As the NBN rollout continues, when will you get faster internet?

We dig into the national broadband network rollout and its progress.

The latest on the NBN rollout

The NBN rollout continues after the current government's many reviews and a significant network redesign, although the cost is now expected to be between $46 billion and $54 billion according to the 2017 corporate plan. The government is providing a loan of $19.5bn that is needed to complete the rollout, sparing NbnTM the need to find private funding for the additional debt.

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The national broadband network (NBN) completion is faced with a challenging task: to double its rollout in 2017, and double it again in 2018, in order to stay on track with its completion date of 2020, according to the latest NBN Corporate Plan. The second SkyMuster II satellite was launched in early October 2016 and will provide extra capacity for satellite NBN services.

The national broadband network carries with it Australia's technology future, and it's so much more than streaming movies without delays, though that would be a good start. The internet is used by most of us every day, so we need a fast, reliable network.

So just what has been happening with the NBN rollout and when will you see the NBN at your place?

Progress check: where is it at?

The NBN is a multi-technology mix (MTM) network that includes a variety of fibre optic cable, copper wire and pay TV networks, as well as fixed wireless and satellite in rural and regional areas. However, not all NBN connections are created equal, and while still faster than you get now, NBN speeds may vary depending on your location and the technology used.

As the NBN rollout nears the half-way mark this year, there are almost 2.4 million active retail connections on the network as at June 2017 with more than 5.5 million marked as ready for service. NbnTM has revamped the rollout map where you can search for your address and sign up for alerts about the progress in your area. It tells you what connection type is expected to be rolled out in your area and if it's in the planning, building or active service stage.

The NBN Sky Muster satellite service, which provides internet services to more than 240,000 homes and businesses in regional and rural Australia, is set to double the maximum monthly wholesale data limits and increasing average peak downloads plans by up to 50%. Consumers and businesses should have access to larger peak and off-peak data plans from their retailer at a similar cost to what they are paying today. The new Sky Muster plans are expected to be available through retailers in October.

The NBN has been under construction since 2010 after the then-Labor government announced it would set up a government-owned enterprise to construct Australia's new national network. The government plans to have eight million premises connected by 2020, although the original pre-election 2013 timeline promised the network completion by 2016. The NBN is expected to be sold in 2021 when the rollout is completed and the remaining government debt will be re-financed through commercial partners.

Industry watchdog reports on the NBN

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) annual report recently revealed that new complaints about faults on NBN services jumped by 100%, although the rate of complaint growth was lower than the growth of active services. Delays in connections to the network and faults such as unusable services and dropout of services as well as slow speed were reported.

Technology mix of NBN changing

NbnTM will roll out fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp), also known as fibre to the curb (FTTC), for up to 700,000 premises currently in the Optus HFC network, although Nbn recently announced that a further 300, 000 premises will get the newer FTTC instead of FTTN bringing the total to 1 million. Nbn recently published the list of suburbs earmarked for FTTC and they will now show up on the rollout address checker.
  • For further explanation of the different types of NBN connections, see our NBN Q&A.

The HFC component of the NBN is underway with construction agreements for premises within the Telstra HFC footprint. HFC stands for hybrid fibre coaxial cable, and it's the network that Foxtel and Optus uses to deliver pay TV services. Existing HFC cable is getting a makeover and being brought into the NBN, with an updated network specification to boost the data speeds. It's expected that 200,000 HFC premises will be active on the network by June 2017, with 875,000 premises ready for service at that time. The HFC network will deliver wholesale speeds up to 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload.

In 2015, Nbn™ rebranded from NBN Co at a cost of around $4.5 million in advertising. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) last year gave the green light to Nbn™ to acquire Optus' HFC (pay TV) network for incorporating into the NBN. Telstra was paid $11 billion for its copper and pay TV networks in 2011 as part of the move to the multi-technology mix (MTM) NBN, and the company is now being paid more money to try to bring its infrastructure up to standard.

NBN satellite services

NBN satellite retail services are now available after the Sky Muster, the first of two satellites that will boost internet access for people living in rural and remote areas, was launched in 2015.  The Sky Muster II launched in October 2016 and will provide additional data capacity for the 400,000 premises in regional and remote Australia. The two Sky Muster satellites will bring faster broadband access to 400,000 homes and businesses. Nbn™ is promising wholesale speeds of 25Mbps upload and 5Mbps download. The plan for the satellites was green-lit under the previous Labor government in 2012. The Interim Satellite Service shut down in February 2017 and any users were urged to choose a new service because they're not automatically moved to a new network.

When will I get the NBN?

The government is committed to building the NBN that incorporates the existing phone and pay TV network, although it will be slower and cost more than first predicted. It has set itself some ambitious targets for the NBN and is committing to:

  • doubling the premises ready for service (RFS) every year from 1.2 million this year to 9.1 million by end 2018
  • eight million premises activated by 2020
  • rapidly increase rollout of nodes and pay TV network to cover four million premises
  • complete the multi-technology mix (MTM) network six years ahead of a full-fibre network.

Find out more about getting ready for NBN installation and connection.

Leaked NBN documents 

Earlier this year, a series of leaked documents show that expanding the use of high-speed fibre could be a cost-effective option for the national broadband network (NBN). It raises questions about the viability of the current network that is repurposing technically inferior copper and pay TV cables and linking to fibre at nodes, at significant cost.

The internal Nbn™ documents reveal the company was investigating rolling out fibre to the edge of premises (known as fibre to the distribution point or FTTdp) last year and has trialled alternate fibre that slashes the cost of installation and the rollout time. The fibre with a smaller diameter and flexible sheath allow easier physical distribution at the street-level in pits and ducts. It does away with the need for building and powering nodes and means rolling out  fibre to the premises is easier and cheaper.

Last year a leak revealed that Optus' pay TV (HFC) network may need to be rebuilt by extending Telstra's HFC footprint or replacing it with fibre because it is not "fit for purpose" according to internal Nbn™ documents. Nbn™ calculates that this could add $150–375 million dollars to the cost of the network and cause significant delays.

Nbn™ said that this was just part of "scenario planning" and that it's completed an HFC trial in Redcliffe, Qld without unexpected technical issues with the Optus network.

A second leak revealed that Telstra's copper network will need significant remediation work to repair and replace sections not up to standard. That could cost up to $640 million because of a tenfold increase in the cost of repairing the copper node connections.

Nbn™ downplayed the revelations and said that the increased cost of the fibre to the node (FTTN) construction was accounted for in the current corporate plan and 550,000 FTTN connections are under construction.

What will I get?

It depends. The current government is building a 'multi-technology mix' (MTM) national broadband network, which includes:

FTTP (fibre to the premises): New estates and developments are likely to get this.

FTTN (fibre to the node): Areas with existing ADSL and cable services to be upgraded and connected to fibre at a nearby node. 

FTTC (fibre to the curb). One million premises will now get FTTC instead of FTTN or HFC upgrade.

FTTB (fibre to the basement) services for office blocks and apartments were launched this year with 1 million homes and businesses scheduled to get FTTB services. 

HFC (hybrid fibre coaxial) re-uses the Pay TV cables connected to homes with a speed improvement through new technology to brings it into the NBN footprint.

Fixed wireless: Uses cellular, or mobile, technology to connect homes and businesses with an antenna to a nearby wireless facility in areas that don't have a fixed line to connect to the internet.

Satellite: Uses a satellite dish on the premises to receive the internet through a satellite from a ground transmitter in remote areas.

Are there construction delays?

Stories of construction delays and problems with the outsourced rollout were common a few years ago. In terms of construction, the rollout is on track for 2016 target; however, it didn't achieve 2013 and 2014 construction targets.

Nbn™ has added construction partners and applied performance metrics to improve the speed of the rollout. A training scheme is in place to double the workforce to 9000 workers when the rollout reaches its peak construction period because of skills shortages that could delay the scheduled completion date of 2020.

How has the plan changed? 2013 plan vs current plan

Coalition pre-election NBN plan April 2013* Revised NBN plan April 2014**
Construction period/timeline: 2014–2019 As soon as possible
Cost: $29.5 billion $46–$56 billion***
Technology make-up: Fibre to the premises (FTTP), fibre to the node (FTTN), HFC, FTTC, fixed wireless, satellite Multi-technology mix network comprising FTTP, fixed wireless, satellite, fibre to the x (FTTx) [node/basement/kerb].
Technology mix: FTTN/B/C 71%, FTTP 22%, fixed wireless 4%, satellite 3%
Integrate HFC (cable/pay TV) networks where feasible

Download speed:
25–100Mbps by end 2016; 50–
100Mbps by 2019
at least 25Mbps to all premises 
50Mbps to 90% of fixed-line premises
Upload speed: Not specified

* Source: Coalition Plan for Broadband, April 2013

** Source: Government Statement of Expectations, 2014

*** Source: NBN 2016 Corporate Plan

What about the reviews?

The reviews promised by Malcolm Turnbull in opposition have been delivered and uphold the Coalition's plan to substitute a complete fibre network for the multi-technology fibre, pay TV and copper network. So far, we've had these reviews:

  • Strategic Review A 'big picture' analysis comparing FTTP with FTTN networks. It suggested a shift to a multi-technology mix with FTTP to almost one-quarter premises; with FTTN to almost half and HFC up to one-third. These fixed-line services are expected to make up 94% of the entire NBN with fixed wireless and satellite to serve six percent of premises by the end of 2019. It claims that 90% of fixed connection would have a speed of at least 50Mbps and that it would be at least five years before needing to upgrade.
  • Cost Benefit Analysis of Broadband Reported the FTTP rollout costs 2.5 times more than FTTN on a lifecycle basis. It looked at costs, timing, financial benefit and speed improvement for the multi-technology mix and an FTTP network. It found that the FTTP scenario provides the highest speeds but is more costly and takes longer to build. 
  • Fixed Wireless and Satellite Review Looked at expanding the wireless footprint, revenue and partnership opportunities, and whether fixed wireless could be used in place of fixed-line connection in areas to speed up roll out if satellite capacity was available.
  • NBN Market and Regulatory Report Found that improvements in broadband could deliver an economic benefit of $24 billion and the multi-technology mix is the most efficient way to do this. 
  • Statutory Review of the Competition and Consumer Act Looked at the legal and regulatory framework including the role of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and network access for carriers.
  • Independent Audit of the NBN Public Policy Process Said the ACCC didn't have the authority to advise that FTTN was not a first step towards a FTTP network and that this influenced the Labor government to opt for a full FTTP network. It said the government didn't follow due process such as independent studies when formulating the plan and establishing NBNCo.

What about the future of the network?

The all-fibre network originally planned will not be built in the foreseeable future. Nbn™ is tasked with finding upgrades 'as necessary', which would likely be after the projected end date of 2020, and there's no future upgrade plan as yet.

Telecommunications expert Paul Budde is critical of the current plan and says that, by 2020, Australia will be about 10 years behind countries with similar networks. Furthermore, he says countries building all-fibre networks are starting now and Australia lacks a plan for an upgraded path to an all-fibre network. 

Election promises

The MTM network is a departure from the previous Labor government's plan to utilise fibre all the way to premises, although the satellite and wireless network component remains the same. Labor's election pledge was to cease the FTTN rollout and instead construct another 20% of the network as full-fibre FTTP connections and review an upgrade path for existing FTTN connections to FTTP. The re-elected Coalition government is continuing with the MTM network.