How to fix NBN Fixed Wireless: Install a roof antenna extension


news Having trouble with your NBN Fixed Wireless connection? The solution may be simple: Install a ‘mast’ on the roof of your premises that will boost your antenna higher than nearby trees. It sounds stupid, but it’s done the trick for some — and it may fix your connection too.

Earlier this month, Delimiter reported on the case of Grant Maw, an independent software developer in Queensland who had suffered a number of problems with his NBN Fixed Wireless installation.

Maw had gone through a complex process involving several steps and multiple wireless reception tests with the NBN company as well as retail ISPs such as Optus and SkyMesh, in an attempt to get his NBN Fixed Wireless connection to function better than the existing ADSL broadband connection which has been connected to his property for some years.

The NBN company’s fixed wireless product is designed to serve the needs of a small percentage of customers who typically live and work in areas on the outskirts of major cities, or in small communities in rural and remote areas. The network is primarily being built by Swedish manufacturer Ericsson (who also built Telstra’s Next G mobile network) and currently provides speeds of 25Mbps down and 5Mbps up, although the NBN company has also recently sent an upgrade to the network live which will allow speeds of 50Mbps/20Mbps.

However, Maw was seeing highly variable speeds through the service. Initially, through Optus, he was able to see download speeds of between 27Mbps and 35Mbps to Maw, as well as upload speeds of between 12Mbps and 15Mbps. But the speeds soon changed, dropping to about 5Mbps, with the lowest speeds being 1.64Mbps.

Problems were also seen through a SkyMesh Fixed Wireless which Maw tested. He achieved download speeds of about 8Mbps on what was supposed to be a 25MBps connection, with upload speeds being essentially unusable at 0.04 to 0.1Mbps.

Some of the problems appear to have been fixed by a reconfiguration of Maw’s computer and modem.

However, the software developer told Delimiter this week that it wasn’t until the NBN company sent out yet another technician to his property and physically installed a heightened roof antenna on his house that the issues were fixed for good.

Maw had initially been told that the extensive trees surrounding his property would not interfere with the NBN company’s Fixed Wireless network.

However, this week the NBN company sent a technician to Maw’s property — the third he has seen — who installed a 1.8m mast on his roof, so that the signal from the NBN company’s local Fixed Wireless tower was above the local tree line.

“We are now getting 88Db signal strength, and I am now getting very fast speeds of the order of 45/18[Mbps] (on a 50/20 connection), which is double what I was getting yesterday,” said Maw.

Maw’s situation appears to demonstrate the high levels of variability in getting a NBN Fixed Wireless connection installed.

The software developer had previously had two NBN technicians visit his property, each of which gave conflicting messages about his wireless signal strength, and about the issue of trees interfering with that signal. He also had multiple support calls with his retail ISPs.

“I guess the main point here is that even after 2 installers AND a visit from NBN co, things were still not installed properly, and it wasn’t until a 3rd installer came to take a look (which was, to be fair, at the behest of Skymesh) that the installation was carried out correctly,” said Maw.

Maw has told his story because of his concern that others may be seeing the same issues.

“Others may be having these sorts of issues as well and if that’s the case, then the fixed wireless rollout is likely to be plagued with problems, or worse, people will be told (as I was originally) that the only way they can access NBN is via satellite,” he said.

“The average punter at the end of all this is told one story by one person and another story by others and unless they have a networking background won’t have a clue what to make of it all.”

What we have here is pretty conclusive evidence of a few different things with respect to the NBN company’s Fixed Wireless rollout.

Firstly, it is apparent that you cannot 100 percent trust what the technicians who install your Fixed Wireless setup will tell you about the speeds you will be able to achieve on it. You may get completely different stories from different technicians.

Secondly, it is apparent that you also cannot 100 percent trust the ISPs that you are buying broadband services from, as they also may not be completely in the know when it comes to your connection.

I would liken this very much to the situation with respect to getting ADSL broadband connected. Often in the past, I’ve had issues with a retail ISP like iiNet not quite knowing what is going on inside Telstra’s network in my street, and even Telstra hasn’t been able to fix a problem. It’s not until a higher-level engineer looks into the issue that things seem to get resolved, sometimes after weeks and weeks.

I once had an ADSL connection in Sydney which had functioned fine for years. Suddenly it died, and nobody could tell me why — not iiNet, not Telstra, not anyone. Finally, after weeks of support calls, a senior Telstra engineer walked into the company’s local telephone exchange and realised that a cable (probably my cable) had fallen out of its socket. He plugged it back in, and voila — problem solved.

I think the NBN’s Fixed Wireless network is going to be very much like this.

And if someone could provide us with a conclusive answer as to whether trees actually impact on the Fixed Wireless signal, that would be great.

Image credit: NBN Co


  1. Side note, many new suburbs have design covenants as part of the title deed, banning to installation of rooftop antennas amongst other things. Just another item to add to the giant list of why wireless nbn™ is a daft solution.

  2. I’m using Uniti in Adelaide (PtP Wi-Fi). I have a 3.5m tower on my roof for the tree reason as well. Through their determined installer, I get 40/10.

    But this is it – the NBN installation comes entire down to the individual doing the install – a 3rd Party Provider who will be under time/value pressures. Some will give up where others will remain determined. This is an issue the NBN needs to respond too from a Corporate Governance perspective and introduce metrics and service expectations from its 3rd Party Installers in this situation.

  3. “upload speeds being essentially unusable at 0.04 to 0.1Mbps.”

    So like ADSL in many parts of the nation :\

  4. Welcome to Outsourced Support everywhere.

    As soon as you get more groups in the mix, everyone uses everyone else as an excuse to not solve the problem. The high end techs fix this, because they A) know what the issue is and B) generally have the clout to say “No this needs to be be fixed because”

    Over time the good companies will build process and procedure to cover this. Have you checked A) tested B) adjusted C) etc, they will then be able to hand it to the next level with a definitive “it’s your issue”. Hopefully the next level will also then have process and procedure to deal with it.

    This sort of crap is seen everyday, and is essentially a problem with Management, not pushing process and communications.

    • The only issue is that this type of problem multiplies with multiple technologies and technologies from multiple vendors. We can call it the Multiple Technology Mess. And it cannot be fixed by simply introducing more technologies. There should be a sanity limit to the number of technologies under consideration, that is a limit that is well known.

      I would think that neighbours’ tin roofs will also create an issue. This style of roof would not be common in other countries so testing equipment in Australia would also be important. And who’s to say that the trees here don’t have the same effects on signal as the ones tested by the equipment manufacturers?

    • Our line of sight is completely blocked by a double row of dense gum trees just beyond our fence line on a neighboring property.
      However regardless of wind or rain we still consistently achieve close to our full 25/5plan at >23/4.5Mb/s (about 2k from our tower).
      Meanwhile still waiting for our provider to offer 50/20.

  5. I’ve always thought the “trees don’t matter” line was bs. If a hill blocks the signal then less mass will block less of the signal. So make sure you have no mass blocking the signal. Physics. Clear line of sight is what I always tell people.

    • For wireless signals it is actually a little more complex.

      The precise shape of a signal passing between two points is more than the straight-line.
      This image labels it the “Fresnel Zone” It may “look” like you have no obstructions, and if it were a laser point to point link you’d be right. But there is more to it than straight-up line of sight.

      Wireless is not simple.

  6. Short wavelengths like 2.4ghz are undoubtedly affected by trees/branches/leaves. Research point to point wifi links for more in depth information.

  7. I guess a coat hanger wouldn’t improve it ???? While don’t you dip Malcolm Turnbull in tin and shove a pole up his anus and stick him on top of your roof, it would be the first time he did anything good.

  8. > And if someone could provide us with a conclusive answer as to whether trees actually impact
    > on the Fixed Wireless signal, that would be great.

    This whole article is weird. It’s a bit like Renai being amazed that water is wet.

    Of course trees will affect the F.W. signal!

    The basic laws of physics state that trees and foliage will attenuate a microwave signal.

    Any radio or TV tech will know this. It’s been blindingly obvious since about WW2.
    Why do you think that so many houses had big TV masts (even before the advent of UHF TV)?

    Whether or not the trees will actually block the signal simply depends in the link margin, eg how many db’s can be sacrificed before the link falls over.

    Certainly if you tack on a few extra meters of mast it may help you scrape above the tree line.
    But what happens when the trees inevitably grow taller?

    • +1. My job often depends on having good handheld CB radio contact. Without faffing around on tech details, it is “received wisdom” that out in the sticks you need 5W transmit power, AND you need NO BIG TREES. On one job that was normally on a 1.5Km worksite, we had to cut that to 700 meters simply because of thick bush 3m high.

      And don’t even talk about High Voltage transmission lines.

      Trees impede signal. Full stop.

    • “This whole article is weird. It’s a bit like Renai being amazed that water is wet.”

      I am not a technical expert of any kind — I only did two years of an IT degree. I am especially not an expert in physics ;)

      Some of you may not realise this … but I actually only have an Arts degree :)

      To a broader point, Grant received conflicting advice on this issue from the NBN company’s own technicians. With this in mind, it’s not surprising some of the rest of us are confused about the physics involved here ;)

  9. The other thing with tress is that the attenuation factor changes depending on whether the tree/foliage is wet or dry. So you ‘may’ get a passable signal level on a nice dry day only to loose connection on a wet day or early in the morning due to dew on the leaves.

    The easy answer is to put the antenna above the tree line and allow for some tree growth. I would think most installation engineers/techs are ‘netwrok’ people who have absolutely no idea about radio signals.

    • Also, NBN are planning on using 3.5GHz in future deployments – maybe to provide additional bandwidth from the existing towers.

      As an even shorter wavelength / higher frequency it will be worse affected by trees and other obstacles.

  10. Waiting for future article, when Grant discovers the extra 1.2m on his roof (assume default mount is 600mm) has been matched by surrounding tree growth and subsequent loss of signal.

    For those wondering about signals and trees, the simplistic version is 2.4 ghz wireless signals are around the same spectrum as a microwave oven. Therefore there is no surprise when tree leaves containing water (or wetted by rainfall) attenuate the signal to the point of no longer functioning.
    Another issue is fresnel zones. Clear line of sight is not quite enough, picture two cones, tops joined together with the pointy ends at each antenna of the wireless link. Anything intruding into the cones area will reduce the signal strength of the connection. So even if you can see the other end, objects within ~5 degrees halfway, can affect the connection. So that antenna mast needs to be higher again.

    <=learned all this with personal long distance wireless internet solution due to pair gain infrastructure in street. Looks like it will still be required once they propose satellite for the deadend "rural" street

    PS. Perhaps NBN Limited can reinstigate the usage of Agent Orange to defoliate offending trees ? :)

  11. Completely agree with John. I understand that as a journalist you won’t have extensive knowledge of such technologies, but that’s what expert opinion is for. Failing having someone to call, there are plenty of Internet sites/forums/communities where you can get a handle on this stuff in short order.

    Reducing the band to 800mhz or lower will provide a much better link less susceptible to things like light foliage, which is why TV works on low bands – much greater penetration. But the only medium guaranteed to not interfere with radio signals is a vacuum. Everything starting from air affects and degrades the signal, the more dense the object the greater the interference. Trees and foliage will absolutely degrade the signal in a point-to-point wireless setup. If there are trees in your way the only way to solve that is to: a) go around them, b) go over them, c) cut them down/trim them or d) drop the transmission frequency and pump up the gain (if the foliage is light enough. ‘D’ is usually not an option, because lower frequency bands are controlled and locked into licenses for specific uses, making your use illegal. Likewise for upping the gain beyond a certain point – you’re not allowed to point high powered microwave dishes at ground level, as you will kill anything that enters the beam.

    If ‘C’ isn’t a viable option, if you have a large enough property, a ‘relay’ network might allow you to go around the offending trees. But if you have no third position to use, the only option remaining is to go over them. And as others have pointed out, going over trees isn’t precisely the most future proof option.

    As SBD wrote, you ignore fresnel zone calculations at your peril. Pointing across a road must account for traffic like trucks travelling through the fresnel zone that might cause intermittent signal degradation and packet loss. Looking through a copse of trees to determine line of sight doesn’t mean being able to see the transmitter, it means having unobstructed fresnel zone clearance.

    As for the ‘NBN installers’, these are just radio guys with certification who have done a course. They are rarely highly qualified long range wireless experts. So they’re gonna get stuff wrong. A lot. The reason we’re not hearing more about this is simply because there are no established channels of reporting that we have access to. It goes through ISPs, NBN and contractors, who often aren’t great at communicating between each other.

    It is, frankly, a bit of a #@&$ing mess, where consumers have very little ability to get things done right or get them fixed even when they know it isn’t working properly. But because there are few avenues for them to complain, NBN can keep pretending there’s no problem with any of it.

  12. Trees in the line of sight definitely impact on signal strength of RF comms, particularly the higher frequencies that are used by NBN. The attenuation is worsened if the trees are wet.

  13. Trees will attenuate a 2GHz radio signal, but you would need quite a lot of tree before this becomes a significant factor. However, you will get a significantly better signal from a higher antenna, even if there is line of sight with both antenna positions (as per SBDs comment about fresnel zones). It is likely that this latter factor is the dominant effect in the case described here.
    You can see the impact of height very clearly by looking at TV antennas. There are many small towns and some city suburbs where most houses have antennas 3m or more above their rooftop in spite of there being no obstructions for miles around.

  14. So he has had the solution in place for one day and you report it as “issues solved for good”? The article specifically mentions his variable speeds. He has a property surrounded by trees blocking line of sight? Of COURSE that affects signal. Now that he has his signal issue “resolved” I look forward to the follow up piece where the tower was oversupplied and he is receiving worse speeds during peak hours than ever before!

  15. Having worked in the NASA Spacecraft Tracking Industry at Tidbinbilla for some 14 years, I am seriously questioning NBN as to why they are using such a high frequency as it is seriously prone to attenuation by many means including water when used as a ground level communication means.
    That 1′ size antenna is totally inadequate for the job where most fringe dwellers will have some trees surrounding their properties.
    I answered a letter from the NBN to say that my area was now ready and arranged for an assessment to be made on 1st February.
    Tests revealed a NO, too many trees around the property and I am 2 miles North of Taree city and there was no alternative antenna tried.
    I have 3 surrounding Wireless Towers.
    Same day at 3:30 pm my ADSL Internet goes off and after much hassle, lies and deceit, I finally got reconnected some 8 days later as a new customer and we are still battling to get our old contract back as it was as it was also cancelled.
    What I also discovered was that my only option was then the Satellite which is due 2nd Quarter 2016.
    However, best I could receive at comparative cost was 50Gb where my current ADSL is 500Gb, x10 and I am certainly not happy with that prospect.
    The Satellite is meant for real Rural people out the back of Bourke and NOT fringe dwellers outside large Country Towns.
    To top it all of, My ADSL has been 3rd World since the beginning of December and is still that way on the 5th March 2016 after many complaints.
    The only answer here is for a much larger antenna to receive the wireless NBN.
    However, the base here is that NBN should NOT be using such a high frequency for wireless ground level communication and I can see many problems ahead and particularly for those that don’t do anything about the changeover until they are forced to do so.
    I have informed my Federal member for Lyne (David Gillespie) of this situation but have received no response.

    David G

  16. We see a number of problems with the NBN fixed wireless service, as David mentioned above the frequency (2300Mhz) they are using is to high, such a high frequency is very prone to attenuation from trees, hills, buildings or anything else that may be in the way between the tower and the antenna, such a high frequency also limits the distance the signal will travel. Instead of NBN Co spending millions on purchasing the 2300Mhz spectrum from Austar, they should have used the 700Mhz band which would provide much better propagation and be able to travel further distances and their for be able to service more customers with less towers to build ????.
    The second and most importance issue is the contracting companies and the technicians installing the service. The technicians doing these installs get paid a pittance from the contract company for the job, therefore they work on a volume basis to earn enough money for the day, simply put its a matter of get in and get out and move onto the next one, if their signal meter tells them theirs enough signal for the service to work then they will install it regardless of what may be in the way. We feel that NBN Co should hold the major contractors more accountable to pay more money to the Techs instead of them taking the lions share, then the Tech may spend a bit more time onsite to optimise the signal better.

  17. Ref Antennas there is always “stealth mode” Panel antennas may be flat or round or disguised. Some people cannot recognise an antenna even if they are looking at it (not that you need to make it easy .

    From VK3CKK

  18. Added to by VK3CKK

    Problems with radio antennas & radio towers have existed for many years and have usually been prevented in one way or another and usually have been able to be got around.

    The easiest radio to visulise is the Mobile phone which most people have. Radio including Mobile phones are regulated under various Commonwealth Gvt. Acts. by the Australian cwth.GVT.

    It can also be safety issue. Is x’s housing estate a danger to safety because it is there?

    Wireless is a service: in Australia involves the availability and use of electronic devices and services, such as the telephone, television, radio or computer, for the purpose of communication.

  19. The first NBN roof test, arranged through Tesltra, failed even though I was only 3.4km from the tower. I knew the tech was pointing his receiver 10deg off the direction to the NBN tower because I had drawn a line on Google Earth Pro from the roof to the tower and knew exactly where to point it but I couldn’t persuade him

    I then decided to cut down every tree on my rural property that was on the direct path to the NBN tower.

    The next test, arranged through Optus, got the maximum signal available and the receiver is only 1m above the roof.

  20. There are many tall trees between our place and the NBN tower. For about 6 months after NBN installation we had High signal strength no matter what the weather. Then we started getting intermittent Medium signal strength signal whenever there’s even the slightest breeze. Luckily it doesn’t seem to impact too much on the overall download speed.

    We had a similar problem with our digital TV antennae. When first installed it registered as 100% signal strength for every TV channel. Then, after a severe storm, we lost several of the channels. A repairman installed new booster etc., but we still didn’t get 100% strength. He claimed it was because of trees. I guess the strong winds moved the trees:). Actually, many large gum trees were blown down, but I some branches are still dangling from many of the trees. The original installer of the TV antennae gave us a five year warranty but he has since moved from the area and we only have one guy doing the work now.

  21. We have Satellite connection now via skymesh, 30gb @$50 per month – a joke. We live less than 10ks from a town of 80K……Technician who installed used some device to test if we would rcv wireless from tower less than 10k away- but no we dont…….why why why its frustrating and ridiculous. The GOV bang on about internet now in the bush, but we cant afford it. Who would move to bush now if they cant get internet?????

  22. That was going to be my problem too.
    However, what we need is for the ADSL2+ or whatever to remain as an option meaning that those who are on the disadvantage side of the NBN should not have that poor and totally unnaceptable option of the Satellite as that is not progress but a sheer regression.
    The Copper should remain for those that are unable to have a respectable Internet Service outside of the NBN.
    If this does not happen I can see the downfall of any Government that continues with this NBN farce and will simply mean that the crossbench just grows in size.
    I dare the current or any Government for that matter to continue along this line of lies and deceit with respect to a NBN that is supposed to be for everybody and for FREE.
    Welcome to the 3rd World.
    I have 5 Towers around me and are all vertically polarised from the look of the finger antennas and I look and I ask why and I am only two kms away.
    Lets do something really stupid and turn the Tower antennas on their side to the horizontal and see what happens.
    Disgusted with any Government where Science is involved.

    David G

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