download the entire internet every day and it saved us $40/month over our existing plan. And, after reviewing some of the plans that were later advertised, we really weren’t worse off staying with Telstra.That said, the first thing that I did want to find out was the speed of this new NBN (more on this shortly), so I installed the Windows 10 Ookla Speedtest app to find out what sort of difference the NBN made. Well, the test certainly showed that we were getting speeds that were around four times faster than we were getting with ADSL 2+ using a similar test. So, on the face of it, we were getting very close to the speeds that we were promised and you can’t complain about that. We also received a Telstra TV box (Roku) with the plan, which has made my wife very happy, as she can watch a lot of stuff that she couldn’t previously.

Typical Ookla Speed Test - NBN

Typical Ookla Speed Test – NBN

Typical Network Speed Test - ADSL 2+

Typical Network Speed Test – ADSL 2+

Now one of the interesting things about the NBN and something that I’ve maintained for some time, which has now been confirmed through actual experience, is that even the fastest connections won’t necessarily provide you with faster internet. If you’re accessing local websites, you may get fast responses, but when you’re accessing sites hosted overseas, which may have lots of users, interconnects, hits and slow servers etc, things can slow down dramatically. There are very few sites that I have observed as being appreciably faster than what I had with ADSL 2+, so those speed test results really don’t reflect the real world situation, even with technically much faster internet. It’s basically because the stated broadband speeds reflect something quite different to what most people (including me until recently) were led to believe ‘speed’ actually meant. Faster broadband is much like widening the Monash freeway to eight lanes in both directions, it’ll carry much more traffic, but more traffic will use it and the speed of the traffic will invariably be much the same as before. So much for the broadband ‘super highway’. And good luck with this plan.

Monash Freeway - (source: Herald Sun)

Monash Freeway – (source: Herald Sun)

So, speed aside, what other issues have we found with the NBN? First off, if the connection goes down, which it seems to do quite regularly, it takes about 10x longer (about 10 min) to come back online than did the ADSL 2+ (which rarely went down). Also, we have regular brown outs for a second or less, which will kill the NBN connection, resulting in a 10 min wait for the modem to come on line again. To prevent this, we’ve installed an UPS for the modem so that at least when a brown out occurs the system stays live and it helps to prevent long-term device failures from sudden power interruptions (we have similar to cover our TV, satellite and Roku box, as well as my PC). The disconnection issue is a real pain, as it can sometimes happen multiple times in a row and I’m not sure if it’s due to the modem or external issues. I’ll keep monitoring this and if it becomes worse, I’ll need to contact Telstra and see if they can assist.

Powershield Defender LCD 650VA UPS - (source PLE Computers)

Powershield Defender LCD 650VA UPS – (source PLE Computers eBay)

Of course when the NBN does go down, so does our landline and this really can be a pain. Some suggest that you don’t need a landline in this day and age, but that’s a matter of opinion, as we had an instance over one Christmas when the mobile service died for a week, which made the landline very handy and, when you’re calling interstate numbers etc, the calls come with the service, not a charge on the mobile bill. As an aside, I was filling in a government form online recently and it would not accept a mobile phone number, but would accept our landline number. A lot of organisations still appear to rely on landline numbers in this mobile age. That said, overall, the NBN experience hasn’t been too bad, so perhaps going in early was a good idea.

Mobile Phones - (source: XKCD)

Mobile Phones – (source: XKCD)

So at the end of the day, our experience with the NBN has not been the horror story that you read in the papers and hear in the news fairly regularly, at least not yet anyway. What I have read from numerous sources is that even those that get fibre to the premises (FTTP) don’t always get access to that ‘super highway’ that was promised. I suspect that even with FTTP, there are similar factors at work, as with all internet access, that doesn’t always make FTTP faster. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when mobile broadband reaches levels that rival or exceed that of the current terrestrial options, which is already happening in metropolitan areas.

On different note, with the Telstra offer came Netflix etc options, which I thought were utterly useless. The options gave us an opportunity for six month’s free access to see if we liked what was on offer, except for those that had already expired, but they came with a requirement that made me take long steps backwards. Simply put, I’m not giving any of these companies my credit card number just so that I can access a free six month’s subscription. I know why this method is adopted, because it’s often very difficult to cancel if you don’t want to continue, which is why I wouldn’t even consider it. More people should do this and maybe the providers might consider a more honest approach, which they could do quite easily, and let people avoid more horror stories.

Update 1: And just as I thought that things were going well, last week Telstra did some updates and my download speed dropped to 16Mbps and upload to between 0.9-1.2Mbps. The latter is especially noticeable and annoying, as it impacts on everything that I do with this blog (the 4-5Mbps was fine). I’ve called Telstra and they are looking into it, as they didn’t appear to know why this is the case, so I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Update 2: Telstra came back to me and explained what’s going on and, after checking with other sources, their explanation isn’t just a cover up. Apparently, those on FTTN are connected to an exchange in what is termed a ‘co-existence‘, which means the NBN cannot run at its full potential speed (utilising vectoring) until everyone transfers to the NBN, because it would affect those still on ADSL (ie they would lose their internet). The cut-off date is supposedly some time this year or early next year, but only the NBN Co really knows when the switch on ADSL can be turned off, especially when you consider what’s reported here.

Update 3: This is something that I predicted years ago,’NBN needs protection if it is to make a profit‘. I was predicting that mobile broadband would become fast, reliable and ubiquitous, such that the planned NBN would effectively become redundant for many, as has a landline telephone. I was lambasted by many who insisted that mobile would never have the capacity or speed to provide effective broadband. Things move on:

The national broadband network is losing money on each suburb it connects and believes that unless it is protected from competition due to data delivered by ultrafast mobile networks it will never make a profit.

Asked whether NBN could withstand competition from data delivered by new ultrafast 5G networks that didn’t need connections to houses, Mr Morrow said: “Forget about 5G for a moment, even the antenna technology using 4G is a viable alternative to NBN where the towers are already up.”

“The problem is the levy excludes wireless, even where people never take the modem outside of the house,” Mr Morrow said. “It’s a threat that wasn’t envisaged by this government or the last when the business plans were put together.”

Update 4: And every time someone writes about the NBN being a failure, ‘The NBN was engineered to fail‘ it’s always the same complaint (the nation’s growth is dependent on downloadable movies? What? No online gaming?):

And it is failing, at great expense. Most of us feel the consequences of that failure in jaggy, stuttering Netflix streams, but it is the inexcusable failure to build out the infrastructure on which this country’s future growth is utterly dependent that’s really going to hurt.

Update 5: On 1 Nov 2017 we experienced our first real NBN outage. Around 1:00 pm the internet went off, as did our landline. After around 2-3 hours, I decided to call Telstra on my mobile and see if they could work out what was gong on. After around 10 mins of questions and answers, I was advised that there is a problem at the node and NBN will have to send a technician to address the problem. I was advised that the issue should be resolved by 3 Nov 2017. I’m not blaming Telstra, but what a cluster the NBN is becoming for everyone.

Update 6: Around 1:00pm on 2 Nov (what a coincidence), an NBN technician came around to determine the problem. He put a signal generator or such into our NBN outlet as a tracer and then went to the node to do some checking. Coming back a short while later, it appears that a DSLAM on the NBN side of the node (where the fibre comes into the node) was faulty and had to be replaced. I’m not sure whether he replaced the DSLAM or connected me to another one, but the internet was back on again. What this experience did teach me was that I can use my mobile phone as a wireless hotspot and get pretty good broadband to boot. To be honest, it wasn’t much slower, if at all, than the NBN and this is with 3G at best.

Update 7: Despite the protestations of many, who decry mobile internet and insist that it will never be as good as fixed line internet, survey after survey seems to indicate the opposite, the fastest telcos and cities in Australia for broadband:

Of particular note from the report was that Speedtest.net data showed fixed-line broadband speeds were significantly slower than mobile speeds in Australia. Specifically, the mean download speed over fixed broadband was 45.4 per cent slower than over mobile. Meanwhile, upload speeds on fixed broadband were 40.8 per cent slower than those on mobile.

Regarding mobile broadband, Ookla said Australia’s fast mobile broadband was likely to get faster, with all three top carriers working to improve their networks.

 

 

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