NBN to trial tool for detecting in-home copper wiring faults

Pointing out that slow speeds and dropouts can be due to a number of factors, and not necessarily the wholesale network itself, NBN has announced trials of a diagnostic tool for remotely discovering in-home wiring faults.

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) company has announced that it will be kicking off trials of a new diagnostic tool aimed at remotely finding out whether a premises has copper wiring faults.

The copper cabling running to and from telephone sockets inside homes will be tested, NBN said, as this can have a "very real impact" on broadband service quality as demonstrated earlier in the year by an internal study involving 800 premises.

"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," NBN acting CTO Carolyn Phiddian said in a blog post on Wednesday, after the test documents [PDF] were published on Tuesday.

"Of those studied [in the internal tests], speed performance issues identified in one in two premises on fibre-to-the-node networks were caused by in-home wiring. In many of these cases, poor wiring caused download speeds to degrade by more than 50 percent."

Cases of wiring faults -- which could also affect those connected by fibre-to-the-building (FttB) and fibre-to-the-curb (FttC) network technologies -- include degradation from where it is aged or poorly put together, or where unused phone outlets remain connected to the main system.

"Thankfully, there can be a relatively simple fix for homes suffering from speed degradation caused by poor wiring," she said.

"The range of solutions includes moving your modem to the first socket, closing off unused phone outlets, installing a central splitter, or re-cabling poor wiring. In fact, our study found that the above simple fixes resulted in an average speed increase of 55 percent (from 30Mbps to 46Mbps download speeds)."

NBN has partnered with several large retail service providers (RSPs) to conduct the five-week trial, as in-home wiring issues are beyond its own remit. A number of users across NBN's FttN network will be invited by these telcos to take part.

"At these premises, we will undertake testing and a limited range of remediation activities -- including isolating wiring from the first phone socket and simple repair and alteration of premises wiring -- at no charge to the end user," Phiddian said.

The tool would then be made available to RSPs to help diagnose broadband service issues.

According to NBN, the trial is part of working to ensure that end users have a good experience on its network, even when issues are outside of its control -- though Phiddian pointed out that speed and congestion issues could be due to RSPs not purchasing enough connectivity virtual circuit (CVC), or end users having a certain modem.

"NBN is only the final link in the delivery chain; retailers need to provision sufficient CVC for end users and also have enough backhaul capacity in place to meet demand," she said.

"The hardware being used by end users can also have a significant impact on end-user experience -- some modems will offer far better performance than others."

Her statement followed NBN CEO Bill Morrow similarly criticising retailers for cutting corners on CVC by focusing on pricing rather than speeds or quality of service, after he revealed that the average bit rate per user is around 1Mbps.

"Under our pricing model, that could be doubled to 2Mbps for each end user for around an extra AU$5 per month," he said in June.

"If an RSP doesn't price their product high enough to recover their costs, they may be forced to cut corners that could affect the quality of the services being offered."

This week, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said connections to the NBN are done right around 90 percent of the time now, with both NBN and the Australian government working towards improving end-user experiences in two ways.

"Firstly, we want to improve and are improving the migration process," Fifield said on Sunday.

"Secondly, when it comes to the experience that people actually have on the network, one of the issues is retail service providers -- Telstra, Optus, TPG -- whether they purchase enough capacity to service their customers. Now, we have instructed the ACCC to undertake performance monitoring, speed monitoring, where there will be 4,000 probes embedded in premises around the country and people will have visibility of the service that's actually being provided.

"The ACCC has also issued fresh guidance to retailers to make sure that their advertising is clear for consumers -- something that it hasn't always been."

At the end of August, RSPs including Telstra, Optus, Vocus, and TPG announced that they had committed to working together to improve the customer experience in migrating onto the NBN.

Issues to be addressed include providing more useful information to customers about the migration and who to complain to if speeds or services are below expectations; better handling customer complaints; and improving the lead times for connections and rescheduled appointments through changes to contracts.

The ACCC also published guidance last month saying NBN RSPs should package and advertise their fixed-line services along the lines of evening peak speeds in order to improve accuracy and prevent misleading claims.

It was revealed in August that the transition of customers to NBN's hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network is causing issues, with NBN creating a dedicated churn team in response and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) also set to investigate customer experience in moving across to the NBN.

In May, the TIO's consumer complaints statistics for the second half of calendar 2016 revealed that NBN complaints had doubled again, although Ombudsman Judi Jones pointed out that the rate of increase in NBN's complaints was slower than the rate of premises being connected.

According to NBN, when taking into account the number of new premises activated, its complaints actually fell by 30 percent since the most recent half-year period.

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