Digging NBN’s dirt

Digging NBN’s dirt

Summary: With NBN Co now connecting premises as they roll down every street, there’s going to be a whole lot of digging required.


NBN Co's deal with Telstra allows the new network company to be provided with access to the old copper ducts at the local street level. If they are in a state of disrepair, unable to accommodate the new fibre, then the onus is on Telstra to fix them.

The same doesn't apply to ducts from the street to the home. In fact, many will simply to be too thin or too dilapidated to accommodate fibre, or the copper could interfere with the fibre signal.

When fibre can not be pushed through existing conduits, NBN Co will be left with three options: pull through the fibre, pulling out the existing copper in the process; dig a new trench in the occupant's garden to house the fibre; or create an overhead connection.

In this week's Twisted Wire, we hear how the last two options are likely to be most common. This means that there needs to be a lot of pre-installation education, so that householders will be happy to have work undertaken on their premises for a service they might think they don't need.

It also creates a layer of logistical complexity to the rollout. Can you really gain approval from more than 1,000 householders each day, then coordinate a time for the ground work to take place?

Talking all about pits and pipes this week are: John Stanton, CEO of the Communications Alliance; telecommunications commentator Kevin Morgan; and Paul Brooks, owner of Layer 10 Consulting.

What do you think? Has NBN Co underestimated the complexity of connecting each home? Call the Twisted Wire feedback line on 02 9304 5198 or leave a comment below.

Topics: NBN, Government AU, Australia


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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  • "pulling out the existing copper in the process"

    is this actually an option? Telstra is still using copper for voice and so I would expect that anyone who had the copper pulled would not be able to use Telstra. Wouldn´t that lead to legal action by Telstra?
    • Legality

      Against the law to interrupt a working telecommunications service.
      One option would be for Telstra or a licensed contractor to run a temporary patch for the POTS service permitting clearing the duct
      Abel Adamski
  • "the copper could interfere with the fibre signal"

    Can you please explain how this will happen? Fibre uses light to transmit data which is not affected by the magnetic field the copper creates.

    Source: http://podcasts.howstuffworks.com/hsw/podcasts/techstuff/2010-01-04-techstuff-fiberoptics.mp3
    • Interference

      JimJenson, I think the context in the program was that when there's little space in the conduit then the fibre and copper can create problems - perhaps because wires get twisted, rather than because of electrical interference.
  • Phil. please re-word

    Phil, can you re-word this "or the copper could interfere with the fibre signal." It is a tad misleading. Please explain it better or MT and his cronies will be out and about spouting that crap.
  • The practicalities of digging new trenches

    In short, unless done at the time of construction, this would be near impossible. It is not just a matter of digging up someone's garden, but there is often the foundation of a front fence, paths, driveways, gas, water, electricity, sewerage, and storm water feed lines in the way. The latter are often not documented or if they are, may have been changed over the years.

    If NBN Co is to achieve the sort of rollout rates they claim they want to (even discounting the rate they need to achieve in order to catch up to where they planned to be), they will not have the time to get overly concerned with the aesthetics of the end result or the impact on the home-owner's property. They won't have time to carefully move the prized rose bush, dig under a path, and the less said about putting the trench digger through a water or gas pipe the better.

    Like it or not, aerial lead ins are the only real choice, but if there are no power poles...
  • Unhelpful speculative discussion

    A disappointedly speculative discussion. Telstra/Bigpond already has experience with installing HFC underground cables into houses in mature neighbourhoods. In my case I’m taking inner Epping NSW where most houses are now nearly 100 years old. In 40 years, we have always had underground telephone wiring, but I doubt it that was always the case.

    When we were connected to Bigpond cable in the initial HFC rollout, a conduit was run down the side fence line then a short crossing between the fence and the box on the wall and the job was done. One man did the whole job and he had had to crowbar his way under the footpath because the Telstra/Bigpond digger was not available on the day. Hopefully NBN doing whole streets will be better organised. Installing at my place will be a breeze.