Does the NBN even need a voice port?


opinion If there is one thing which has always surprised me about the National Broadband Network project, it is the dogged insistence of the network’s designers on building a legacy voice telephony port into what is supposed to be next-generation infrastructure.

This week Australia got its first look at what fixed-line telephony might look like when the National Broadband Network is rolled out, courtesy of Internode’s accreditation as the first ISP to use what NBN Co describes as UNI-V services — a technical term for the voice telephony port on the back of its network termination devices located in people’s homes, and the accompanying network service.

And so far, the service looks fantastic.

Internode customer Raaj Menon (you may remember Raaj moved house in Adelaide to become one of the first NBN customers nation-wide) gave a glowing review of the UNI-V service on his blog, where he has been progressively chronicling his experiences with the NBN.

“Setup was so easy,” Menon wrote. “All I did was unplug my PSTN connection cable from the wall port and plugged it straight into the UNI-V port as both of those ports have RJ12 connectors. That was it. I was up and running. Couldn’t have been easier.”

Sounds great! But wait, it gets better. Menon (also chief executive of PCRange, which distributes the Fritz!Box range of broadband routers, among other things), noted that he placed a few calls and received calls using the UNI-V service, and the clarity on the line was “superb”. “Amazing sound quality and it sounds like stereo,” he said, adding he hooked up the Fritz!Box’s wireless phone to check out how its included high-definition voice codecs would perform.

“All I can say is when the NBN trial is over and it goes commercial which should be next month, I am going to disable and cancel my PSTN services,” the executive wrote. “It served me well for years and years and now it is time to ditch this old technology and move to the new age. It will be good riddance to the old creaky PSTN. I am looking forward to using the UNI-V port from here on out. I have no hesitation in giving this the biggest thumbs up!!”

As I read Menon’s blog post, and Internode’s simultaneous press release on its UNI-V support, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the new technology. After all, I’m currently using a traditional fixed-line PSTN service as my main telephone line, due to the poor performance I’ve experienced in the past from voice over IP options such as iiNet’s Netphone service and Skype. It will be great to have crystal clear calling quality in my office telephone over the NBN.

However, then a pernicious little bird started whispering in my mind.

That whisper reminded me of the fact that voice telephony in the world of ubiquitous high-speed bandwidth which the NBN promises will be nothing more than just another network-conscious application running on top of the underlying TCP/IP stack which allows the NBN and the broader internet to function.

The whisper reminded me of the hundreds of times I have sat in media briefings held by companies like Cisco, Avaya, Nortel and even Skype, where executives have laid out a vision of unified communications where your voice telephony line follows you around as an application, allowing you to receive calls to the same number from your mobile, desk phone, house phone, computer, laptop or even tablet.

The whisper reminded me that we only have fixed-line telephony ports in Australian premises today because Telstra’s copper network was only initially built to support voice calls — with ADSL broadband being tacked on afterwards, while the NBN is being built purely to support next-generation broadband.

Menon and Internode’s enthusiasm for NBN Co’s UNI-V port notwithstanding, there is simply no reason to assume that in ten year’s time, when the NBN rollout is complete (assuming the policy isn’t cancelled wholesale by Tony Abbott and his band of NBN wreckers), that voice telephony will look anything like it does today.

It seems clear that the incredibly swift advancement in smartphone and wireless technology we are witnessing at the moment will lead to a future in the 2020’s that will see every individual maintain a series of unique identifiers that will allow them to be contacted by telephone through the platform of their choice, rather than being tied to primarily using the sort of fixed-line telephony solution that NBN Co’s UNI-V service represents.

I’m envisaging a world where Australians will easily be able to receive calls to their mobile phone number on whatever device they choose — smartphone, tablet, desk phone, PC, laptop or even television — with extremely granular options regarding whether those calls come through as a video call, pure audio, a combination with instant messaging, or whatever.

Hell, many small business owners already do this, with the functionality offered by Skype. It’s a regular occurrence for me to be chatting with a colleague through instant messaging or Twitter, and then decide we need to conduct a voice call on Skype — or even start a desktop video sharing session through a platform like Citrix GoToMeeting, like I did yesterday when sharing banking details with my accountant. The same is increasingly true of the corporate world, where organisations like the Commonwealth Bank and Jetstar have already deployed similar functionality through Microsoft’s Lync platform.

With the cost of mobile calls decreasing rapidly, services like Google Voice disintermediating carriers from their end customers and unified communications becoming ubiquitous in homes and businesses, it seems clear that the future of telephony in Australia — and in every other first-world country located around the globe — does not reside in receiving calls to a single fixed-line connection located in your home.

Now, there is no doubt that the smart cookies at NBN Co know all this.

It seems clear that the inclusion of the UNI-V port on the company’s network termination unit is designed to ensure as painless a transfer to the NBN infrastructure as possible. By implementing a voice port on its NTUs, NBN Co is clearly aiming, among other outcomes, to avoid the politically disastrous situation of hundreds of thousands of Australians being unable to place basic phone calls — a service which has been guaranteed for decades. And, despite my criticisms, I’m not saying NBN Co has made the wrong choice in doing so.

However, from a long-term technical perspective, the UNI-V solution still feels out of place to me. Consider this statement by Internode product manager Jim Kellett on Monday this week:

“We already have many customers enjoying our Voice over IP services across the National Broadband Network. Delivering an analogue-style phone service is the latest step along the NBN path for Internode, and means that customers will have even more choice.”

That’s right. Kellett notes that even without the UNI-V port being functional, many of Internode’s customers were already using the ISP’s Nodephone VoIP service over the NBN. And yet he praises the ability of the NBN to support “an analogue-style phone service”. Back to the future, indeed.

And this statement by Menon:

“One advantage of the UNI-V port is that when there is a power failure, there is a battery backup that will keep my voice services alive for up to 4 hrs. I can’t remember when I last had a power failure for more than an hour. So 4 hours should be ample enough. And if it goes beyond that, there is always a mobile phone. Who doesn’t have one these days?”

Precisely. Who doesn’t have a mobile phone, already? And one would think, in the event of a power failure, that most Australians would turn first to their mobile phone for emergency calls anyway, rather than their fixed-line telephone.

In so many ways, the NBN infrastructure being rolled out around Australia represents a huge advancement in Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure. And yet, in a few ways — such as the inclusion of the legacy UNI-V port on its network termination units — NBN Co remains trapped by the paradigms of the past … and is reimplementing artificial constructs which will very likely be minimally used in the future.


  1. Yes.

    Despite Conroy’s grand visions and expectations of massive bandwidth for everyone, grandma will still only want just a phone.

    The important point to remember is that services connected to the voice ports are QoS’d with the highest priority through the network nationally.

    Using a service like Google Voice or Skype is all good for us nerds, but having worked with VoIP for almost six years, people want consistent and comparable voice quality – and the high priority voice circuits provisioned within the NBN are the only practical way to give that comparable performance.

    • To be honest, Michael, I’m not sure about this. My gut feeling is that the raw speeds and latency available over the NBN fibre will mean the quality + reliability of Skype/Google Voice connections will be dramatically enhanced under the NBN.

      Furthermore, I disagree with this statement:

      “people want consistent and comparable voice quality”

      If this was true, then how do you explain the existing popularity of Skype and mobile phones? Once voice quality has reached a certain level, people prioritise convenience, integration with unified communications and mobility over incredible quality (for example, through HD voice codecs).

      • Mobile phones are an easy one. People trade off quality for the mobility. They accept lower quality, because for them there is value in the ability to move around anywhere.

        Skype is just as easy. People trade off quality for the fact the calls (in most instances) are free. They put up with lower quality because they are getting it for nothing.

        Yes, Skype/Google Voice performance will improve in NBN Land, but if you find yourself under a particularly busy POI, and the torrenters are slamming bandwidth, having the higher priority QoS voice channel, you’ll appreciate that it’s there, and done properly.

        I’ve seen even 2Mbps/2Mbps SHDSL connections turn to shit quite quickly because people don’t appreciate the importance of high priority in respect to realtime services such as voice.

        • Your argument still appears predicated upon the fact that most telephone calls will be made over fixed line in the future … and that people will share a house phone. In actual fact, the opposite appears to be the concrete trend — most calls I see being made these days are made by mobile — and everyone has their own phone.

          • Sure, I have no doubt that things will gradually move that way over time – but that doesn’t mean we hamstring the network now, and render millions of perfectly good analogue handsets completely useless.

            We’re nerds, we get this stuff. Most people don’t. The NBN is for everyone, not just the nerds.

          • “The NBN is for everyone, not just the nerds. ”

            Yep. According to the NBNCo corporate plan there are about 4 million residential voice only customers out there. The UNI-V port let’s those customers plug-and-play on the NBN with their existing phone. Seems like a simple solution to me.

            What’s the alternative and how much will it cost each customer?

      • I agree sort of. Technically the voice port is not needed but politically it is. They should just give people a $20 or $10 voice only service for “all they can eat” and be done with if only to shut the grandparents up. The the future is in broadband just like you say below, that’s where the real meat is, no one gets any monies from me when I make a Skype to Skype call. I think even Telstra have come to realise this.

      • All successful technology is backwards compatible.

        I can still use keyboard shortcuts in windows that have their roots in the very early 80’s if not earlier on other platforms.

    • Youre correct, this LeMay guy keeps spouting this NBN chants but he really demonstrated little understanding of Telecoms.

      While the NBN when completed will deliver voice via IP, until then the only way to maintain the USO is to provide a voice port with the same service level.

      Fact is Voip is used as a cost saving system, if you choose voip you have to waiver your PSTN right, and accept an inferior alternative. Now, by inferior i mean, despite when the traffic is light, Voip may give you HD audio, it does not guarantee reliability or connectivity.

      This is the very same reason the majority of business still use ISDN, they prefer reliability and consistent quality over fluctuation. And when bundled together as a whole package, it can be made price competitive to a Voip system that can make a business look very unprofessional to customers.

  2. “Who doesn’t have a mobile phone, already? And one would think, in the event of a power failure, that most Australians would turn first to their mobile phone for emergency calls anyway, rather than their fixed-line telephone.”
    I’m sure all the rural readers of Delimiter cringed at that one.

    • The statement was “most Australians would turn first to their mobile phone…” I don’t see anything cringeworthy for rural readers. Yes, some people in remote locations are outside the range of all mobile networks. But plenty of people in rural areas DO get some sort of mobile service. Yes, I’ve lived in the country for a time and heard the things that get said about poor provision – some of it entirely justified, and some of it just habitual whinging.

    • And how many rural readers can’t get access to either Next G or a satellite phone these days? Remember … I spent most of my life in Broken Hill.

      • The coverage in many regional centres (where is is impractical to need a satellite phone) is questionable

    • Renai, Gwntaglaw – both valid points. Where I grew up (and where most of my family still live) they have patchy (if you drive up the hill) to non-existent mobile service and suffer from reasonably consistent power failures, particularly in winter when it’s snowing. I can’t deny they couldn’t get a satellite phone, but to them there is very little upside – increased cost and decreased service.

          • I’ll toss in a couple of more verifiably no-mobile areas that aren’t that far off the beaten track. If you leave the Hume just short of Goulburn and head towards Bungonia, you will lose mobile very quickly. From Bungonia, southwest (ish) most of the way to Bradwood, there is zero coverage.

            Also, I suspect NBN Co is building the PSTN emulation port because it’s required to, as part of the restructuring of the USO. It’s not NBN Co’s choice.

    • not true. I had a blackout today. First thing i did: picked up my corded telstra phone and called the power company to find out an eta.

    • Even in a small “emergency”, the mobile phone networks get congested and it’s close to impossible to get through. Just before Christmas 2009 a fire threatened Port Lincoln… my Telstra NextG phone was useless… the only way I could contact my wife at home was through the use of amateur “ham” radio and get someone hundreds of km away to ring my wife… on a landline phone. Wireless tech is good… but it does have limitations.

      • Shh, or Malcolm Turnbull will start a debate on the funding black hole caused by not factoring in the cost of a ham radio to be bundled with every NBN connection further out than Vaucluse!

        As readers around here would know, the 7% not getting fibre are also to keep their Telstra copper, so they don’t face this dilemma.

        Might I suggest that, as the 93% fibre rollout continues, NTU boxes in high-density residential suburbs and towns (maybe 75% of all premises?) could have their emergency capabilities scaled down, while the remaining localities with a genuine risk of not having easy access to alternative emergency communications (say 18%) would keep them. This would slash the cost of the emergency features by two-thirds, and be a far more realistic expenditure match between the risk and the cost of this particular approach to addressing it.

        Even allowing that susceptible residents within the general low risk footprint would still be supplied with voice ports and battery backup as a matter of course, the overall cost saving would be significant, comprising about six million voice+battery components not required and a saving in operational support costs for the simpler equipment.

        Find half a billion dollars here and there and before long you could be talking some real money saved, without any increased risk.

      • I have the same experience post flood in Brisbane in a suburb miles away from the nearest flood-water. Calling a friend’s mobile over a time period of an hour continually gave an engaged signal. Calling him on his naked voip service got through first go.

  3. Voice only residents couldn’t give a stuff that it ‘sounds like stereo’ (really – from a mono speaker in the handset?), the key to its acceptance will be price, at $24 minimum wholesale for a 12/1 Mbps connection the NBN Co has some costing work downwards to do.

    It would also be nice to get some proper objective reviews other than from a Internode client on a top NBN Plan who is also a Internode modem supplier, I am so glad he got the ubiquitous Fritz!Box mentioned in that quote.

      • Well other than all those residences that have voice only PSTN.

        Those on VoIP will will stick with VoIP unless ISP’s can provide call rates off the UNI-V that match current VoIP rates and there is no reason why they should not, if they do what will happen is that VoIP as we know it today will disappear in a NBN household.

        I suppose the current VoIP providers like PennyTel, MNF etc will have to move into the market of providing voice packages off the UNI-V port.

        • PennyTel, MNF are in the market because they are cheap. They won’t provide voice packages off the UNI-V port because that will cost $24 just to NBNCo for the service, before you add calls.

          Presumably the market for PennyTel & MNF will grow because more people will have access to internet connections which easily support VoIP.

          • MNF is currently a RSP for Optus. Shouldn’t be much of a leap to being an RSP of NBNco or a consolidator.

            I don’t know about PennyTel

          • I think you will find the current crop of VoIP providers will provide packages off the UNI-V port, it will only take one to do it and the others will have to follow.

      • There are 4 million of them and we’re going to start mass-migrating them next year. Who’s going to pay for the broadband service for all those who can’t afford and/or don’t want one now? Who’s going to pay for the equipment they need to replace their existing phone?

        • Exactly, you need to be able to provide a seamless transition for all users, that’s why the requirements for the NBN box would have been to emulate any service (excluding xDSL obviously) that’s currently in place.

      • I think you are seriously over estimating the immediate (within the NBN rollout period) demand for broadband services, especially for those who presently don’t have an internet connection at all.

      • I think you are right, but because the phone only subscribers will not be voluntarily signing up, they will be cut over when the copper is retired.

        The real question is how much does the two uni-v ports add to the ntu?

    • $24 minimum wholesale is still cheaper then Telstra minimum wholesasle, so thats not an issue really.

          • Poor Telstra… everyone else complains about HLB, gets told that they can make do by making up the lower line renatl on calls and its about “averaging”. Now its happenning the other way…its a big deal apparently.

          • Precisely my point, Alian. Thanks BrynL.

            Or one of them anyway, NBNCo still has time to start offering a lower price point.

          • Are you really that dense?

            That HomeLine Budget undercuts their WHOLESALE prices.

            Either its a loss leader, or Telstra are overcharging wholesale customers.

            In the latter the ACCC should have made issue with it. On the former there is nothing preventing a provider from loss leading under the NBN either is there?

          • How do you know what Telstra Wholesale charge their ISP customers for a PSTN service?

    • The “sounds like stereo” statement was nothing more than an unsolicited remark by Raaj Menon. It is not and never will be a marketing slogan.

      As for price, the comments today by iiNet about how the 27% cost SAVING by moving to the NBN for services are instructive:

      I won’t bother asking about your criteria for an “objective” reviewer. Mr Menon appears to have the technical capacity to know what he is talking about, and is no representative of the government.

    • Come on mate…. its new tech and its near the same price as the old shit we have ……. I don’t see why after a short time the prices cant come down a little you think too short term…..

  4. I don’t think it’ll be a big payer eventually- but its essential “now” for migration. Some people still use fax, dialup EFTPOS, B2B alarms & nurse call type systems that need reliable connectivity & are prohibitivly expensive to migrate to other means. Sure, a new alarm should be IP or GSM/3G dialling but to retrofit an existing one would be hundreds of dollars. They need to offer it for now.

    • Any premises paying additional line rentals for fax and alarms will save at least $23 monthly for each line rental no longer required when they modernise their systems.

      Even better, suppose right now they pay a security service to send someone around to investigate when a possum triggers a motion sensor. They will be able to pay far less annually for security when the security firm can just remotely review the last few minutes of uploaded digital camera footage thanks to the NBN and a $200 box to upload the image frames. Better outcome all around.

      As for PSTN, my septuagenarian parents and in-laws have used MyNetFone VoIP on regional ADSL for three years now with no problems, $5-10 monthly call costs, and no more $70 STD phone bills.

      Teach Granny she can fix any outage by turning the wall switch off and back on and she’ll be fine, and save money.

      • See this is where you got it wrong… You can do all this with todays ADSL or SHDSL technology. For example, when a possum triggers it, i dont need it in 30fps FULL HD, nor when someone breaks in, i just need a still frames , to see what happens and as evidence.

        Each premsis can already save on line rental etc. an example is VOIP. but many dont because 1- the technology isnt as good, 2- its difficult to understand 3- additional cost 4- you need to retrain staff and need new maintenance people etc.

        The struggle against getting the IP stuff in is that IP is a connectionless protocol and even with QoS and VLAN etc. it isnt as stable or even close to predictable as a Circuit Switched PSTN line, in many cases eg. alarms and voice, all you need is 512Kb, so offering 100Mb but with variable latencies or on shared infrastructure, or what they called “unified comms” sounds good, but all they really offer in terms of improvement to networks is bigger bandwith and the ability to combine stuff together to make it cheaper, but it doesnt make it more reliable.

  5. The coalition of NBN wreckers will see to it that Australians are kept in the stone age. Don’t worry about that. A decade of inaction passed when they were last in power, same will happen when they get back in.

  6. I think that in the short term there will have to be “voice services” provided. NBNCo may need to provision a 150kbps/150kbps voice only link in order to assist with the transition, below the $24 12/1 AVC port position, to allow for cheaper voice only services to be provided to meet the budget product currently offered by Telstra, Home Line Budget.

    In the longer term, however, I agree with you Renai.

    • Yes, I agree. Although I mentioned a possible subsidy elsewhere, it would be simpler to have a vanilla PSTN-only option priced at below $24 wholesale, just to catch the 5% of users who will never access broadband in the short-medium term.

      If I’m not wrong, Telstra is the only provider who offers such a cheap monthly rental – because they are undercutting their own wholesale rates available to other providers. And the plan is an utter rip-off to anyone who actually uses it to make calls.

      I can’t imagine that the theoretical user who has no broadband, no mobile, keeps a phone for incoming calls only, and only makes free outgoing calls would be any more than the tiniest fraction of users.

      • “PSTN-only option priced at below $24 wholesale, just to catch the 5% of users who will never access broadband in the short-medium term.”

        Where did you get the 5% figure from?

        “If I’m not wrong, Telstra is the only provider who offers such a cheap monthly rental”

        Telstra offer a number of Homeline plans where the line rental is inverse to the call rates, a residence chooses a Homeline Plan that is most suitable for their calling patterns.

        ” – because they are undercutting their own wholesale rates available to other providers.”

        What ‘wholesale rates’ to other providers?

        ” And the plan is an utter rip-off to anyone who actually uses it to make calls.”

        If you are referring to HLB it depends on your calling pattern, for low volume users who just need a basic PSTN service it is ideal.

        “I can’t imagine that the theoretical user who has no broadband, no mobile, keeps a phone for incoming calls only, and only makes free outgoing calls would be any more than the tiniest fraction of users. ”

        Well imagine away, they do exist, your estimate that is a ‘tiniest fraction of users’ is just no fact crystal ball gazing

        • Where did you get the 5% figure from?

          So I assume you have accurate figures, then?

          Well imagine away, they do exist, your estimate that is a ‘tiniest fraction of users’ is just no fact crystal ball gazing

          So your estimate that there’s a huge number of them is entirely based in fact?

          Telstra offer a number of Homeline plans

          Right, but HomeLine Basic is the only (non-bundled) plan available anywhere in Australia where the line rental is < $29.95.

          • “So I assume you have accurate figures, then?”

            Ahh that old dodge and weave, no I don’t have accurate figures but then again I am not making any ‘roll the dice’ % estimates and posting them in Delimiter am I?

            “So your estimate that there’s a huge number of them is entirely based in fact?”

            No it’s based on the NBN Co Business plan, or are you saying they have got it wrong?

            “Right, but HomeLine Basic is the only (non-bundled) plan available anywhere in Australia where the line rental is < $29.95."

            yes I know and…?

          • no I don’t have accurate figures but then again I am not making any ‘roll the dice’ % estimates

            So why are you even concerned about it, if you don’t know how many people are affected? For all you know, it might be even less than Gwyntaglaw’s guess.

            No it’s based on the NBN Co Business plan

            Where in NBNCo’s business plan does it say how many people are currently paying $24 per month for Telstra’s HLB plan, and not using it for Broadband?

            yes I know and…?

            … and I’m just pointing out that there’s only a single plan from a single provider that’s cheaper’s Internode’s NBN voice-only plan. If you don’t even know how many are currently using that extra-cheap plan, not connecting it to a broadband plan and not making any calls on it, why are you kicking up such a fuss about it?

            Firstly, Internode are not know for being a budget ISP. Secondly, the plan they’re releasing is the same price as Telstra’s second-cheapest option. Yet somehow that’s not good enough for you?

  7. As I’ve posted elsewhere, the idea of paying for individual local calls (at 30c a pop on the supposedly “cheap” Telstra plan) should seem quaint by now.

    Does anyone else remember Telstra’s bid some 15 years ago to charge internet users by the e-mail? Yikes…

    But for now, this is the legacy app that will not die. Once prices settle down a bit, the Govt might possibly find themselves hocking up a subsidy for a basic PSTN-only service – depends on the political climate (which, as we know, is a tad unpredictable).

    The rule of migration is that if you can offer people the option of moving to a new service while paying the same, it becomes very easy. Those are terms that everyone can understand – “change over to the new box, but pay exactly the same!” For phone-only users, that will probably work out to be the way forward. For entry-level broadband customers, it SHOULD be simple, based on the prices from Exetel and iiNet – but you can always count on News Ltd and its political wing to create fear out of nothing. “$5 more for speeds that may be lower (but probably won’t) and different peak/off-peak hours or data allowance combinations – panic!” All while neglecting the substantial upside from vastly superior options for speed and reliability.

    • “As I’ve posted elsewhere, the idea of paying for individual local calls (at 30c a pop on the supposedly “cheap” Telstra plan) should seem quaint by now.”

      Well it’s just about the call rate it’s about the line rental rate as well, you don’t look at the call rates in isolation without factoring in number of calls/mth as well.

      “But for now, this is the legacy app that will not die.”

      Well it’s not about a legacy app, it’s all about having a facility to plug all the millions of analogue handsets that are out there into.

      “Once prices settle down a bit, the Govt might possibly find themselves hocking up a subsidy for a basic PSTN-only service – depends on the political climate (which, as we know, is a tad unpredictable).”

      Well there is no might about it, if the written commitment to provide a voice only service for no more than what a residence pays today is to be met Conroy will have to do something like that.

      But of course that ‘cost’ has nothing to do with the overall cost of the NBN, it will be hidden away into ‘miscellaneous’.

  8. Two things:
    1. This has as much to do with political legacy as it does with technical legacy – if it did have a phone-only port it would be seen as “leaving behind the poor people who don’t have enough money to eat let alone access the interwebs”.
    2. Does this happen often: “However, then a pernicious little bird started whispering in my mind.” :)

  9. Assuming the cost is trivial to implement, I assume that, at the very least, it means that people who still own/use an analogue phone will still be able to use voice easily without being forced to go and buy a VOIP handset?

    • Unless you can speak/hear in digital you’d just be changing the spot of conversion from the NBN box to your handset.

      And of course you always have the option of plugging your own switch into the NBN box that’s capable of handling your PoE handset, and then you could choose whatever VoIP provider(s) you wanted without relying on the one provisioned on the NBN box.

      • I’m thinking more in terms of modern cordless handsets like the Siemens C470IP, which has been operating rock solid here for two years. iiNet’s Bob is another example.. in a power outage perhaps the NTD (with UPS) can supply just enough over PoE to keep the base part operating.

        Raaj mentioned G.722 in his post (rather confusingly in the context of the Uni-V) as well, using the Uni-V port won’t deliver any advances in that area, just the same old 300-3400Hz.

        • Well you have to take the ‘better than PSTN’ statements on voice quality with a grain of salt.

          Reading VoIP forums over the years on forums like Whirlpool you get the my VoIP provider is clearer/same as/ worse than PSTN, coupled with the xxx codec is better than xxx codec all the time.

          To say up front now that any voice service hung off the UNI-V port will be definitely better than PSTN or even bog standard VoIP is drawing a very long bow indeed.

  10. Renai,

    There is a key point you are missing here, with respect to the UNI-V, and that is, it is not the same as a Telstra PSTN today.

    Your article is based on the premise that by having a UNI-V port on the NTD, customers will be restricted to the functionallity of the PSTN.

    As you, and many of the other readers here point out, the NTD provides VoIP termination from the fibre network, and delivers to the customer a dial-tone for the home phone.

    Each carrier that delivers voice services on the NBN will have their own soft-switch backend. This is different to PSTN where the Telstra equipment switches your calls in the exchange.

    This means VoIP functionallity can be delivered, to an existing home phone, using the NTD as the VoIP ATA.

    Presence, web-voicemail, follow-me, multi-handset ring, call groups, live web-management of your service – these(plus more!) are all possible as most of the functions exist in the backend.


    • Yeah, the uni-v is a remotely managed sip ata. It would be a mistake to think we wont see innovation on the soft switch back ends to take advantage of this.

  11. NBN does need a voice port because many machines (such as EFTPOS machines, ATM’s etc etc) need to be used over a PSTN port (and most don’t have ethernet or IP support)

    In fact the question of whether or not such machines (which often use ISDN) can be used on NBN is a mystery, since ISDN is a Circuit Switched network, where as IP (which is what the NBN emulates PSTN over) is IP based

    On a circuit swtiched network, both machines connected on the ends expect zero packet loss (well the ISDN equivalent) and the ability to receive data over a constant rate, none of this is guaranteed over IP

    • Packet loss occurs on a circuit switched network too. You could think of it as “line noise”.

      The NBN voice port is just an ATA.

  12. I find it interesting is that no one is mentioning emergency services in regard to the UNI-V port. Current services like Nodephone and Netphone don’t have to fulfill the emergency service requirements and provide accurate locations etc. I assume that the UNI-V port will have to, but what about the bundled services that all the carriers are offering as equivalent to the PSTN? Unfortunately I foresee an accident in the future, where someone has registered a SIP phone in a new location and the fire brigade goes to the wrong spot.

  13. I’m surprised no-one has mentioned the non-voice services many people will want to use via the UNI-V port. It seems strange in this day and age but fax machines are still popular, and then there’s remotely managed alarm systems and yes even dial-up modems. All of these will cease to function in the absence of an emulated PSTN service, and the political fallout of that would be catastrophic. It might seem quaint but PSTN will be with us for quite some time, at least until all of those legacy devices start to fade out of existence.

  14. Just a question, but whats to stop NBNCo or RSP doing a deal with Telstra/VHA/Optus and using one of the Voice ports (Which provides a commited speed segment, IIRC) to enable a femtocell function, at a basic 3G level. Then, if any of the carriers wanna use it, then they can simply pay the provider for it (at a reasonable price, of course.) That way, you’d find that reception coverage would improve, giving either of the majors to clear up blackspots as necessary.

    Making the assumption here that if this is done, the company providing the femtocell gets permission from the owner and RSP.

    • Because the UNI-V has no bandwidth to speak of?

      Other than that, NBNco are actually laying additional fiber to allow future developments… e.g. femto cells.

      If you where to use it off of a ONT – you’d use a spare UNI-D

  15. Does anyone envy the position the NBNCo find themselves in? In charge of rolling out the latest tech with fantastic capabilities but also saddled with the requirement to support a raft of legacy services.

    Add to that an opposition party determined to ride everything into the ground simply to gain power, and a popular press with little interest in substance or the future and a massive focus on sound bites and sales. No mistake is too small to go unpunished, no misstep too insignificant.

    And lastly it’s unlikely the NBN will ever be completed, or at least not until Labor come to power again in another 10 to 20 years time. In the intervening decades we’ll live in a country with small pockets of IT nirvana while the rest of us rot in ADSL hell. How many of you would consider moving just to get on that gravy train. I know I would.

    It’s like a rerun of the 70’s when Labor brought in free healthcare for everyone only to have it taken away by the Libs as too expensive and then a decade later have it brought back by Labor again.

  16. We are building legacy into everything on the NBN. Moving on from why have a voice port. Why do I need to have a subscription to Internode (or whoever) simply to drive my VoIP equipment that is terminated by Pennytel (or whoever).

    The entire NBN is designed to keep the incumbents afloat.

  17. UNI-V ports are programmed in the NTU to have the highest priority traffic. There’s only 150kb/s allocated (to support 2x 64kb/s + control channel).

    I’ve been told by engineers that worked with NBNCo that it will also be possible to access the telephone service through the UNI-D data port so a SIP ATA or Asterisk type of appliance can handle the calls.

    Fax will be handled by the UNI-V just like ATAs with T.38 do now — the fax talks to the ATA, the ATA passes the digital data to the other end (not the tones), and the fax tones are recreated when the call gets to the PSTN again or terminates in another NTU. Modems will be lucky to get over 9600bps.

  18. I think you stated and answered your own question about the Liberal policy on NBN. It’s about the Future not Labout Party paranoia with censorship and the Technical clutz Stehpen Conroy, or how we are being srewed by telstra and the “Special IT” personel needed to run this shambolic scheme. By the time “Roll” out is finished, this NBN could easily be a white elephant, Good for illiterate mum’s and dad’s – they vote!

  19. You certainly need a voiceport if you want a landline only that’s reliable in an emergency. And you need it over UNI-V, not VOIPor UNI-D.

    UNI-V ports do cost RSPs more to provide. Unfortunately the people who need them most are those who use TTY (for deafness), medical alarms, some types of vision-assistance phones (for vision impairment), priority systems (to power alerts for certain medical conditions).

    UNI-V is the only way you get your phone to work if the power is off, and then for a measly 4 or so hours, too bad if the power goes off at 10pm and you need to phone 000 at 4am.

    Plus good luck finding a RSP who offers UNI-V that isn’t bundled with the internet – which many people who have a landline don’t use or they want a different net provider or use wireless. (The only one I have seen so far who may have it is DevotedNBN, and I have been emailing several RSPS to get this info.)

    So I am failing to see the cost benefits and choice some of our most vulnerable people are going to have with the NBN, despite those promises back in 2010 that noone would pay more with the NBN. A vanilla Telstra PSTN phone currently costs $29.95 plus calls (the most expensive monthly bill my elderly relos have had in ages is $50, usually more like $40). The cheapest UNI-V+internet bundle I have seen so far is $69.95.

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