NBN technology 101

The NBN is using a mix of different technologies to get Australia connected to the new, super-fast broadband network.

Depending on the existing infrastructure in your area, they may use one of the “fixed line” connections, which are Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), Fibre to the Curb (FTTC), Fibre to the Node (FTTN), Fibre to the Building (FTTB) and Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC). Fixed Wireless and Sky Muster satellite technology is mostly used in regional areas, where homes and businesses are more spread out.

To see the planned technology in your location, you can check your address here.

What’s the difference?

The difference between the various NBN technologies comes down to how they use the existing network infrastructure to connect your business to the nearest fibre node or connection point.

FTTP means you have a physical line running from the node right up to your premises, FTTB is generally used to connect an apartment block or similar buildings, and HFC uses an existing ‘pay-TV’ or cable network.

With FTTC and FTTN, however, the line runs close to your premises – to either a small distribution unit usually found in a “pit” on the street, or a nearby node – and then the existing copper phone and internet network is used to take the NBN the rest of the way to your business.

If your local copper infrastructure isn’t in good condition, it could be affecting the performance of your service, explains Stephen Leonard, founder and principal consultant at Geeks on Tap.

“If you look inside a pit, you’ve got all these trunk cables coming out and this bird’s nest of wires going to these punchdowns and things like that, with waterproofing,” he says. “If the waterproofing’s broken down, I find complaints will go up according to weather events. We actually have a system that monitors the performance of our clients’ internet, and we get more alerts of internet problems during weather events on clients that have got poor copper infrastructure.”

How can I protect my business from outages?

Leonard says the NBN’s overall reliability is currently around “three nines”, or 99.98. Compare that to the existing landline telephone network, which is “hardly ever down” with a reliability of “five nines”, or 99.999.

“You’d be surprised – if you actually put the number of business hours a year and multiplied it by .02, you’ve got 36 hours of allowable downtime a year,” he explains. “So the whole industry is trying to get towards five nines, but at the moment it’s three nines chasing four.

“It might settle down to that eventually, but it will take another five years plus to iron out every single kink in a very, very big system.”

If the internet goes down, Leonard says he’ll get an immediate phone call from clients saying, “We can’t work!”, so he always recommends some form of back-up.   

“One thing you can do is a 4G back-up, or what we often do for clients who’ve got a time sensitivity to their business is set up two different connections with a special router in to load balance,” he says. “Then we can throw over automatically to the second one if there are any issues with the first. It’s like having the tunnel and the bridge in Sydney – if there’s an accident on the bridge, we can use the tunnel.”

A disruption to your service could be a “planned” outage, in which case you would be contacted in advance, or an “unplanned” outage – for example, where it is caused by an extraordinary weather event. Either way, your provider should be communicating with you to let you know what’s happening and when you can expect restoration.

“People are a lot more likely to trust you if you keep them informed about what’s going on, rather than leaving them second-guessing, so I think remaining really connected is an essential ingredient,” says Natalie Davies, general manager of customer service at Commander.

Since the internet is so critical to your ability to do business, the other top priority should be finding the speediest solution to disruption, she adds.

“The challenge in a small business is that you can’t afford to lose any customer, because every customer is so valuable,” Davies says. “So, in the event that there is a disruption to service, we know we need to mitigate it in the shortest amount of time possible, because we understand the impact – people need to be able to connect with you.”

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