NBN FTTN: Everything you need to know

01 August 2017

Fibre-to-the-Node - or FTTN - is a key technology at the heart of Australia's National Broadband Network rollout. While FTTN has been marred by controversy, it's likely that over 50% of Australians will jack in to our new-fangled internet solution through a FTTN connection.

What is FTTN?

FTTN technology is a cornerstone of the Coalition Government's multi-technology mix (MTM) approach to the National Broadband Network rollout. Rather than run fibre directly to an individual premise, fibre is run to a central cabinet - the node - that services the neighbourhood. Customers are connected to the cabinet via the same copper currently being used to facilitate ADSL broadband.

The use of FTTN as part of the NBN multi-technology mix has been the centre of much controversy. FTTN advocates say it is cheaper and faster to deploy, while still delivering similar speeds. FTTN detractors claim the technology isn't future-proof, and the reliance on copper will counteract initial savings by increasing maintenance fees and upgrade costs down the line.

Fibre-to-the-building (FTTB) is a similar technology that NBN often groups in with FTTN, but the fibre is run to a central location in an apartment complex.

Who is getting FTTN?

According to NBN's 2017 corporate plan, between 43% and 54% of premises will be connected to the National Broadband Network via FTTN or FTTB technology. This is up from 38% in the company's 2016 corporate plan. It is however worth noting that this figure has yet to be updated to account for FTTN areas that are now being connected with FTTC.

As it stands, FTTN is rolling out in areas where existing copper internet infrastructure exists. If you connect to the internet with an ADSL connection, there's a good chance you'll end up with a FTTN connection to the National Broadband Network. Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) connections are predominantly being used where no copper or HFC currently exists, such as new housing estates.

What equipment do I need for an FTTN connection?

Since FTTN uses existing copper-wiring, you'll keep using the same phone line you use for your existing ADSL connection. The NBN does not need to install any new equipment in your home. However, you will need a VDSL2 ready modem router. If your modem router doesn't support VDSL2 connections, it won't work with a FTTN internet connection.

To check the compatibility of your modem, look at the at the row of ports across the back of your modem to locate a phone jack labelled VDSL. If not, look under the modem for a label with a serial number. Most compatible modems will say 'ADSL2+/VDSL2' or something similar.

If you sign up for a 24-month internet contract, your telco will almost certainly include a VDSL2 compatible modem with your plan.

You'll use a RJ11 phone cable to connect your modem to the phone socket. Almost every single modem router includes one of these in the box. VDSL2 modem routers also require a dedicated power source, so you'll need a spare electrical outlet.

How fast is FTTN?

NBN says customers connected to the National Broadband Network via FTTN will be able to achieve download speeds of 100Mbps provided they are within 400m of the node, and speeds of up 60Mbps if they're more than 700m from the cabinet.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow has previously said that he expects nine out of ten homes connected to the FTTN network to receive "lightning fast" speeds of between 50Mbps and 100Mbps.

The maximum theoretical speeds will be determined by the type of connection you pay for. A basic NBN connection will provide speeds of up to 12Mbps. The next step up is 25Mbps, followed by 50Mbps, and 100Mbps.

Your distance from the node, your provider, and congestion during peak hours do however mean you won't always achieve the top speed attainable on the tier.

How much does FTTN cost?

All fixed-line NBN plans use a similar pricing structure, regardless of the connection technology in question. For example, if you're looking at a $90 per month Telstra NBN plan, this will cost the same whether your house or business is connected via FTTP, FTTN, or HFC.

National Broadband Network plans vary from telco to telco, with pricing dependent on speed tier, data, and over-the-top inclusions such as entertainment bundles. However, as a rule of thumb, basic fixed-line National Broadband Network plans are comparable to ADSL broadband in terms of price. For example, iiNet's unlimited ADSL plan is billed at $79.99 per month, the cost as cheap as iiNet's unlimited NBN plan. The NBN plan does have the benefit of faster speeds, and subscribers can further increase their speed if they wish.

Related: NBN Guide - What you need to know

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