Turnbull, NBN Co ignored Telstra real-world FttN speed warnings

The Department of Communications and Telstra both warned Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and NBN Co that the heralded speed test results in the Umina fibre-to-the-node trial may not represent speeds in a full FttN rollout.

NBN Co and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull declined to include advice from the Department of Communications and Telstra that the speeds achieved in the Umina fibre-to-the-node (FttN) National Broadband Network (NBN) trial may not reflect real-world results.

Earlier this month, NBN Co stated that existing premises outside of the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC), fixed-wireless, or satellite footprints, and those not covered by the existing fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) rollout, would likely get fibre-to-the-node services under the government's new mandated "multi-technology mix" model for the NBN, aimed at delivering the NBN at a lower cost.

In August, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull was on hand in Umina on the Central Coast of New South Wales, talking up the results of an early trial of fibre-to-the-node technology for a number of customers, ahead of a wide-scale rollout of fibre to the node when NBN Co has completed negotiations with Telstra over access to existing copper lines. For the trial, NBN Co used spare copper pairs provided by Telstra out to several premises in the area from an Alcatel-Lucent node.

The speed-test results provided an average download speed over a period of a week of approximately 98Mbps down, and upload speeds of 33Mbps over a copper line length of 190 metres.

Under Freedom of Information, ZDNet sought additional detail around how NBN Co and the minister obtained the speed-test results as part of the Umina trial. ZDNet obtained several emails, but not the raw line test data as a result of the request.  The raw line test data was not released, because it was provided to NBN Co and the minister directly from Telstra as NBN Co and the minister's office developed the press release to show the speed results from the trial.

In one email, both Telstra and the Department of Communications warned the government that the announcement should include a disclaimer that the speed-test results may not be reflected in the speeds that customers get in the real world.

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Image: Screenshot by Josh Taylor/ZDNet

"I've had a chat to Telstra. I think it appropriate to say the following in a disclaimer: 'These are trial results delivered over a limited number of lines, and may not represent the real-world experience of all FttN customers across a fully loaded network'," a manager of the Department of Communications' Technology Advisory Unity told the minister's office and NBN Co.

Both of the press releases from Turnbull and NBN Co from the Umina pilot, however, leave out this disclaimer.

"These results are an early indication that the NBN rollout will achieve the government's commitment to upgrading Australia's broadband sooner, at less cost to taxpayers and therefore more affordably to consumers," Turnbull states in his release.

NBN Co's press release does include a disclaimer that end-user speeds may depend on "factors outside our control", like equipment, software, broadband plans, and retail service provider network design, but the release does not mention the impact of a fully loaded FttN network provided by NBN Co on the speeds achieved.

A spokesperson for NBN Co told ZDNet that the disclaimer was left off because it was known that it was simply a trial of the FttN technology.

"We didn't include a disclaimer about the real-world tests on the basis the entire press release was about a trial of the FttN technology. If we were trying to position this as anything but a limited trial, clearly we would disclose such detail," the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the minister had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.