NBN Co can't guarantee Libs' 50Mbps speed promise: report

NBN Co can't guarantee Libs' 50Mbps speed promise: report

Summary: The unpredictable performance of VDSL2 technology over Telstra's copper network means that NBN Co would be unable to guarantee customers the 50Mbps speeds promised by the new government, a leaked NBN Co report has warned.


NBN Co would be unable to offer a guaranteed 50Mbps broadband service under the Coalition's alternative model for the national broadband network, NBN Co has warned in confidential briefing papers prepared for incoming communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The limitation is due to the unknown performance characteristics of the VDSL2 technology upon which the Coalition's broadband policy is based. VDSL2's real-world performance is based on the still-unknown condition of Telstra's copper network and the distance of any particular subscriber from the closest network node.

Rather than guaranteeing 50Mbps, internal report warns, NBN Co's 'best effort' service would be the only way to guarantee high speeds under FttN. Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Secondarywaltz

These performance characteristics, the report warns, mean customers using the Coalition's NBN model could only realistically be offered two guaranteed speeds: 12Mbps (with 1Mbps uploads) and 25Mbps (with 5Mbps uploads).

“NBN Co would likely deliver a reduced number of speed tiers,” the report says. “In keeping with the current product construct, there would likely be two speed tiers on FTTN.”

A third, higher-speed service could also be offered, but it would not be able to be sold as a guaranteed 50Mbps service but rather would be a "best effort" service in which day-to-day speeds would vary widely depending on each customer's individual situation.

The new government's plan will involve the installation of fibre to neighbourhood 'nodes' – approximately 60,000 of which will be installed around Australia's suburbs under the new government's plan.

Actual speed between the node and customer premises will depend on the condition of the Telstra copper network that has been described as “dilapidated” by industry figures but is being talked up by Telstra and, surprisingly to some, by NBN Co chair Ziggy Switkowski, who will lead NBN Co's renegotiations with the government over access to the network.

Download speeds under the Coalition's FttN network could range up to 100Mbps in a “very limited number of premises”, the report advises, "with a larger percentage of premises being more likely able to achieve 50/10Mbps speeds subject to being close enough (300-400 metres) to the node."

Experts have said the optimal maximum distance to the node is 500 metres, which under NBN Co's modelling would leave many customers outside of the 50Mbps service radius.

Even reaching the 50Mbps threshold would be difficult in practice given the many physical limitations of Telstra's copper network, the report warns: “In order to rollout a VDSL2 network with minimum target speeds of 50 Mbps, significant network remediation will need to occur in the copper plant including the removal of bridge taps, poor joints and any other physical impairment that impacts performance.”

The extent, nature, cost and timeframe for this remediation is still unknown and has been identified one of twelve major obstacles that could prevent the Coalition government from hitting its rollout targets.

Customers using the Coalition's NBN model could only realistically be offered two guaranteed speeds: 12Mbps (with 1Mbps uploads) and 25Mbps (with 5Mbps uploads).

One resident of inner-west Sydney apartment block Sydney Park Village (SPV) recently demonstrated to Turnbull his FttN service's peak download speeds of 49Mbps over FttN, with the nearest node around 100m away.

He had previously subscribed to a 100Mbps service and, by some reports, had clocked SpeedTest.net results on the order of 92Mbps download/39Mbps upload – but subsequently downgraded his plan to 50Mbps.

Another SPV resident said he was getting 27Mbps/16Mbps SpeedTest results over the same infrastructure, highlighting the variable nature of actual delivered speeds.

The inability to guarantee 50Mbps services would impact on NBN Co's relationships with the retail service providers (RSPs) that will buy its wholesale products and sell them to retail NBN customers, the report also warned.

The lack of a guaranteed 50Mbps tier, it said, meant “it is likely that [guaranteed service levels] will need to be reduced from the current standards negotiated with the industry via the Wholesale Broadband Agreement, due to the relative age of copper compared to a newly-installed fibre access network.”

“Anything other than 'best effort' commitments could only be determined following field trials and careful measurements of the performance achieved. However... NBN Co is not able to confirm what higher speed tiers, if any, could be offered under an FTTN architecture until an extensive trial is completed.”

NBN Co CTO Gary McLaren recently confirmed that laboratory trials of VDSL2 technology had been a success, although he could not predict the speeds that would ultimately be available to end users.

The Coalition's broadband policy has promised to deliver 25Mbps to all Australian premises by 2016 and 50Mbps to 90 percent of premises by 2019. 

The report, obtained by Fairfax Media and ZDNet Australia, was prepared by NBN Co during the caretaker period at the request of the then Department of Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) for the 'blue book' handover briefing given to the incoming minister. Its release has been blocked by Turnbull and the now Department of Communications despite numerous Freedom of Information requests for its release.

* Updated to include additional information about end-user speeds obtained by SPV residents.

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Fiber, Government AU, Telcos, Telstra


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • Oh dear already not looking good for the coalition clowns patchwork plan. They cant even guarantee the mediocre speeds they promised. 5mbps upload? They think this is acceptable in 2016... well so long as they get it all done in the next 26938 hours we can all be happy they saved us a few billion we then have to spend to in addition to billions more to fix their bloody mess that could have been avoided by doing it right the first time.
    Hubert Cumberdale
    • Oh dead Lord

      ...You've gone to hours now. Can you at least make it followable and use Mondays instead? 157 or whatever that is. Less updates to keep track of :)

      Interesting chat with the local member last week, when the 270k petition was handed to her. Sharon Bird, former regional comms minister. She seemed confident that Turnbull wasnt as stupid as he seemed, and that he might not be as far from endorsing FttP as people think.

      To put it another way, what if all these delays in getting on with the job are just a way of getting beyond some point of no return? Then "reluctantly" being "forced" into Labor's model. Even if they have to remodel for FttN, by their own admission nothing will be started before roughly this time next year, in which the FttH rollout should continue as planned. Which might mean another million or so houses (or more), and the FttP footprint getting closer to 40% when you factor in greenfields and the expected necessary upgrades.

      What if it delays a little longer, and nothing gets moving before Parliment finishes for the year? Pushing it out an extra month or 4, or effectively into 2015... Not publishing the review until the end of the year plays right into that, whereas releasing it next Monday means it can be debated before they break for the year.

      It could all still be just a game that ends up getting a FttH result anyhow.
      • The problem with that way of thinking is ...

        The problem with that way of thinking is that this is the Liberal party. If they see that there is going to be discernable improvement over ADSL 2+, they'll likely sell the NBN off.
        • True

          Normally, I'd agree wholeheartedly, but I'm looking specifically at Malcolm Turnbull here, and his role in all this. I think back to the original manifest given to him by Abbott to basically destroy the Labor rollout, and how far we've come since then. I have zero doubt that significant change is down to Turnbull alone. So how much further can he go, and what would it take to get there?

          And when a Labor MP with considerable experience in the area thinks he still has a positive role to play in getting to FttH, its a good thing. Isnt it?

          With the end game being FttH, I can see compromises happening with the Liberal stance to get there, and claim credit. That doesnt mean they wont sell it off later, but getting to the point where its worth selling off might be something they think about.

          The Liberal policy of selling off assets, and FttH dont need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, if they can somehow speed up the process by a year or two, it probably works in their favor. And all that might need is adopting something like FttP instead of FttN.

          End of the day, until they actually start rolling out FttN, I can see the potential for them to backflip. Sadly, more than once :(
      • Hackett would suggest you're not far off it

        Surely when combine Turnbull's knowledge of the sector (I would hope this would make him pro-fiber and anti-copper) with the appointment of a staunch FTTP advocate in Simon Hackett to the board of NBNCo, it's only a matter of time before the Noalition do yet another backflip (although this one will be welcomed) and back FTTP in some form. One can only imagine that Turnbull is positioning for such a thing somehow.

        Not only that, going FTTP will be a massive vote winner for the Noalition. I reckon it's simply a matter of them trying to figure out how to go back on their work without, yet again, appearing to have lied to the electorate.
    • The LIBS have no idea.

      Unfortunately the LIBS only do things by half. Their FTTN plan is doomed as it proceeds, we need a network that will future proof Australia. Have a look at the attached youtube comparison explanation and I'm sure that all the non believers will be converted. If the LIBS have any common sense at all, they will choose fiber to the home. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdgYaXD-Qz0
    • Brilliant1

      I think it an Abbott act of Genius. He'll bury the rollover Turnbull (who does know better) and Ziggy Switkowski (who definitely knows better) at the same time. He'll kill the only real alternative to his leadership and the guy who forked the Howard Government when Telstra's corroded copper was flogged to the Australian Taxpyer. Love it. Yes we'll have to pay to fix it all - but Milne has approved an increase in borrowings so what the ...? Who cares?
      Dr. Ghostly
  • The only question left is

    Will turnbull's review of which strategy us best just be for show or will he actually admit copper will be a huge waste of money in the long run?
  • Turnbull is in a mess now

    The Half-NBN can only deliver a guaranteed 25Mbps download.

    Current ADSL2+ already can provide up to 20Mbps download.

    In both cases, the above figures rely on distance from the telephone exchange or node. For all the billions of dollars they will spend on linking fiber-to-copper, the end result is only a marginal gain from what we already have.

    Turnbull is making life hard for himself. The longer this strings out (so to speak), the more damage it does to his political reputation.

    Turnbull should just quickly revert back to 100% fiber, and then everyone will be happy. He can claim some cost reductions by using better tunnelling/piping techniques. He could also reduce costs by stringing the fiber to street poles, though the downside of that would be lots of outages when storms hit.

    Hopefully local councils will object to those large and hot node boxes that will have to be installed on almost every street corner.
    • Assuming you're right...

      ...how easy is it for Australian politicians to admit that they were wrong when they made their campaign promises, so they have to do things differently than they had intended now that they're in office? Given the party-oriented nature of British-style parliamentary politics, I'm guessing that it's a lot harder than it is for US politicians to do so and it's not at all easy for them.

      It's one thing for an individual politician to admit he was wrong; quite another for the leadership of a political party to do so (another reason why I hate partisan politics).
      John L. Ries
  • Everyday...

    Must be a slow news year...

    I'm subscribed to the ZDNet Tech Today email and almost everyday the featured article has something to do with the NBN.

    Seriously, have you not got anything better to write other than complaining about the way the NBN is heading? I can understand news about significant updates to the progress (or even lack of) to the NBN. But it feels like groundhog day the way the articles keep popping out.
  • Ours is faster and cheaper broadband !

    Can someone explain why in parliament our finance minister Mathias Cormann is asserting over and over again that their NBN solution will deliver faster and cheaper broadband solution over ALP's.

    So exactly how much faster than 100Mbps will it be ?

    Why are they deliberatelly misleading the Australian people.
    • Simple

      They are Conservative LNP politicians and is is an integral aspect of their nature
      Abel Adamski
      • Re:Simple

        Malcolm's report could show if they are misleading people or not....shame they are burying it...makes them look guilty of it, even if they aren't.
  • No chance for city fringe

    I live 30K from Melbourne GPO on a road 5k long with 25 houses. At 4k from the exchange I get 6mbps best but people a coupleof k further can't get ADSL at all. It would take 10 nodes to get the whole road within 500m of a node, 5 if 1K was enough copper for 25mbps. Hardly economic for 25 households. I'd guess fttp would be cheaper.

    Most likely scenario is the exchange is rechristened our node, maybe vdsl2 works a bit better than ADSL2 and the government makes broadband performance information secret so we can't tell anyone broadband in a capital city fringe is rubbish. It seems to be good at secrecy, saves on the lying
    • I feel your pain

      I feel your pain. I speak to people in your situation at work.

      We can only help that the liberals see sense in that their plan is actually going to cost more in the long run. Copper needs to be maintained and in some areas replaced. Furthermore its not designed for the purpose it was intended.

      VDSL can deliver fast speeds but, you'd need to be living 1.2km in cable length or less from the exchange or node. plus you'd need to maintain the copper network.... its a big mess.
  • Getting The Mushroom Treatment

    Keep 'em in the dark & feed lots of BS.

    Just like the boats, spying on Indonesia & east Timor, information on the NBN has now become subject to "National Security."
    Fairfax Media can expect a raid from ASIO at any time now in an effort to stop those pesky leaks.
  • Fiber to the Gate

    Fiber to the gate would be a good compromise between fiber to the home and fiber to the node, saving $$ for the Coalition and putting in the future infrastructure this country needs. Make it easy to bridge the gap from gate to home - Wireless? WiGig?
  • The coalitions plan has made no sense from the beginning

    I work in the industry and I can tell you that the speeds that are being offered by this version of the NBN are at the end of the day pretty much no better than the top speeds that people experience currently over the existing copper network through ADSL and ADSL2+ in metro areas.

    The copper was not designed to transmit data. The speeds get lost over distance because of the quality of the cable which in some areas are in pretty rough shape.

    Its going to be a quarter of the speed for three quarters the price under the coalitions plan.

    This fibre to the node idea will only need to be replaced down the track. The copper network will cost more to maintain than starting a new more efficient network.

    Do it once. Do it right with fibre optic.
  • FTTN = Farcical Fud to Nowhere

    "..can only guarantee 12Mbps (with 1Mbps uploads) and 25Mbps (with 5Mbps uploads).."

    What an absolute joke!

    Those speeds are woefully inadequate now and have no place at all in the future.

    Even some third world countries already have better speeds than this.