NBN goes ‘back to the future’ with copper rollout

One of the biggest knocks against the Coalition’s National Broadband Network (NBN) is that it in many neighbourhoods, it chose to stick with the old copper network instead of fibre optic networks.

While this decision saved money in the short-term, it also has limited the NBN’s speeds, as well as reduced its reliability.

Strangely, the NBN continues to roll-out copper-based broadband connections, instead of upgrading new areas to fibre:

As of March 3, a total of 49,620 kilometres of copper had been bought for use in the NBN’s footprint, NBN Co told The New Daily.

The cost of the copper is “commercial in confidence”, an NBN Co spokesperson said, but based on figures provided to the Senate in 2017 could now exceed half a billion dollars.

Nearly 7000 kilometres of new copper cabling was purchased in the six months to March alone (up from 42,990 kilometres in October), with the $51 billion NBN rollout due to be completed by the end of the June…

“The vast majority of copper we purchase today is for use in our FTTC network,” the NBN Co spokesperson said.

Veteran communications analyst, Paul Budde, has slammed the rollout of copper as “a waste of money and a waste of time”:

“If you have fibre all the way to the kerb, why on Earth wouldn’t you go for the last bits of fibre to the house?’’…

“If you want to future proof the network … then why not put fibre in? You have to dig up the ground, that’s the biggest cost whether [you’re installing] copper or fibre”…

If you put fibre in, you are future proof. And if you put copper in, then it’s quite possible that in five or 10 years you have to dig it up again and put fibre in.’’

Associate professor in network engineering at RMIT university, Mark Gregory, agrees that the copper rollout is ridulous:

“Copper-based technologies are already effectively obsolete’’…

“If they’re doing lead-in cables for FTTC, they should just simply be doing FTTP. The cost would be the same.”

It’s hard to disagree. While there was a case for utilising existing copper networks as a cost saving measure (i.e. to avoid digging up the ground), there is no justification with respect to greenfield areas where the ground needs to be dug up anyway. Why not just install fibre and future-proof the NBN?

The whole NBN project has become a farce.

Unconventional Economist
Latest posts by Unconventional Economist (see all)


    • They’re doing the same with the submarines. Taking out 21st century nuclear reactors and putting in WW1 diesels and batteries.

      The new subs are slower and more vulnerable, but they are more expensive – GDP++

    • This.
      You could dig the ground up and lay a dog turd but it would still be a huge boost to GDP – such is the BS that is the GDP calculation.

    • Rudd wanted fibre. Turnburn stepped in and mandated crappy NBN network infrastructure.The max speeds on copper is 100 Mbps. Most Australians will be stuck with this speed for decades.

      I recently switched to 1,000 Mbps because I’m in a new estate. The speed is INCREDIBLE. 90% of Australian’s will never experience this. I downloaded a full HD 1080p movie in 10 seconds. When I play 4K movies on Youtube using the slider, it’s like as if I’m watching videos locally.

      I’m usually a Liberal voter but I voted Labor during the NBN build because I wanted to see it through. Unfortunately, most voters got conned by Murdoch press and the Liberals won. The rest is history. Australians got what they deserved.

      Murdoch wanted a crippled Internet so his media empire (Foxtel, Kayo) would thrive. Too bad he didn’t factor in the Netflix effect.

  1. by the next election we will have worse things to worry about then upgrading the rest of the system so no one will bother to put it into their policies and we will be stuck with this crap for years still.

  2. darklydrawlMEMBER

    To put that 49,620 km of copper cable into perspective – Mainland Australia’s coastline is 35,877 km long. Just WTF are they doing with that much copper cable?

    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      Scored almost a Grand on my last scrap Copper/Brass run.
      6.80 a Kg for the copper and and 5.60 for the brass.
      3/4 of it was Brass now I do mostly maintenance,…used to be the opposite when I worked for builders.

  3. Upgrading everyone to FTTP would have been an ideal stimulus programme. Only use Australian citizens or PRs – pay them what they have payed the 457s plus half the dole.

    • Pfh007.MEMBER

      It would have been a great project especially if they took the opportunity to put all the power lines underground as well.

      • The Traveling Wilbur

        There is no end to the bizzare and unusual things we agree on it would seem. Underground power cables.

        But think of the council workers and excavator operators!
        But yes… absolutely. Bury em. Victorian style. (they were good at drains)

        Imagine a peoples’ bank with individual accounts powered by underground cables fed with solar generated energy. How good would that be?
        I guess we just have to wait for that until it is economically feasible for the pre-charged fabricated in China battery packs that would provide such inputs to be shipped from there to NSW.

  4. Pfh007.MEMBER

    FTTC is fine.

    Our connection has been rock solid since it went live and setting it up was a 15 minute job max.

    The last few metres of copper make little difference.

    Getting inside existing houses to run fibre is a monumental pain in the butt as installers have to negotiate with every precious painful homeowner and tightwad landlord.

    The mystery is why do they need so much copper for FTTC.

    As the name suggests it should be Fibre to the Curb and for those connections there already is copper from the curb to inside the house. Hard to believe that the copper inside the property is much of a problem. Most of the bad copper is in the long lengths between the exchanges and the nodes and from the nodes to the pit outside the house.

    • I agree with you on getting the cable from the curb into to the house, these so called experts have no idea..

      1 of the worst I seen was a client moved into a unit earlier in the year & wanted me to move the fibre box as it was installed above the washing machine. (Told him to call the NBN)

      The only place I could see it going was on the second storey & that would of required scaffolding etc to lift the tin roof.

    • What a load of total garbage.

      FTTC requires the same amount of physical hardware that everything else connected to the NBN does, the only difference is the cable running from the street to your home.

      The last few metres of copper make little difference.

      Further the difference in speed is hundreds of gigs compared to megs – you don’t know the difference because you don’t understand technology in the least – evident from your entire post.

      Dumbest post on the internet mate.

      • FTTC user here, getting solid 100/40 speeds with 4ms pings. Works well enough for the average consumer. The reason why NBN is using FTTC is because most houses already have copper wiring inside the house, so replacing the short run from the curb to the telstra box on the side of the house is hassle free and straight forward with good results.

        To do FTTP, you need to upgrade the wiring/cabling within the house. This opens a can of worms and lots of houses are poorly built to easily run new fibre/cat5e cabling inside the house.

        I Built a new house 8 years ago and made it essential I had cat6 cabling throughout the house, I have a proper patch/switch panel in the garage, my house is an ideal situation and still doing fiber would involve running new cabling from the side of the house, through the top of the garage to the patch panel box. Not a straight forward job for your average NBN tech. I do have cat6 cabling to the side of the house, but problem will be power and water proofing having the modem sit on the outside of the house.

        FTTC DPU units don’t have any power, they pull power from the FTTC modems within peoples homes. The power situation is a difficult one to solve it seems.

          • Well this is the problem isn’t it, people expect NBN to do it but it’s really a job/cost that the property owner has to do. This is why FTTC is now the preferred way and premises that really need/want fiber can pay out of their own pocket to get that done. But like I said before, FTTC is a high quality/stable connection, most people won’t need more than that for the next few years. FTTC gives an easy upgrade path to FTTP if we need it.

      • Do you think getting the cable from the curb to inside the house easy?

        In WA some houses might be but alot are not.

      • Pfh007.MEMBER

        “…. Further the difference in speed is hundreds of gigs compared to megs….”

        You don’t know much about FTTC.

        Or anything else beyond adopting names that you found in Wikipedia.

  5. Goldstandard1MEMBER

    I’m on the 100mB/s plan via HFC and get 90 mB/s consistently, maybe 80s when the old ducks in the area are all streaming Big Little Lies at the same time.
    However I’ll be taking the 250/40 plan as soon as its offered by Telstra as my theory is that on HFC I need to stay ahead in speed of the other people in the street as I’m closer to the exchange and we all share the same connection.
    Not doing fibre was such a d!ck move and just keeps us slow, and not future facing all in the name of GDP and jobs for knuckle draggers digging holes and filling them in again…… Such a microcosm of our governing the last 20 years.

      • Goldstandard1MEMBER

        Yes I know it sounds like a pipe dream but really it is available from NBN now and a couple of providers are doing it including Aussie Broadband and Launtel (soon the others).

        Caveats: You have to have FTTP OR HFC (the lucky few who have the exchange ports upgraded~30% of HFC customers)
        As Jim said in Dumb and Dumber said – “So your telling me there’s a chance”

  6. I don’t really see the point of having fiber to the house if the contention ratio is so bad on the core that you can’t get more than a couple of MB download speed in peak times. The entire NBN is poo not just the copper.

  7. “While there was a case for utilising existing copper networks as a cost saving measure” – no, there is no case. You do it once and you do it right. Hence why is funded by the tax payer and should be owned by tax payer. We accept lower return on investment but advanced infrastructure will attract other business.

  8. Goldstandard1MEMBER

    Yes I know it sounds like a pipe dream but really it is available from NBN now and a couple of providers are doing it including Aussie Broadband and Launtel (soon the others).

    Caveats: You have to have FTTP OR HFC (the lucky few who have the exchange ports upgraded~30% of hybrid customers)
    As Jim said in Dumb and Dumber said – “So your telling me there’s a chance”

  9. Anyway word on the govt writing down the NBN (when it would be a marginal increase to the deficit) allowing it to be charged out at realistic rates?

  10. Lord Winchester Entwhistle

    Mark Gregory was one of my lecturers

    Smart guy then, smart guy now

  11. When the time comes, attach fibre to the existing copper and pull the new fibre through the existing conduit in the ground. There should be no need for any digging except to find the pit lids.
    When laying new copper they should also leave a draw wire or rope in the conduit for future upgrades.

    • Claw, its not that simple. You can’t replace the DPU in your pit and splice fibre to it, they have to connect further up stream and lay new trunk cable, people requesting upgrades have been quoted anywhere between 10 and 30k to upgrade from Curb to Premises. Since the fibre is terminated at your wall box, its no different to fttc from a user perspective, except that as the NCD has a laser in it a registered installer has to install the modem rather the fttc users plugging in their NCD themselves. The whole episode has been a clusterfvck from day one and shows you how poor the coalition are at anything other than tax cuts.