One of the most popular stories on our site in the last few months was our look inside a home connected to the NBN.
For anyone curious about the nuts and bolts of what's involved in connecting to the NBN, the photos are worth a look - see them here. We were among media given a tour of a display home in a new estate in western Sydney, setup by the NBN's people to show off the sort of applications possible using the network. Most of the tour was spent showing us things like Skype-equipped TVs, movies on demand via Xbox and videoconferencing.
Inside the box
NBN equipment in a display home.
As we walked out, we were also offered a look at some of the network connections in that particular house, including the equipment connecting the home to fibre - an opportunity we weren't going to pass up.
Specifically, we looked inside a Home Distributor cabinet (see photo above), which housed the NBN-supplied Network Termination Device (NTD), as well as other bits and pieces you might find in networked homes, such as cabling and a router.
There were several readers looking at the photos who saw red at what they said were serious flaws, such as messy cabling and the location of a power point, among other things (take a look at the comments). Who was responsible for all this, and for getting it right?
In taking the photos, our aim was to show everything we saw: the NBN-supplied and installed equipment, as well as anything else that happened to connect to it. And this was a cause of confusion - the NBN isn't responsible for plugging in everything in your home, just as you wouldn't expect them to dictate how you setup your own home network today. If things are a mess, who is to blame?
There's plenty of guides, FAQs and handbooks governing the way the NBN should be installed, exactly where the equipment should go and who does what. We've linked to some of these at the end of this article. They covers things like:
- wiring guides
- network diagrams for apartment blocks
- how many mm long each side of a network distributor cabinet should be
- how the cables connect to overhead poles
- the degree of bending allowed in the fibre
So where do the NBN Co's responsibilities end and yours begin? The official point at which the NBN Co's work ends is called the Network Boundary Point. Here it is in a slide from NBN Co.
The Network Boundary Point. Source: NBN Co. (PDF)
Up to this point, NBN Co will install:
- fibre to the home
- the Premises Connection Device (PCD). This is where the fibre first arrives at your house. It's a box attached to the outside of your house.
- the Network Termination Device (NTD, sometimes also referred to as an NTU), where the NBN fibre network terminates. This box is usually located inside your house and has 4 data ports and 2 voice ports. NBN Co also installs the Power Supply Unit (PSU), which provides backup power in the case of power failure.
It's the end user's responsibility to deal with cabling from this point on. Here's what the NBN End User Premises Handbook says on the matter: "The NTU is installed, owned and maintained by the NBN operator. It represents the demarcation point between the NBN operator’s responsibilities and those of the End User/RSP [Retail Service Provider, or in other words, your Internet provider] including customer cabling and customer equipment with respect to provisioning of services and assurance."
Also from the same Handbook: "All internal cabling on the customer side of the network boundary (e.g. the customer side of the NTU) is ‘customer cabling’ ..."
You choose your Internet provider, what router you use, whether you want cabling to all the rooms in your house - all the things that you make choices about now.
As NBN senior media relations advisor Brendan Elliott told us in an email: "In common with new developments, homeowners will be responsible for any extra wiring/routers etc beyond this. For example, if they want multiple connection ports in the home this will be for them to arrange (and pay for) independently. This is no different to the situation with standard phone or data lines people have today."
There are all sorts of rules about what can be done at this point, like cabling a house, installing fixed cable points and conduits - things that require an accredited cabler who's going to drill holes and hammer nails.
The "NBN Activity Matrix" showing who is responsible for what. Note, this table applies to new developments. Source: NBN Co. NBN Co In-Home Wiring Guide for SDUs and MDUs (PDF)
The thing is, the complaints about the NBN connection in our photographs were mostly about the end point - the way your cables are plugged into that NBN box you saw in our photos.
Perhaps what goes on inside the box itself is not such a big deal - in some houses, the cabling at the NBN box probably isn't going to involve much more than plugging in the Ethernet cable that connects to your PC or router.
As you can see in our example though, it can get a bit messier. Rules about the network boundary point dictate that this is the end user's job to get all customer-side cabling right.
Digging down further, we asked about making that all important connection - who actually plugs in the cables to the NTD. We spoke to Internode product manager Jim Kellett, who told us in an email:
"My expectation is that most customers would simply have the relatively neat NTD & PSU installation (photo 2), with one Ethernet cable leading to wherever their router lives inside the house (study/laundry/pantry/server room!) and (optionally) another cable to the telephone points inside the house. From wherever the router resides, the LAN interface/s could then be connected into the household cabling via a wall point, eg for an Ethernet connection to the TV Set Top Box for IPTV. Most other Internet devices in the house would simply connect via WiFi from the router."
"A licensed cabler is responsible for all of the premises cabling beyond the Network Termination Device; however customers can simply 'plug an Ethernet cable in' if that's all they need. For example NBN installations I have seen in existing (rather than new) houses simply have the NTD & PSU on an inside wall, and the customer has plugged their WiFi router (and in future cordless phone) directly in to that - for a basic set-up, that's it, job done."
"We're happy for customer's to plug in their router to the NTD - it's just plugging in an Ethernet cable, no biggie - and this is very common with an internal NTD," Kellett's email stated.
Kellett also described the typical procedure when the NTD is installed on the outside of a house. "With an external NTD then - as long as the premises cabling has been installed by a licensed cabler (that's the important bit) - it doesn't matter which of those three plug it in. Typically you'd get the NTD installed, get a cabler around if you need one, and then get the cabler to plug it in - so you can test all your ethernet wall plates while they are onsite."
On a side note, when we asked who did the installation of the wiring job we photographed, we were told that the installation at the display homes was overseen by NBN Co., and that "all work at Bunya [the name of the housing estate] was done to the required standards".
If anything, this shows the NBN is going to bring home networking to the fore as an issue for home tech users.
We've spoken to a broadband technician, who suggested that the level of knowledge about what's required in cabling a home will be less in existing homes, compared with new houses built in Telstra Velocity estates which also have fibre. "With the Velocity estates, the homes are all new builds, and the builders know the requirements. In existing homes, people are more likely to not know the cabling requirements for the new network architecture."
In the past, perhaps a wireless router was enough. The difference is that now, the NBN will give people extra motivation to employ a cabled network.
The NBN wheel of fortune spins again
What an NBN connection looks like
Photos: here's what an NBN-install might look like in your street
National Broadband Network End User Premises Handbook
Preparing for the National Broadband Network
NBN Co In-Home Wiring Guide for SDUs and MDUs
National Broadband Network: A Guide for Consumers
NBN Co - FAQs
NBN Co - Find a service provider
Have questions or comments? Add your comments below.