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NBN and the ever shifting goalposts

Replying to our reader James' question, Graeme discusses the different types of NBN connectivity types, and the issues they cause.

Back prior to the NBN, it was all pretty simple. You had essentially two Broadband connectivity types: Ethernet (usually on the back of a Telstra or Optus Cable connection) or ADSL.

From a manufacturers’ perspective, it was also relatively straight-forward. Any manufacturer wanting to connect their device to Telstra’s copper network (remembering that the vast majority of ADSL services, especially in the early days, were all using Telstra’s wholesale DSL service, since they owned the vast majority of the copper in the ground!) needed to pass a set of criteria which was coined IP1149, in its various iterations, as well as the mandatory standards from an electrical safety perspective, rolled up as C-Tick, and A-Tick.

It cost quite a bit to get certified to these standards, well over $15,000 per device, but then you knew it would work, and would work across the nation. In fact, type “IP1149” into Google and you can still see the lists of once-certified products available on the Telstra website, along with the publicly available 55-page document that outlined the test criteria themselves.

Then, the NBN was announced. Initially, life was good. Because the rollout was to be fibre-based, this essentially meant that Ethernet-based Routers would become a much larger percentage than the historic 80:20 split that had been in place for years between ADSL Modems and Ethernet Routers. Because ADSL would be transitioned out and replaced with Fibre to the Home (FTTH), whereby the resulting connection to your Router would be a simple Ethernet cable (often some confusion occurs here, as Fibre does indeed come into the home from the street, but connects to a Fibre NTU (Network Termination Unit) - usually on the outside wall of your home where it would be ‘terminated’ - and is delivered into the home itself as a single Ethernet cable to connect to your Router) this meant that it would relatively easy for manufacturers to dispense with the ‘modem’ itself within the devices, and the somewhat difficult testing against the IP1149 criteria.

It would mean cost savings for consumers too, due to removal of the relatively costly modem chipset in each DSL device, and simplify the installation experience markedly as all connection types would be the same.

However, as we all know, the government of the day changed, and soon after the NBN announced its revised strategy of using a “multi-technology mix”, essentially meaning that, to deliver substantial cost savings to tax-payers as well as speed up the overall NBN rollout, that the ‘best’ technology for each deployment would be utilised to deliver a broadband connection to an individual’s home or business. A combination of technologies would be used to achieve this, in some instances a FTTH  service, resulting in an Ethernet connection being the Router connection point as described above, but also Fibre to the Node services (i.e. a box out in a nearby street, within which Fibre coming from the exchange essentially connects to the existing copper telephone wires from your house to deliver VDSL services into your home), HFC (the old Telstra and Optus Cable networks), Fixed Wireless (Ethernet services delivered over a Satellite service, with a big dish on your roof) along with variants of all of these.

The big difference this time though, from a manufacturers perspective, there was no standard to follow, only a loose set of points, which were updated randomly, and with, at least as far as D-Link was concerned anyway, little to no consultation.

As you can probably imagine, it’s not just a 2-3-month task to pull together chipsets and all the various components that go into building a new Modem or Router, in fact if you can do it in 12 months you’re doing well, and often manufacturers would spend a year building a product only to find that the goalposts had changed again, effectively rendering the product obsolete sometimes before it even launched. Not only that, but products that were ‘NBN-Ready’ based off the early iteration of the NBN that did not require modems, suddenly became a customer service nightmare, because the ‘new’ version of the NBN ‘may’ need a modem built-in to support FTTN connections.

So, it was some sense of relief when I read that the government - to help consumers get the best experience from their NBN service - is talking about putting together a set of criteria for manufacturers to work towards... it’s just about 4 years too late...

Graeme Reardon is the Managing Director of D-Link Australia and ANZ. Ask Graeme about networking, the internet, getting the most from your gear and this wonderful digital world we live in. Each month we’ll choose one for Graeme to answer.

View this article on the PC Tech Authority site

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