Correction: NBN wireless isn’t ‘replacing’ ADSL


analysis Calm down, everyone. The fact that the National Broadband Network is rolling out wireless broadband services in your area doesn’t mean that your existing ADSL broadband service will be shut down. You won’t be left in the lurch with inferior speeds and latency.

Over the past week, a recurrent National Broadband Network myth has popped up again in Australia’s national media. We’ve squashed this one before, but it’s such a pervasive one that I thought it might be worth squashing again.

At the heart of the issue is the fear that some rural and regional communities in Australia could be left with worse broadband than they started with, following the rollout of the NBN in their region. The idea goes that there are some communities which currently enjoy ADSL2+ broadband, with its acceptable levels of latency and capacity, which are not scheduled to receive fibre infrastructure under the NBN as they’re part of the small percentage outside of the NBN planned coverage areas. Consequently, these areas are slated to receive fixed wireless connections from NBN Co instead, offering consistent speeds up to 12Mbps to each premise.

However, there is a fear that these services will be inferior to the current ADSL2+ services, which range up to 24Mbps (if you’re close to your local telephone exchange). Latency (sometimes known as ‘ping’ or ‘response’ time) is also an issue — with wireless connections generally delivering poor latency compared with fixed broadband connections. This can be an issue for time-sensitive applications such as playing online games or doing remote desktop screen sharing, for example.

This week’s batch of fear was generated by the Northern Inland NSW branch of Regional Development Australia — ironically an Australian Government initiative.

In its submission to the joint Parliamentary Committee into the NBN (PDF), the RDA noted that some communities in its remit, such as Bendemeer and Bundarra, were below the population threshold to receive fibre coverage and so would only be offered wireless.

“These communities already have ADSL2+ and a conversion to an NBN wireless service may potentially be to their detriment,” the RDA’s submission argued. “Maybe it would be better for towns that currently have ADSL or ADSL2+ that are below the minimum population threshold be NBN fibred in lieu of a wireless service.” This innocuous-sounding comment then resulted in a headline flagship article in (where else) national newspaper The Australian, claiming the NBN rollout “could lead some towns worse off”.

Now the interesting thing about this situation is that it’s not the first time we’ve heard similar concerns about the NBN’s wireless component. In March 2011, similar concerns were raised in Tasmanian communities about losing their ADSL connections in favour of wireless.

At the time NBN Co provided a very simple answer to the concerns: In actual fact, the copper-based ADSL network won’t be switched off until a decade after the wireless is rolled out.

Read that statement again: That’s right. Contrary to the claims raised by the RDA and repeated in The Australian newspaper, the NBN wireless is not replacing current ADSL networks for ten years. In those affected areas, the copper network (which provides the ADSL) will be maintained for ten whole years after the wireless is rolled out. Residents will have plenty of time to test the NBN wireless network and compare it with their existing ADSL service. If they’re worse off, I’m sure a special Ministerial Determination will be made in eight or so years to keep the copper online.

There are also other options for affected locations after that period.

For those communities not covered by the initial fibre rollout, the NBN Co spokesperson twelve months ago pointed out the Government had encouraged it to explore mechanisms for a community to fully or partially fund the extension of the fibre network to cover that location, with NBN Co only seeking to recover the incremental costs incurred in the extensions. Since that time NBN Co has indeed put in place a program to address community concerns in this area.

All this, of course, is leaving aside the fact that many of those on the NBN wireless component will actually be receiving much better and more reliable broadband than they would receive on ADSL of any variant. NBN Co is tweaking its wireless rollout to the extreme, and there is every reason to believe that the 12Mbps guaranteed speed is only the start of what this highly optimised wireless network will be able to provide in future.

The same way the NBN’s fibre will be capable of gigabit speeds, many anticipate its wireless network will be capable of speeds faster than 12Mbps, and latency beyond what we would expect from many other wireless networks today.

Now I don’t want to slam the purveyors of the misinformation in this NBN wireless issue too harshly. In the RDA’s case, it is likely the organisation knows about the fact that the ADSL network won’t be switched off for a decade. But it seems as if it is merely trying to maximise its self-interest. As for The Australian, well the newspaper merely repeated the RDA’s claims.

However, I do think accuracy is important in the NBN debate. Perpetuating fear, uncertainty and doubt, and implying that Australians will be worse off under the NBN is simply not a good outcome for anyone. This is an important and high-profile infrastructure project, the kind we see only once every few generations. Whatever you think about the politics of the NBN, at least we can all agree that any decision about the network should be based on the truth — and not claims which are at best misleading and at worst outright falsehoods.


  1. That the people will be left with “less” than they have now is a myth that the Coalition has been trying to spread for a long time.

    One of the side-effects of the NBN fibre rollout is that once the copper has been shutdown in areas with fibre, it is quite possible/likely that the DSLAMs which become useless in those areas, can be re-deployed into the “7%” where the copper remains.

    Areas that don’t have ADSL or ADSL2 now may end up with it.

    Win/win really.

    • I am curious how this is actually going to occur. Assumedly the fibre will make a fair few Telstra exchanges redundant. Does telstra then get to sell off the properties and recycle the technologies?

      • Of course what Michael says doesn’t make any sense.

        The reasons why some communities don’t currently have access to ADSL would range from technical (such as exchange distance issues) to fixed infrastructure constraints (such as backhaul availability), and has absolutely nothing to do with “shortages of DSLAMS” as Michael’s statement would imply.

        Just because we now have a bunch of unutilised electronic boxes doesn’t suddenly mean ADSL is now magically feasible in areas where they were previously not.

        • I don’t expect it would become magically feasible, but the ISPs probably would want to recoup their investment in DSLAMs whatever way they can, so a redeployment may be better than trying to sell them (overseas?), depending on the cost of installation and expected revenue from the new area.

        • You seem to be confused one percent – it’s only the NBN skeptics who need to be accurate on this site.
          Michael – do you have any references to support this?
          Firstly – The CAPEX of the DSLAM component itself is insignificant compared to the OPEX of backhaul and TEBA in rural areas.
          Secondly – many rural/regional areas are services by sub-exchanges, which Telstra Wholesale do not even permit DSLAMs to even be installed into.


          • “It’s only the NBN skeptics who need to be accurate on this site”.

            Incorrect. The first person ever banned at Delimiter was, very (read too) pro NBN.

            You see what is required here is qualified and measured debate, from a factual position.

            For example, critics saying the NBN will never make a return. Has no basis and is purely unfounded speculation. Whereas, whether you believe it or not, the Corporate Plan has a financial structure mapped out, which clearly projects a profitable NBN model.

            Neither is absolute, because we are talking about future events, of course, but one has an officially analysed and weighted factual foundation to argue from, the other does not.

            It’s obviously ok to suggest, in my opinion I believe XYZ will happen. But to blindly argue over a gut feeling or ideological bias or to flame (over a period) from a non-factual position, isn’t tolerated and rightly so, imo.

            Sure people make mistakes and in that situation there should be leniency. But it’s quite simple, let’s be adult about this, put our political biases aside and correspond in a rational environment.

            In other words, no bullshit from anyone please.

          • Hi Alex,

            I am all for factual discussion, couldn’t agree with you more.


          • I wonder if the NBN could be building a fibre network of some type as backhaul (to the POI’s) for its wireless network. I wonder if they will be building some wireless towers near some rural telephone exchanges…That might help with your OPEX concerns (if NBNCo are allowed to sell backhaul in these areas in competition with Telstra – this is not a given!).

            The real debate against redeployment of ADSL infrastructure isn’t even backhaul, it is the fact that in the rural areas we are talking about, I would imagine average distance from the exchanges is so large you would still be better off with whatever wireless system NBNco is putting in place.

            LTE is actually very good, better than the best ADSL2+ at close range, it really is sad that as a shared service it just isn’t good enough in high density areas. Despite my support of fibre I really do wish we could deploy significantly cheaper alternatives, but physics is a bitch.

        • What Michael said makes perfect sense and he did say possible or likely, not definitely.

          Of course I’m sure he knows other constraints may hamper such an exercise, but I guess he assumed people would understand this and not take his comment so literally?

  2. all very strange though.

    We are told broadband in rural areas is currently crap .. but here we are saying what they have got is better than what NBN will provide.
    We are told the copper network is about to fall in a hole .. but here we are syaing it looks like it will need to be kept going.
    Will Telstra agree to maintain a very small copper network once NBN is complete?

    • “Will Telstra agree to maintain a very small copper network once NBN is complete?”

      I think that is part of the deal with the Government — that Telstra will maintain the copper in areas where the NBN fibre is not deployed etc.

      • Wasn’t that only to provide phone services to the 7% that are not receiving fiber to the home?

    • Isn’t it to be funded by Universal Service Co, or whatever it will be called?

      I think also they were keeping the copper around so that people don’t fret about voice quality, because I think NBNCo is only doing a voice port on the fibre network. Could be wrong..

      • Yep, I’m pretty sure you’re right. The USO Co is responsible for maintaining the copper outside the NBN FTTP footprint. They’re sub-contracting the work to Telstra as part of the $2bn deal between the government and Telstra.

        I haven’t seen any guarantees that Telstra will keep the DSLAMs in those areas but I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t. Perhaps Conroy will respond to these claims with some definitive statement.

        • They would be completely stupid to try to remove/sell the ADSL equipment at a time when so many dslams from all the various competitors in Australia start flooding every possible market with them as the inner-city areas transition off them.

          Selling the DSLAMS immediately would be the worst possible decision. Unless they are doing it so they can sell the exchange property. Even then, I don’t think there is that much money in the rural land that they would be trying to sell. (not to mention they’d need the land for the copper exchange anyway…)

  3. Thanks for covering this again Renai, fantastic work. it really is Win/Win. At worst your speeds do nothing, but for a majority of the country they will improve.

      • Renai,

        If this is misinformation, can you explain how the ‘Cease Sale’ clauses in the Definitive Agreement, which prevent Telstra selling new PSTN services in areas serviced by NBN, align with your statement that the ADSL network will not be switched off for 10 years? Also can you explain how a forced migration to NBN within 18 months of rollout (again, in the DA) aligns with that same statement.


        • Simon,

          as far as I am aware, those clauses refer to the NBN fibre network, not the wireless components. NBN Co advised me last year that Communications Minister Conroy had set in policy the notion that the copper network would be maintained for a decade in areas served by wireless.

          There is no need to maintain the copper network in fibre areas, hence the provisions you mention.


          • Given this is the whole basis of your article, the obligation is on you to verify this with NBN Co. Will you do this and update the article? The context is specifically ADSL.

  4. Renai, I hope you are right that “…a special Ministerial Determination will be made in eight or so years to keep the copper online.” but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Telstra ultimately convinced the government to allow it to decommission the CDMA network and force users onto its better but much more expensive NextG service. There is no way that Telstra will keep the copper running any longer than it has to.

    The only real hope is that technology advances sufficiently over the next ten years and these communiites can migrate to a new technology that provides ADSL2+ equivalent service.

  5. The problem here isn’t when they’ll shut down the old services, but the fact that they will. Many of these towns still remember the time that Telstra shut down the old ISDN lines in favor of NextG and Satellite. The claim by Telstra was that they would get better download speeds. The reality was otherwise, and cries for turning back on ISDN fell on deaf ears.

    “If they’re worse off, I’m sure a special Ministerial Determination will be made in eight or so years to keep the copper online.”

    Who says? You? You “Think” that there is a deal? Where is this deal exactly? What makes you think that the past won’t repeat itself? Do you honestly think that the Government would legislate to force Telstra to continue running an already ageing and neglected copper network for the sake of a few country people to get better latency? I doubt it. Phone services maybe, but not for data. Data will be via Wireless or Satellite. If country people want better latency for internet, city people will offer the same pathetic solution they do today – move house.

    • Why is it when a government or organisation, any government or organisation, actually does try to do something for their constituents or clients, they are still criticised?

      • I think we could argue over semantics all day – which party is better to run a country, capitalist , socialist, greens whatever the hell the liberals like to call themselves (liberal, democrats, nationalists, conservatives etc).

        Realistically, if you speak to most people – they dont like Labor. Why? most people wont be able to give you a definitive answer. As I’ve said before, there is a severe amount of mis-information in this country. Its incredible how much power the media has, yet the people just let them do it; consequently governmental process suffers because a specific paper decides that the government are useless and want them out. Thus slandering them into oblivion. Its alot like buying an iPhone. Most people cant tell you WHY they want it, they just know they want it.

        Consecutive governments of the conservative flavour arent a good thing in anyones books. (Running surpluses with people still starving in the streets anyone?) Yet consecutive captalistic governments arent any better.

        Then theres the old addage that Australians like to vote / back the underdog; As if they’re doing something right, knowing its not a good decision. Its possible this may be what we’re seeing here. Mis-information is easier to spread if it makes you look like you’re the underdog thus turning into easy votes.

        • “Then theres the old addage that Australians like to vote / back the underdog”

          Makes sense and it probably explains why the Liberal party has a dope like Abbott as leader. Choosing someone with brain cells would lose them votes. Australia loves mediocrity and we deserve it. The coalitions FTTN patchwork is part of that ethos, try to make things better with FTTH and it is frowned upon. Must wait for USA to give us the OK!

    • VDSL only works over fairly short lengths of copper, which you’re extremely unlikely to find in regional areas.

      • Have a look at a small town like Pt Germein in South Australia. Almost all the homes are within 500m of the exchange.

        • So am i , Max ADSL2 12mbps down and .8mbps up.
          Not even close to what i need.. I want 100/50 Roll on NBN.

          • If you are thinking that they have had higher speeds in the UK, they have. 40Mb out to 600m or so, not so fast a fall off by using vectoring technology to cancel line crosstalk. It doesn’t work very well out past 500m. Requires everyone to be connected to the one VDSL2 whatever (DSLAM equivalent) as it has to monitor all lines to generate noise cancelling. The customer has to use a vectoring VDSL2 modem, ALL of them or the noise cancelation is compromised. Only a couple of companies make those modems at the moment and they only make comercial grad modems at 3-6k a pop. They suggest it’s not a good idea to allow people on with non vectoring VDSL2 til the vectoring modems become available as you would have a nightmare trying to get everyone to replace their modem. The VDSL2 is 100Mb is BS, maybe if they put it right in front of your house, but the end of the block you’d be down to 80Mb. Also I cannot see them putting in enough cabinets to service only up to 500m away. Then what? 10 years, or lets be really generous 15 years, what do we do? Put in FTTH because it will be needed to service growth over the next 50 years or more. I don’t object to VDSL2 FTTN now, but I ibject that the short sighted penny pinching, if it is even that and not just opposition for oppositions sake, is going to cost us way morein the long run.

          • Also vectoring requires that you have all the pairs in a bundle together being served by the same VDSLAM

          • Yes, and it’s an important point. It means no infrastructure competition. I have read in several places people saying that FTTN would allow other providers to put in their own VDSLAM. They can’t or the whole vectoring crosstalk cancelling fails and VDSL2 returns to only really working on very short runs. I have also seen mentioned Transact uses VDSL and VDSL2. I believe though that they use it for FTTC and FTTB so the runs are short and once the cables are no longer bundled. VDSL2 is used here and there for business. There key point is here and there, not general use. Once you get a significant portion of a bundle handling VDSL2 the crosstalk starts slowing things down.

  6. You’re kidding, right? This problem is solved simply by keeping the Copper around for the next 8 years, and then probably forever? That’s absolutely crazy. If I’m not happy for some reason with the service I get from NBN, I can keep HFC in my area too then?

    You’ve got 18 months to switch to NBN once it passes your premises. Special services not supported on NBN are exempt from this. But something like ADSL2+, no way – you either go across or you get lose your service.

    I hearby debunk this debunking.

    • Difference is you won’t need HFC, because you will have much better, as will I.

      So please think about others, too.

      • This is exactly what I mean.

        People are too busy thinking about what they do have, and how poor it is and not about the rest of the country that dont have any at all. Theres heaps of people who dont get ADSL, HFC or Wireless in any reliable form, yet because the majority dont want to help the rest of the country, we’re back in the same position – NBN or not.

        If we want the NBN to succeed, the general population needs to realise this is being done for the greater good – just like the objections to Medicare or the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

      • You’ve missed my point. The article suggests worse pings is a sufficient reason to keep ADSL services on Copper around after NBN has rolled out. If that’s a valid reason, how many others could be dreamed up for keeping legacy networks around?

        The article is flat out incorrect in suggesting ADSL services will be maintained after NBN rolls out to an area. Based on the Definitive Agreement with Telstra they absolutely cannot be. A correction/retraction must be printed.

    • “If I’m not happy for some reason with the service I get from NBN, I can keep HFC in my area too then?”

      If I’m not happy for some reason with the service I get from Telstra copper can I then get fibre installed?

  7. The Government’s agreement with Telstra only requires Telstra to maintain its copper for 20 years. It DOES NOT require Telstra to maintain ADSL services in non-fibre areas. So, its quite possible that locations that currently have ADSL2+ will end up with NBN satellite (worst case) but are still able to make phone calls with copper PSTN (or dial up….)

  8. Now that I know that I will not be left with less than the dial-up I have now makes me feel relieved (sarcasm). If you live in an area deemed ‘below the threshold’ we will still have below-standard offering, though we are tax payers also. Once again, it is the city-dwellers with their demand for high volume pron downloads who get the preferential treatment.

    • “Once again, it is the city-dwellers with their demand for high volume pron downloads who get the preferential treatment.”

      Actually it has everything to do with density, and very little to do with demand (which is there regardless of location).

      Commercial returns mean something has to pay for it all. Even the Government’s involvement is an investment, to see a return, not just a big fat tax (which the lib’s need for their idea of broadband).

    • It does suck, but their are other benefits (lifestyle and otherwise) for living in the country. Its (generally) a choice you make (and if done right the NBN should help decentralize our population by giving more career opportunities in remote areas).

      Regardless the government are prioritizing that 7% of people who wont get FTTH by planning to finish satellite and wireless roll outs first. It will never be cost effective for the government or a private company to do a FTTH rollout to the most remote areas but if the need is there a community rollout can get it done.

      Check out for an awesome example. England has nothing on the scale of remoteness that Australia has but the concept is still valid.

  9. Thing is, most of the areas that already have ADSL, which aren’t in the initial fibre push, will eventually end up with Fibre. What, pray-tell, do you think connects the exchange to the rest of the world?

    It will be either fibre, or microwave in most cases. So the major cost to shift into the area is already covered. The next hurdle is low-density population centers (this is just the same as ADSL).

    The law of diminishing returns means at some point you have to draw a line, the thing is that line can shift over time, as population centers shift/ grow. The ADSL rollout was never a static once-off affair.

    Where that line is now, will be different to where it is in ten years time. Just as was the case with ADSL, which started out with metro areas, then eventually expanded.

    This has always been the problem with the Noalition notion of broadband. They see it as a ‘static’ world where commercial interests are “enough” to fix things now. Who cares about tomorrow? They sure didn’t for the decade or so when last in office; a decade of inaction.

    That the coalitions supporters are increasingly at odds with their own parties choices, not to mention local liberal factions demanding the NBN be ramped up, sells a very awkward picture. The internets used to be a luxury that politicians could all but safely ignore.

    Not today, and certainly not tomorrow.

    Turnbull doesn’t have a lot of choice, his plan is a decade late, and he know’s it; Abbott seems to just go along with whatever the party decides, so the odds that the NBN would be killed off post any election win are shrinking by the day.

    • Malcolm Turnbull knows better than most in his party what a boon the NBN would be. He’s left trying to defend the indefensible because he got rolled as leader.

  10. It’s interesting that you mention community funding of networks. Quite a few US states are passing laws at the moment to stop their own cities from rolling out networks. It appears that the US cable providers don’t mind competition as long as it’s not in their industry.

    The somewhat sideways point being that there are cities in the US that have taken it upon themselves to run high speed Internet services in competition with the large providers and that have done it very well.

  11. Community funded fibre rollouts can be very successful and cost effective, there’s a few awesome examples from Germany and England. Most of these projects actually turn a profit very quickly as the setup can be done cheaply (volunteer labour and land owners consenting to there land being dug up for no payment).

    They would be completely allowed under Australian regulation as long as they met the open, wholesale only requirements (which they would).

    • theres some good thinking going on over there too – there was one rollout i seem to recall where they gave you a discount on the install if you dug the trenching for them. the telco came along when you were done and finished the work… that would be interesting to try, considering in terms of the labour needs, though youd need a strong standard for the trenching otherwise youd be rectifying other ppls shoddy work more than doing net installs.

      ars technicas’ coverage of the dutch (belgian?) fibre roll was pretty fascinating, for more to look up on.

  12. The copper network is only guaranteed to be left open until 2022..

    I do not think the NBN has a clue what to do with those not getting fibre in the long term… All their wireless/satellite plans are just short term bandaid solutions… I guess all they have to do is limp it through until the government sells off the NBN sometime after 2020…

    Most pro NBN people really could not care less about the 7%, they are a minority group…

    • “Most pro NBN people really could not care less about the 7%, they are a minority group…”

      Possibility of covering that remaining 7% with fibre without NBN plan = 0
      Possibility of covering that remaining 7% with fibre after 93% FTTH NBN build = +1

      btw what are you basing this statement on? Have you done a survey of people in favor of the NBN or are you just assuming based on you own bias? Just a feeling perhaps?

    • In 2022, the rollout to 93% will be finished, leaving an army of experienced FTTH installers looking for work. It should then be easy and inexpensive to employ a small percentage of them to extend the 93% a little bit further into areas which might have grown since the original plan. Also the equipment might be cheaper then too. Obviously they won’t be able to fibre up all of the remaining 7% if they are in really low density areas, but townsfolk who already have ADSL might get fibre.

      But more likely Wireless will provide minimum speeds of 25 Mbps before then.

  13. It is only a city based political hacks that would take those statements as any thing but bull shit.

    When the government and NBN refuses to set quality guarantees on the wireless service.

    They confuse even for fibre with claims that it is an issue between the end user and their provider. We already know about the endless duck shoving between provider and Telstra. Contracts written charge the provider for escalated complaints and as the provider has insufficient information or staff to determine the reason for the fault they refuse to escalate.

    A touch of the real world!

    We have many rural subscribers who are connected to ADSL then disconnected when faults are traced to cable infrastructure and told their options are NEXT G or satellite.

    We have 5km of faulty cable due to lightening strike but do they replace the lot? NO! budget only allows 600m so they replace the 3 worse sections total of 600m. The cable is still too damaged to provide ADSL to most of those on the cable so you wait for the next maintenance cycle then the next. Finally you are sick of waiting to get a reliable service and opt for Next G, like your old ADSL service it still fails in the evening but just for shorter periods!

    Until they back ‘quality of service’ guarantees including speed, ping and jitter with performance penalties from one responsible company the claims such as this are worthless!

    • “We have many rural subscribers who are connected to ADSL then disconnected when faults are traced to cable infrastructure and told their options are NEXT G or satellite”.

      So NBNCo are finally coming to fix the years of neglect, as you clearly outlined, and yet, you still blame NBNCo?

  14. reminds me of the letter from telstra about shutting down the rural ISDN network , telling about the next phase of faster internet, pity it didnt happen that way, because all that was really left was back to dialup.

  15. It’s not hard to understand what RDA is saying.

    They are attempting to make a case for ignoring the population guidelines and getting NBN in their town, based on already having ADSL2.

  16. As you would all be aware, the whole idea is to remove copper from the network where it is possible. During the ten year period, where wireless is rolled out, when the copper fails you will loose that capability. There is no way in Gods green earth that anyone will be wanting to repair copper when there is wireless available. I can assure you that in ten years time the NBN, or whatever it is called by then, will still be screwing around.
    I am sure there are many more technologies coming along in the pipe line that will provide superior connectivity than that of which we are currently experiencing.
    Can someone please deliver subspace :)

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