A deep investigation into Telstra’s copper



blog Over at the ABC, technology + games editor Nick Ross (he of previous 11,000 word articles on the subject and of the Media Watch coverage) has continued his deep investigation into the dynamics of the National Broadband Network under the Coalition, with a pair of articles published this week into the question of whether Telstra’s copper network can actually be used for fibre to the node, as the Coalition is planning to use it. One of the more interesting paragraphs on the issue:

“There are unquestionably sections of the network that are not suited to upgrades and the Coalition acknowledges this – the worst-affected areas will get FTTP “Where it makes economic sense.” But with every single home having a different set of conditions compared to its neighbour, having a few houses on a street with copper that can’t handle FTTN is unlikely to be enough to warrant a whole neighbourhood getting FTTP. At some point a threshold will need to be established whereby a neighbourhood will only receive FTTP when a certain proportion of bad homes versus good homes is reached.”

And there’s also a separate article which has collected experiences from various people with the copper network.

All in all, it’s hard to say just what the quality of Telstra’s copper network is at this point. It’s obviously a very heterogenuous piece of infrastructure, and the quality of the copper will vary dramatically from area to area. This has always been one of the real strengths of Labor’s all-fibre NBN model, in that it will replace virtually all of the copper. It will be interesting to see how the Coalition deals with the varying quality issue in a real-world rollout of fibre to the node.

Image credit: From Delimiter’s ‘worst of the worst’ Telstra copper photo gallery


  1. My DSL goes down every time it rains.

    TPG sent technicians, Telstra sent technicians, over and over again for both, nothing ever changes, I hope we get our copper replaced :(

  2. One wonders whether Turnbull will take Telstra’s word on the condition of the copper and hence the purchase price for the sake of political expediency. Or will there be conditions in place that once a ‘node’ is installed, the wiring to every dwelling must meet a minimum standard? (And under what conditions?)
    Oh dear, I see a return to broadband lotto.

  3. My DSL went down with the recent rain, phone went crackly. Not a month earlier we were down for over a week and I could listen to the radio by picking up the phone. I know many people in the same situation, and of those have had to transistion to the above ground HFC monopoly. Seems crazy replacing a copper network not up to the task with more copper. Even at the best of times I’m lucky if I get 4 Mbps with a small percentage of packet loss, and I live in suburbia, I’d hate to think what it’s like for those in rural areas.

    • I used to get 6.8mbps sync about 18 months ago but have watched it slowly but surely get lower and lower. Was 5.9 average last week, 5.8 this week.

      I suspect this is a commonality across the entire copper network – a slow but very gradual death.

      • In a similar situation here. Used to get about 13mbps but now down to about 10mbps and that’s after my connection being completely down for a week on two different occasions over the last 3 years. I could still connect at a much slower speed but my phone was completely dead. Nothing but static and faint voices from other calls. Supposedly it was fixed but in Telstra land we know that just means wrapping another shopping bag on it. I’m sure Turnbull and his zoo crew chums have this all figured out though and will have it all sorted in the next 1197 days…

  4. Well, I wouldn’t be surprised in they find that the copper is really, REALLY bad in safe Liberal seats, so they will get FTTP, but that safe labor seats, with 45 year-old waterlogged copper with a strong history of faults finds itself on FTTN.

    It’s in the Liberals DNA after all to look after it’s mates!

    • Just like in Victoria: “No new highways without tolls! … except the mornington peninsular highway. You can have that huge upgrade without tolls.”

    • It hasn’t always worked that way. Safe seat electors have no power, it’s the magical seats that get heard. I’m looking forward to Turnbull be matched to the front of the class for six of the best and an instruction to write out “No surprises; no excuses” 500 times.

      Are any rollout maps going to be published?

  5. Maybe the copper network is a quantum thing, like climate change. If get rid of people who disagree with your desired result, then magicly the problem goes away.

  6. I’m five clicks to the exchange and on ADSL1, literary across the road is the NBN at a new estate. I wonder what will happen? And yes the service degrades in the wet. Patch me onto the NBN across the road or remediate the copper?

    • Ask the NBN about a “Fibre Extension” As long as you arent in the 3 year plan, and live less than 8km from the FDH you should get considered…..

  7. This is not the copper you are looking for *waves hand*
    The copper is all fine *waves hand*

  8. Many areas (including where I lived) already have a FTTN (Telstra Tophat) providing their ADSL2+ Service. We all know the Telstra Tophat is in fact a Alcatel Lucent 7330 ISAMs and is feed by Fiber (1Gbps backhaul).

    I’m approx. 100metres from our Tophat, and the Distribution Area cable run goes directly from the Tophat to my home. I was syncing at the max sync rate of 24Mbps for a fair while but now I sync at only 18Mbps sometimes less. Fairly new estate (4-5 years) and fairly new copper. So the copper has already started to deteriorate which is affecting sync rate. Can’t do anything about this as our PSTN Service works flawlessly and with no audible faults. Check whirlpool and you will find many other people having the same issue. Newest estate, new Tophat and their Sync rate slowly but surely goes down hill. Yep that’s the beauty of having copper in the equation. You can’t guarantee any contant sync rate with copper because it’s electrical properties don’t remain constant because they are subject many external factors. It’s just physics.

    I’m sure Telstra would have told MT about the “Tophat” (if he didn’t already know) and that they could easily support VDSL2 with vectoring and perhaps pair bonding if pair pairs were available. So it would be very easy and quick for Telstra & MT to conduct a VDSL2 FTTN trial without too much trouble or cost and then proclaim what a success it was/is. However this doesn’t represent how thing will really work. The 1Gbps backhaul in a Tophat (which is provided by the WDDM module), could have increased capacity if spare dark fibre was available. Then a swap out of the module and card (at both ends) would provide increased capacity.

    I worked for Telecom/Telstra for many many years in Engineering (another life), so the information provided contain by way of links in your articles regarding the condition of the copper distribution area cables (which a FTTN will use), is a very very fair assessment. MT talks about how a FTTN will bypass most of the copper in poor condition which he is referring to the Mains/Branch Cables. Well the Mains/Branch Cables are in pristine condition compared to the Distribution Area cables. When challenged on this he always defers to how the Distribution Area cables will be re-mediated. Well they are going to be re-mediating a lot of copper. Add to that the cost of replacing the cables and can’t be re-mediated and need replacement. Then the cost of the 300,000+ nodes that will be required to provide a maximum 800metre local copper loop from each node.

    I can’t wait to see how this all plays out over the coming years….and years…..and years! Who looses out in the end? We all do!



  9. I eagerly await Malcolm’s response full of ad hominem attacks on Nick Ross (and his sources) while simultaneously ignoring the points raised in the article(s) and making platitudes and bold assertions with respect to the condition of the copper network and the degree of remediation required.

    A response from Telstra would be interesting too…

    • Well Malcolm always comes back these lines:

      “..We have been advised by several operators of large telco networks, that it is also important to remember that the on the “D-side” (ie between the node and the customer’s premise) the most common maintenance issue is “shovel strike” – the accidental severing of a cable. Copper and fibre are equally vulnerable to careless gardeners and other diggers of holes and trenches. Copper’s shortcoming is that it is vulnerable to corrosion caused by water penetration however balanced against that it is easier and faster to repair than fibre…”

      And this classic:

      “..In areas where the NBN was deployed using FTTN/VDSL , the most error-prone parts of the copper (the large bundles running between nodes and exchanges) will be replaced by fibre”

      Taken from:


      Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. However the truth will soon come to light regardless of the spin they currently are using. Yes those chickens will be coming home to roost very soon. Very soon!

      • “Yes those chickens will be coming home to roost very soon. Very soon!” along with festering bite marks in posteriors.
        If you insist on putting your foot in your mouth, just watch where you stand

  10. Turnbull should pony up here. He and Abbott have been all to keen to turn the NBN into a political ball, criticising every small aspect of it from day one. Turnbull has gone so far as to say that the NBN was a major election issue which has given them a mandate to shift to a FTTN rollout.

    Despite widespread technical and popular opinion he has gambled with the future of Australian claiming he is confident that FTTN is a viable alternative and that its 2016 timeframe, $29 Billion cost and guaranteed 25mbps connections available to every user. All this for a cost inline with todays ADSL pricing.

    If these aren’t met Malcolm should resign his post. After all, it would be the dignified thing to do.

    • “If these aren’t met Malcolm should resign his post. After all, it would be the dignified thing to do.”

      And from Politics. I am sure Rupert could find a place for him

  11. My landline phone went down during the week due to the dreaded Telstra gel. Luckily I have cable internet connection.

  12. The maintenance of Telstra copper, presently costs about $1 billion a year, with fiber, this will be a small fraction.
    What happens when they attempt to connect it to NBN and use it for super high speed data, it was never designed for?
    What happens with flooding?
    Why do they want to install hundreds of thousands of conversion node cabinets using the power from equivalent of two large power stations, when fibre node doesnt need
    Why in 2018 is that temporary,multi billion dollar temporary upgrade, going to be changed again, to a full fibre network and consequently leave tens of thousands of tonnes of redundant equipment, to dispose off.

    • “Why in 2018 is that temporary,multi billion dollar temporary upgrade, going to be changed again, to a full fibre network and consequently leave tens of thousands of tonnes of redundant equipment, to dispose off.”

      Sorry Jeff, a wild assumption, the Coalition will never do that, besides the major advantage of the FTTP NBN was the ubiquitous GPON Nature with 4 ports enabling multiple services, giving scope for innovation and invention. Private sector vertically integrated telco’s would not provide that wholesale facility.
      As such a small installed base, no motivation for development of services to take advantage.

      Basically the vision for the betterment of Australia’s communications and economy is still born, like the famous parrot, it’s dead

  13. Fibre to the node project involves a lot false economy.
    Due to the technolgy, the speeds involved rely on the weakest link in the connection to older cabling.
    Fibre to the home does not, it is a much simpler plan.
    Fibre optic cabling, presently has no limit.

  14. Well. One thing is sure. Now the time has come for Malcolm to turn bull into action.

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