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Our NBN


On the 23rd of March 2017 I attended a presentation by Anthony Copobianco, what follows is my interpretation of what might unfold, what the technologies might be and how it may effect your use of current mobile and fixed technologies at LTB. I am in no way connected to any Technology companies for financial gain, apart from being a bog standard Telstra landline customer and Vodaphone mobile customer. I obviously run the internet site you are on now and have an interest in how internet technologies function locally and nationally.

Why all the NBN fuss?

The Internet has opened up many new fields for people, in fact so many, that there are few aspects of modern life left untouched by its influence.  However we live in a competitive world and there are big advantages to be gained by tapping into this huge resource.  Much is made of financial capital involved in these projects, but what is intrinsically far more important to me is the intellectual capital built in the minds of the people that use it. This may mean anything from managing a huge company through to researching dog coats on eBay. Either way, big or small, people can research and publish to their hearts content these days without going to a large city library to get quick access to quality documentation. Unless we can provide avenues for our young people to get good, reliable access to the Internet, we will quickly move from being known as the "Lucky Country" to the "Dumb Country" in a short space of time.  This is especially critical to our our rural youth who are greatly disadvantaged in conveniently accessing the cultural resources of the major capital cities. 

Why do this here?

Designing this web page is my way of trying to come to grips with the internet possibilities and how it may effect me, and my friends, who live here in Lake Tyers Beach.
NBN Networking
The key information to glean from this diagram is that the devices we have commonly in our houses now, and the list grows longer and longer, can connect to the internet in a variety of ways.  This is very helpful most of the time, but very confusing when it appears as a tangle of jargon to the inexperienced consumer.

At the top of it all is the Internet (A) where the connectivity between a user and the rest of the world takes place.  This is a large and mysterious land only known in detail by the eggheads of this world.  Us mere mortals need only know a smattering of what really goes on to access it safely.

Where are we now?

Currently the Internet is locally accessed by people around Lake Tyers Beach through two main pathways,
(B) Landline (from the Toorloo Arm exchange through old copper line Telephone points)
(D) Telephony (from the Nowa Nowa tower and requires a SIM card in the device to verify your account)

Here I am using the Speed test by Ookla to check my speed as of 8 April 2017.
ADSL2+ Lake Tyers Beach 2017 Apr  ADSL2+ Lake Tyers Beach 2017 Apr
So you can see the current speeds I have been getting in non tourist times (although in first term school holidays, but not Easter) while on ADLS.  About 6Mbps download and 0.77Mbps upload is typical of my best results. The difference between downloads and uploads is a link back to the optimisation for web browsing introduced right back with 300/1200 modems! If you would like to do your pre-NBN speed tests then go to this site Speed test by Ookla.
 Try to do it when you typically expect to use the computer/phone so it is representative (ie not at 2am!). I am going to try to remember to do another one this Easter to see what happens.  (Damn forgot!!) My brother in Euroa regularly obtains 12Mbps on the same equipment for ADSL, so your results will no doubt vary too.  It is largely dependent on how far we are from the exchange, and I am at about the limit of 4-5km.

What is holding us back?

Development of the general public's access to the Internet began with Modem technology.  It used audio frequency acoustic couplers that actually clamped over the earpiece and microphone of an ordinary telephone.  They could manage 300 bit per second in both directions.  You could put your ear near the modem and hear the signals going past!!  Technology was so much more tangible back then (c. 1980's :-)).

However, right up to ADSL2+, we still had to allow a legacy 1970's phone to plug into the system and work.  The modem data signals were no longer audible, but retaining this compatibility, that is very old telephony technology  and new digital data formats on the one line, has been a major technology hiatus that, to some extent, also saddles the NBN now.  Huge long term challenges will arise by their insistence on recycling the old copper telephony lines for about 30% of subscribers.

Most people understand telephony, but many struggle in the digital world. Making telephony just a subset of what the digital services can offer, in a seamless way, is major goal of these digital upgrades.  In other words they want to set up a system that allows high quality digital signals, and after that the normal telephony requirements in the home can be easily replaced in digital way as they have been done for mobile phones.

For an excellent well written analysis on the NBN technologies at this time (May 2017) this article by PC and Tech Authority is highly recommended. The author digs down and explains the upper and lower limits to current NBNco strategies for providing Internet to your home or business and what the prospects are for improvement in the future.

What is NBN predicting for Lake Tyers Beach?

Consulting the NBN advice on what is predicted for LTB we are supposed to be all on a Fixed Tower Wireless service.  However the rep from Telstra said that was wrong (thank heavens!) and it appears the main part of the town is getting FTN and around the Toorloo Arm area will be getting the Fixed Tower Wireless service.  Check it using this NBN advice page here, but don't trust it too much.

My Guess at NBN at Lake Tyers Beach Apr 2016
The above outlines I have drawn on a Google Map image  (thanks Google!) show what I reckon it is is likely to happen and based on my interpretation Tony Copobianco's very general comments. From the Princes Highway to  Bream Road will be Fixed Wireless Tower and from Bream Road into the main LTB higher density premises will be Fibre to the Node.  One of the main challenges for the NBN across Australia will be to install technologies that will allow growth in what they can sell. Establishing technologies in areas that can not be easily upgraded to higher yielding customised contracts profitably will severely hamper NBN's growth, and in particular NBN's value, should the Government of the day decide to privatise it.  Keeping a relatively high density area like LTB as a landline system of some sort is likely to maximise downloads and services growth more than the limited bandwidth offered by Fixed Wireless.

What are the NBN Extras?

The NBN aim is to provide hi-speed broadband to every house and business in Australia.  To do that much of the existing technology, either the physical layers (eg fibre for copper, wireless for landline etc) or use different strategies with a mixture of old and new (eg putting Nodes in the street fed by fibre but using the existing copper to connect from Node to premises).  There is already a big tangle of Internet services we use already and not many people have much of an understanding of what is different between these services, and what is the same.  For example - is using a Dongle or mobile phone, as an Access Point the same thing? By necessity the NBN is introducing even more new services, most of which do what we have got now, only faster.

Fibre to the Node: The new bits between the Toorloo Arm Exchange and the rest of us is Fibre to the Node (FTN) and Fiber to the Premises (FTP).  In new estates in Bairnsdale for example they are getting the FTP when the infrastructure can be cleanly and efficiently distributed for the subscribers.  However in other areas, which would be the majority of Lake Tyers Beach, it will be more profitable to install mini-exchanges (or nodes) in the streets around the town, connect these mini-exchanges back to the main exchange with high speed optical fibre, and use the existing copper landline telephone wire for the last haul to the premises.  This strategy is where immediate profits rather than future proofing of our services dictate what will happen.

Accessing these services will also be through a modem (as with ADSL) that will decode the signals and also provide a router and authorisation to access the network with an ID and a password (no Telephony style SIM card required).  Most of these modems will generate a Wireless service in the house for devices that connect via so called "Wi-Fi", so the usual crop of devices in houses now, including laptops, desktops, tables, i-Pads, mobile-phones, VoIP and media boxes (and also games consoles, kids!!) can find a pathway through them to the Internet.

Fixed Wireless Towers: The NBN is bringing another pathway to the system and that is (C). The NBN Wireless Tower is similar to the Telephony access, but the towers are more numerous, and lower power, pretty much requiring direct line of sight (no hills or forest in between). The Tower Wireless access is connected 24/7 hence the title "Fixed Wireless", unlike the Telephony type access (especially when "roaming" between mobile phone towers seamlessly across the country) where the data is retrieved on a more "call by call" basis.  Our mobile phones are not "connected" all the time, only as needed by calling or polling, then getting information in packets. Even the ubiquitous Facebook app is not connected all the time (though it is designed to make you feel it damn well is!) , and is actually updating from the towers with regular polling of the closest tower for you. 

The number of permanent connections to a Tower is controlled by NBNCO and not allowed on an ad-hoc basis (which is how mobiles access their towers, indeed towers across Australia, with the same SIM Card credentials) to access any other tower.  Hopefully the NBN will not be tempted to saturate these Towers with too many subscribers, as the bandwidth available to the tower has an upper limit and as usage goes up, performance can drop off quickly.  Anyone who has experienced a sharp decline of access to Mt Nowa Nowa at Xmas/NY and Easter on their mobile phones will understand this principle. If there are not too many subscribers, on a given Tower, they are predicting maximum speeds of around 25Mb download and 5Mb upload.

 Fixed Wireless Towers will be promoted by NBN where placing a Node in the street, and using the existing copper telephone lines, will not be profitable enough. So low density housing/businesses in rural areas and fringes around towns can expect to see a lot of this.

Muster Satellite: The other other option not illustrated here is "Muster" Satellite.  This is very much restricted to people who are unreachable by any of the above technologies.  So remote Rural subscribers will be offered this, and again being another type of wireless system, bandwidth and total number of subscribers will define how successful people find this system.  It is possible people who cannot get a signal from the NBN towers could qualify for this service, however NBN people are quoting the Towers can reach people 14km away (probably clear line of sight I would guess) so people who can't get any access at all from the Fixed Wireless Towers will be very low.

Existing Data Routes

In many ways the NBN does not provide any new significant technology once the signal gets to your computer, dongle or phone.  The usual TCP-IP functions are there and your computer will just "see" a faster gateway to the Internet.  However as time goes on software developers will write more and more bandwidth hungry applications, and what is a data speed advantage now will probably be frittered away on faster and more complicated advertising rather than content that will do your brain any good.

Layer (E) illustrates that people have been accessing the Telephony route to the internet through USB and Wireless Dongles.  These are essentially using the Mobile Phone Towers for their Data stream that is either directly piped into the laptop or desktop with a USB connection or they relay the Mobile Phone style connection as a Wireless signal inside the house. Either way, these devices are functioning as a Modem and Router to produce standard household accessible data streams.

Layer (F) should be familiar to most people who have set up a home computer, and especially if you have a home wireless network operating as well.  Layer (H) is where the growth in the home is that is driving a lot of the growth in Internet demand.  It is the ever growing list of devices that use the Internet technologies to communicate with each other and the rest of the world.  Layer (G) is also interesting as mobile phones become more like computers every day (and desktop machines struggle to leverage the ease of use of the mobile phone). Mobile phones can tap into Wireless in the home very efficiently and it greatly improves the mobile phones' performance as a result, and at much lower cost (eg for upgrades and downloads of all sorts).  Optimising your use of this option can save having to have big expensive Data contracts with your phone company to cater for you mobile's hunger for data.  Your phone swaps over to the cheaper option automatically when you get home, nice!

Layer (I) is the standard range of Internet based applications we run on our computers now.  Layer (J) is what the current government politicians see as the main reason the man and woman in the street want the NBN for - Playing, or streaming, video content!!  Maybe the most bandwidth hungry but IMHO certainly not the most important.

Fabulous new technology, what on earth could go wrong?


Notably both these FTN or FTP systems are also susceptible to the downgrading of services by over subscription and bottle-necking on the outward going connections from the Toorloo Arm Exchange. For example, people who are currently using ADSL2+ experience severe downgrade of service during Xmas/NY and Easter holidays as the sheer volume of traffic is saturating the optical fibre leaving the Toorloo Arm Exchange (and going to the rest of the Internet). A comment by a former lessee of the Lake Tyers Beach Store reported that on the very heaviest days of trading during these previously mentioned holiday periods is when their EFT machine becomes extremely unreliable.

Unless the system has the potential to cope with the spikes of Internet demand during the busiest time of the year both sellers and buyers will continue to be extremely frustrated. Simply improving our local access to the main Exchange, by using FTN or FTP, will only exacerbate this bottle-necking, if there are not substantial upgrades to the Toorloo Arm Exchange up-line that will allow these peak periods, small as they are, to be coped with for a town that depends to a very high degree on tourism for its prosperity.

Never mind the quality, feel the width!!

Much hype is made of the new maximum speeds the new NBN technology will provide by shonky ISP's touting for business.  However the people who detect scams will be alerted, and probably alarmed, by the quoted "maximum speeds".  One of the most important aspects of Internet connections, that has been lost in the whole NBN debate, is the concept of reliability.  There is little point in paying a premium for a maximum speed if in reality the exchange you are connected to is bottle necked and chokes, becoming highly unreliable or unusable because it has limited access to bandwidth  (Eg authenticated sessions like commercial EFT transactions fail because they do not occur within a given time limit). Likewise offering "unlimited downloads" is also somewhat deceptive if in fact the download capacity is bottle-necked by the local network, and the ISPs know they will never have to fork out to cover for what they are spruiking no matter how hard the subscribers try (2am downloads anybody?). A nice tidy profit margin results, but is this deceptive advertising?

A major irritation is the claim by many ISP that they make "Unlimited Broadband" available.  This, in my opinion is deceptive, as the wording should be really "unrestricted access to broadband". That is, no data or speed caps within the ISP's billing system.  However that does not guarantee the ISP buying enough up-stream bandwidth to make the "unlimited" worth anything much, except maybe for a few at awkward hours of the morning. Something like if Toyota was advertising "Unlimited travel" and actually selling you an overpriced Echo.

Reliability is also a major problem with the FTN roll out as the last haul to the house using old telephone wires is usually the most unreliable, even with ADSL today.  For example older houses may have 2-3 extra old joins (previous repairs, alterations, upgrades?) between them and the sunken pits where the individual connections are joined to multi wire coaxial cables.  These connections could be well over 30years old, and by now probably badly degraded.  Likewise the pits in LTB where all these connections are made, are all too often filled with water during heavy rain and current ADSL users can testify that this already severely reduces reliability. It is understandable that profits would be quickly eroded if the work to redress these bad connections was tackled, however for many people they will be wondering why build an expensive system that is sabotaged by the old technology over the last 100metres (for example).  They will certainly be wondering where the past huge telecommunications profits have been squandered while they have been paying high rentals and usage costs, and their system was falling apart outside their door.

Euroa St Pole in Euroa Units Connections Moore St Fitzroy
Above was the condition of a connection pole in Anderson St in Euroa, and a junction box in a block of units of in Moore St (Fitzroy). These just highlight the challenges of relying on the previous landline infra structure to distribute a world class internet system such as the NBN claims to be.

Telstra connections Anderson St Euroa
More typically is probably the above technology, basically neat and operational, but never the less was probably "state of the art" c.1970, ie it was coaxial and underground, not strung between poles 3m in the air!!!.  

Current users of FTN in other areas are also expressing frustratingly slow speeds at times of peak demand to the point where saturation of the FTN system is actually producing slower speeds than ADSL2+.  This could be due to bottle necking at the street Nodes or further on past the main exchanges.  Either way, the hype about maximum speeds becomes somewhat academic because in practice they are rarely achieved, or only during inconvenient times eg at 2-3am!!  However many people will be relieved they are getting FTN, as it means existing landline access will be maintained and hopefully at some in the future sanity will prevail and people will get all their copper removed and have it replaced with FTP or at least FTC.

For us at LTB reliability and guaranteed minimum speeds to major centers such as Melbourne for us are the "elephants in the kitchen".  If this is not addressed in this NBN roll out then frustration levels will be sky high.  While conservative politicians defend this system by saying it will cope with two to three movies being down-loaded in an evening, it means "they just don't get it". If watching movies is the the most significant hallmark of the Australian psyche that we need to address, we are doomed!!!  The Internet is one of those great leveling systems that can enhance all mankind, so why are we given such a narrow interpretation of what people want to do with it?  No doubt the media moguls who hold the restricted television and movie rights will be worried about pirating, but when the fate of the world is at stake and we need as many well educated people as possible to help sort our boomer's mess out, worrying about one of the most resource wasteful industries in the world, the movie and TV industry, just does not cut it for me. To equate the potential of the Internet for country people as a video rental service is just plain insulting, and technologically myopic.

So what to do?

In my opinion FTP (everybody gets a superior upgrade from the exchange to the premises, not only faster, but more reliable) is preferable over FTN (Ferrari to the street corner, then into the horse and buggy to do the last 200m) , but while politics is preoccupied with private enterprise doing much of this marketing (who bow to shareholder demands for maximum financial returns), rather than government agencies (who could put in a superior service, more costly in the short term, but a better investment in the long term development of the nation) we are going to get this dogs-breakfast of a system.

I would suggest subscribing to the FTN system as it will provide much better reliability than relying on Telephony (eg Dongles or Mobile Phone) and while not as good as a complete FTP upgrade, leaves the door open for later technologies, such as Fibre to the Curb (FTC) to come along that will allow profitable upgrades either as individuals or communities to fibre to the premises.  Certainly this FTP upgrade would be extremely desirable for anyone who runs any sort of business these days.  Further improvements in our LTB system will depend on subscription rates and potential for profit.  If not many LTB people subscribe, it will be assumed we are "happy" with our bodged fibre->copper service and it will made to limp along indefinitely.

People with bad mobile phone connections around their house at the moment should be investigating using VoIP services, set up on their mobile phone that access the telephone system back through the FTN system.  This would mean conversations around the house would go via the Wi-Fi link back to the Toorloo Arm Exchange, rather than back to the Nowa Nowa tower.  Using other systems like Skype and Face Chat will also provide similar alternatives. They are all based on packets of data being shunted around and this allows any of this stuff to be sent in any direction, the Landline connections at home will be ultimately more reliable.

Disclaimer: While sharing my thoughts publicly I will not accept responsibility for losses or damage caused by people relying on this site for advice, and not seeking professional advice in the field of service you are purchasing or setting up.  With all your important decisions to please consult an expert of your choice in the respective field, and follow it.  If you are a professional in the field and feel my interpretation is confusing your customers please contact me so I can review my site.