NBN battery backup may be opt-out

NBN battery backup may be opt-out

Summary: After resoundingly negative feedback, the government may consider letting National Broadband Network (NBN) customers opt-out of the mandatory battery backup for the network termination unit (NTU), a parliamentary committee on the NBN has heard today.


After resoundingly negative feedback, the government may consider letting National Broadband Network (NBN) customers opt-out of the mandatory battery backup for the network termination unit (NTU), a parliamentary committee on the NBN has heard today.

In the event of power outages, analog phones attached to the fixed copper line currently draw power from the exchanges in order to ensure people are still able to make phone calls. A similar system is not feasible for the NBN, so NBN Co has committed to rolling out battery backup units with every NTU to ensure that if the power is cut off, customers will still be able to make phone calls for up to five hours.

NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley today told the parliamentary committee on the NBN chaired by Independent MP Rob Oakeshott that customers in the first release sites of the NBN were resoundingly displeased with the battery backups.

"The reaction from end users to the battery backup unit is quite negative," he said.

The reason for this, Quigley said, was because the unit itself was bigger than the actual NTU.

"It's not so much that there's a battery there, it's the size of the unit. These days a network terminating device is quite small," he said. "The battery back up unit is bigger than the actual active electronics."

This made it an eyesore for customers who had their NTUs installed inside the home. Quigley said his personal preference would be for customers to be allowed to opt out of having the battery installed because many people wouldn't need the battery for their phone service.

"I think there's also a recognition that a smaller percentage of people have a true analog phone over the copper network that isn't cordless of some sort or [voice over IP]," he said, adding that it was ultimately a policy decision for the Federal Government.

"We're supplying information to the department on various costs and technical issues and people's response in the field to the battery backup issue," he said.

Deputy secretary of infrastructure with the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Daryl Quinlivan, told the committee that it was considering different options, but said that if an opt-out system was implemented then it would be important to ensure that customers knew the implications of not having the battery backup.

"This is a live issue, there are a range of options and views. The one thing that is essential in all of them is that people are able to make an informed decision," he said.

For now, NBN Co will continue to install all battery units until the government makes a decision. When a battery requires replacing it will be up to the retail service provider rather than NBN Co to provide a replacement.

On the question of the cost of running a phone service on the NBN, Quigley pointed to Primus' voice-only product at $24.95 per month, stating that the basic NBN Co offering provides access seekers with the ability to offer voice services at roughly the equivalent cost that Telstra offers today.

Roll-out plans and fibre to the node

Quigley also indicated at today's committee hearing that the 12-month roll-out schedule will be released next week.

"We will be releasing, next week in fact, some further details on everything we're doing for the next 12 months," he said.

This document will indicate where construction on the NBN will begin over the next year. While it will be specific to suburb, Quigley clarified that it wouldn't pinpoint every house to get fibre.

"The issue we have is, we can't establish precisely a footprint down to the premise until we do what is called the network design document ... that goes street by street, premise by premise," he said. "Until you're really 12 months from turning on services, you don't lock down the boundary, on a premise level."

Quigley also once again sparred with Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the issue of whether the NBN could be scaled back to a fibre-to-the-node project in some areas.

Quigley told the shadow minister that a fibre-to-the-node project would be incredibly difficult in Australia, as Telstra would still own the last run of copper from the node to the home, and that in order to achieve the speeds Turnbull had suggested — around 80 megabits per second — it would require the installation of many more cabinets.

"If you want to provide reasonably high speeds ... these are just very, very difficult to apply in Australia," he said. "You would need a huge number of cabinets to get those kinds of speeds.

The chief executive has offered to spend half a day with Turnbull to explain why the proposal wouldn't suit Australia, to which Turnbull responded on Twitter that he would be "delighted to do so".

Topics: Broadband, Hardware, Mobility, NBN


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Cant say I really care for the battery backup, I have a UPS. Everyone with a computer should have one of these if only for the surge protection.

    As for explaining why a FTTN patchwork wouldn't suit Australia to Turnbull this just seems to be a fruitless exercise. Quigley will explain it for 1/2 a day and then Turnbull will spend the next day denying the points he made.
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • Whilst opting out of the battery might seem like a harmless idea with most people probably thinking I will just use mobile, in the unlikely event of a serious catastrophe, the mobile networks will become extremely congested, and a functioning landline will become essential.
    • Not much point in having a battery backup unless you still have an older true analog phone tucked away somewhere.
      Most newer wireless/digital handsets in popular use require mains power.
      • Just ensure your cordless has a battery backup system or buy a $20 batteryless standard phone from Dick Smith or something.
        With the Victorian Earthquake this week we were still able to use the mac book because the router had a battery backup, but the mobile towers were conjested...
  • What sort of palooka wouldn't take the battery, power outage during a natural disaster and you can't call emergency services...

    Oh but it might look less pretty they say. idiots.
  • Something I've never had explained to my satisfaction. Is the battery life 5 hours of talk time, or 5 hours of downtime? I may have missed an memo somewhere, but I've never seen specifically if its one or the other.

    If its 5 hours of downtime, thats somewhere in the ballpark of useless, but if its 5 hours of talk time, then that should be more than enough to cover any loss of power. Its not like you'd be spending that 5 hours chatting away with friends, is it...

    For major downtimes, like the Brissy floods at the beginning of the year for example, then the general flood of information should be enough for people to get the message that EVERYONES hurting.
    • I'm pretty sure they said talk time in the bus. You should be able to look it up via the NBN website or give them a buzz..
  • Having been through cyclone Yasi earlier this year, and without power for 4 days, I would quite happily forgo the battery backup.

    The NextG towers stood up very well to both the cyclone, as well as the heavy usage afterwards. Sure, they were loaded pretty heavily, and after the 3rd day some of the towers ran out of battery backup themselves and the service got a bit wobbly. However, if you were prepared to wait for a signal, you could easily make voice calls and send txt messages. Heck, even the internet was functional for the first few days. Recharging the phone was the biggest concern, but that was easily sorted by using the car.

    Our landline, however, lasted a day before dropping off completely. I don't know whether the exchange ran out of power generation/backup, or if it was a cable problem. Either way, it was largely useless. And we were one of the few houses in our street who actually had a corded phone.

    Based on our experience, I'd be much more comfortable with a mobile phone in a disaster scenario, than a landline with a battery backup. Rather than spend the money on providing everyone with a battery backup unit, use that same cash to make the cell towers more resilient.
    • interesting hands-on point matt6, cheers.

      from my perspective it once again proves the complementary nature of fixed/mobile and just why we need both forms of technology.

      fixed is for the hard slog (still accounts for 91% of data, according to the ACCC latest figures) and mobile for out and about and in this instance a more suitable device in an emergency.
    • See my earlier post above. Vic had that 5.4 the other day and towers were conjested.
      Mac Book via battery backed up router, told us what the hell was going on...
  • Even if someone opts-in, the SLA battery it will probably be long dead by the time they need it for an emergency. I doubt the NTU has battery management to warn users to run down and buy a replacement battery. Wait a minute! I have a telemarketing idea. "Our tests show your battery is losing capacity. Give me your credit card number and I will send you a new battery, normally $85 but for this week you will have it for just $70 plus shipping".
    • Very cynical, and you obviously didn't check it out on the NBN bus.
      Page 8.
      It is standard for everyone. But you can 'opt out'
  • Whilst a small amount of people have a true corded phone active. I think a much larger percentage would have an old corded phone somewhere in their house which they can plug in in an emergency, are putting themselves at risk.

    Even homeland security http://www.dhs.gov/xcitizens/editorial_0711.shtm suggest everyone should have one ready. (Tip #4)
  • Even if it was 5 hours standby time, which would probably be 30 minutes or so talk time, this would be more than enough in an emergency situation. You can use that time to arrange alternative accommodation, or contacting emergency services should something happen. In situations like that, I would definitely prefer function over form any day. It's better to have something there just in case, than not have something there when you need it most.

    The problem in this situation would be the infirm, the elderly and others who basically require 24/7 contact with emergency services. Any viable solution in these matters, such as larger capacity batteries, dedicated lines and the like, would burden them with an unreasonable but necessary expense. And leads to the question: who would pay the bill for these expenses?
  • @Techkid: Who's paying for the infrastructure to power the necessities for that group you mention now? (things like home dialysis units, etc I guess)
    • To be entirely honest, I don't know. I guess it would either be paid for by the patient or their family outright if they can afford it, or under some sort of medical benefits scheme if they can't. I've never asked.

      I guess it would be safe to assume that retirement villages and nursing homes would have larger capacity batteries for people in their care, but I don't know the full details by any means.
      • most hospitals and nursing homes would be run from back up generators in the case of an emergency, no that fact is kind mute
  • Any debate about the battery backup is pointless until NBN providers actually provide phone services over the voice ports on the NTU. I recently connected to the NBN and scoured all the registered RSP's trying to find one who provided telephony over the NBN ports. The only one was Primus and it was very expensive, unfortunately I was lied to by Optus regarding the use of this port and signed up with them only to discover that the phone service was voip over the (non-battery backed) internet.
    • They are waiting for more homes to be connected first.
      18 months after installation in one area, the copper network should be switched off.
      (It may be a little longer in the fist part of the roll out if a few things get delayed).
  • OH! BTW iPrimus does NOT offer a phone only service on the NBN contrary to what the pollies (and NBN chief) would like to believe.

    The more important point is whether the copper will be removed after the NBN is installed in an area?. It seems that nobody is prepared to put their name to a decision on this.