Home / Blog / Why Australia’s NBN rollout has become a worldwide embarrassment

Why Australia’s NBN rollout has become a worldwide embarrassment

It’s a sad state of affairs when Australia is featured in the New York Times about how incompetent we are when it comes to technology. The latest report is about how we’ve bungled the NBN rollout.

The previous mention was last year when the Australian Census website acted like it was the 1950s and made us the laughing stock of the world.

Sadly, both of these stories in the New York Times were spot-on.

The latest story appeared a few days ago under the headline “How Australia bungled its $US36 billion high speed internet rollout”.

It rightly points out that our internet speeds are slower than that of the US, Western Europe, Japan and South Korea despite the $49 billion National Broadband Network rollout.

In fact, Australia came in at an appalling No 51 on the Akamai ranking of internet speeds behind countries like Thailand and Kenya.

Now you’d think, after spending nearly $50 billion over the last eight years we’d have some semblance of a national high-speed network that would be the envy of the world.

The story about Australia’s NBN in the New York Times

Instead, as the New York Times rightly points out, we’ve got a situation where costs have blown out with a grab-bag of new technologies like fibre mixed with old and outdated copper wire.

It’s like bringing a Ferrari to your driveway and only being allowed to drive along roads full of speed bumps.
My current set up at home is with Optus cable broadband delivered via HFC (hybrid fibre coaxial) which has now been declared substandard by the NBN and replaced by FTTC (fibre to the curb) between July and December 2018.

At the moment, I can already achieve speeds close to 100Mbps but with rubbish upload speeds that barely crack 1Mbps on a good day.

But download speeds are fast and it’s reliable. With the delivery of the NBN there is every likelihood that I may have to pay more to stay with the 100Mbps download speeds.

Yet I don’t know whether the NBN will use the same connection from the street that I have now – part of the Optus infrastructure that the NBN has declared not up to standard – or come the rest of the 10m from the curb to my house with a copper line that’s been there since the middle of last century.


Unfortunately, the “go big or go home” attitude about the NBN that arguably swept Labor’s Kevin Rudd to the Prime Ministership in 2007 has been considerably watered down amid political squabbling and negotiations with Telstra that took a lot longer than expected.

When the Coalition came to office in 2013, the NBN was running way behind schedule and with a projected cost of $70 billion.

Instead of upholding the Labor plan of connecting most homes with FTTP (fibre to the premises) the decision was made to swap out areas with FTTN (fibre to the node) and FTTC (fibre to the curb) with existing infrastructure like copper taking it the rest of way.

But rather than replacing the copper network, we were told it was still a viable technology but it would take $640 million to improve.

The result is still the same – slower internet than we’re capable of.

And sadly, this makes us look like a technology backwater despite being a country that’s rich in resources and with a climate and lifestyle that’s the envy of the world.

Now while all of this is going on we are seeing the rollout of the advanced 4G LTE and 5G networks which are capable of speeds of up to a staggering 1Gbps per second.

Speeds that are 10 times faster than the NBN on its best day.

Back in 2007 when the concept of the NBN was floated for the first time, I wrote in a Daily Telegraph newspaper column that by the time the NBN fibre network was finished in 2020 we would have wireless technology that would be faster. And I was right.

You’d expect that after spending $50 billion dollars on a network it would be the best in the business.

It’s not and the rest of the world is starting to notice.


About Stephen Fenech

Stephen is the Tech Guide editor and one of Australia's most respected tech journalists. He is a regular on radio and TV talking about the latest tech news, products and trends.

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  • John Grayson

    In what universe is wireless faster than fibre?

    • zigarot

      i get 1.9Gbps on my wi-fi, 300mbps on my mobile, it’s possible, however it’s definitely more expensive. I have no doubt that in the future, wireless internet will be everywhere, but I’m thinking 50 years.

      • Luke

        Wireless might be faster over a short distance with limited users but not with everyone using it. Look what happened when Telstra had there free data days.

      • John Grayson

        But that’s not the question. Fibre gets in tests Petabits/s! Obviously slower at consumer price point, but the fastest Wi-Fi vs fastest fibre available to consumers and fibre wins hands down.

      • Joseph Pons

        1.9gbps? You’re not reading what’s on your router box, right?

        • zigarot

          You’re right, it’s only 1.3gbps, haha, 600mbps on the 2.4 GHz, 1.3 Gbps on the 5 GHz. I. In practicality I generally get ~900mbps due to distance from router, that’s over 802.11ac.

      • Goresh

        You do realise that fibre operates reliably in multiple terabits per second.

        255 terabits per second is actually being rolled out.


  • electroteque

    I’ve got some revelations. They have not purchased the coax cable to the property. Many HFC cables are installed underground. This means new trenches for brand new cables. They will detach the current coax cable and deliver a new one. This means the same trench that would be made with FTTP and therefore the same cost involved.

    For Optus only HFC areas they will never see FTTC for another 10 years because of this brainfart after thought.

    FTTC is still snake oil faulty copper. Because many of the problems exist between the faulty degraded telephone line and the pit. This means they would be digging trenches to replace that faulty copper cable too.

    And therefore no reason why FTTP was not the better choice.

    This also means all those areas they rushed to sabotage with FTTN. Will also wait 10 years for full fibre or FTTC.

    Total sabotage and it’s all Turdbulls fault. He should be sued with massive class actions for blatant economic sabotage.

  • electroteque

    Wireless and radios is dead full stop. No amount of snake oil, even repeaters will fix faulty issues with noisy, congested , packet loss wifi. Fibre to the premises or GTFO.

    Mobile is severely insecure, designed to be intercepted and just plain scam snake oil with measly data because it cannot handle capacity.

    Many people already complaining about congestion on fixed Wireless because it’s total rubbish. And no doubt very insecure with hardcoded encryption keys.

    • Goresh

      The answer to higher data rates is to bring the fibre closer to the customer, this is as true for wireless as it is for fixed line. Each of those mobile transmitters is tied back to the internet by, you guessed it, fibre.

  • electroteque

    The telephone lines should have been ripped up with a full HFC rollout. We wouldn’t have had the problems today if the Liberals never sold off Telstra.

    The HFC therefore should never have been bought back and included as a quick way to boost connection numbers. Considering all Optus areas are left to waste and have no way to possibly get onto the NBN. Only those with Telstra cable will be getting HFC relabeled as NBN.

    And even then once everyone is forced onto that the congestion, noise and packet loss will be so great it will be falling over. Only a few homes have HFC connected because how expensive it is. And then once forced onto NBN they will be forced to pay $100+ instead of $88 to keep their 100mbps connection.

    I just for notification Telstra for the first time in years is doing HFC “upgrades” .

    Well it would be good if they provided actual security updates to their very insecure netgear modems that are delivered without firewall filtering enabled and can barely do 100mbps.

    So supplying more faulty copper modems means more unmaintained insecure routers waiting to be hacked.

    • Gaven Listen

      Oh what a load of crap crap crap. Heres a version for all you so called experts. Average Joe Blowme thinks that buying a NBN service will get them high speed . Stop blaming NBN. Start blaming the scum bags like Dodo and most others who are selling NBN at restricted speeds . 12mbps; 25mbps etc etc. I have myrepublic at home fttn and i get 100meg 24/7. Oh, by the way. Ive been told that Gigabit speeds are on their way. And yes. It will be possible even thou i dont have fibre running up my ass. Unbelievable the amount of crap some people want us to believe. Yes. Myrepublic customer service might such. But at 59 bucks unlimited and at top speed 100/40 whos the idiot here?

  • Goresh

    3 points
    The FTTP roll-out was only about a year behind schedule at the time of the election, mostly as you point out due to painful negotiations with Telstra and teething problems to be expected when building a major project from nothing.
    FTTP actually delivers a 2.4gbps to the house.
    This is then “shaped” to the data rate if the plan purchased.
    While it is possible to deliver 1gbps over the LTE network, this us for one customer understand absolutely ideal conditions. Add more customers and real world propagation and data rates will fall rapidly. FTTP is always ideal propagation conditions and was scared such that it would be unlikely that even in peak usage there would be an impact on performance due to network limitation (retail provider failing to cater for sufficient backhaul is an entirely different matter)

  • chris conder

    Most other countries have the same issue, Telcos protecting copper assets. The UK is the same. The politicians and civil servants fall for it every time.

  • Paul

    You have to ask yourself the question, why is the New York Times so interested in the NBN. Basically it is because the the USA is slipping backwards, I know you can get 1Gbit connections, but not everywhere, and it is all rolled by competing networks so the profit margin can be very small, in fact Google is taking over failed fibre rollouts. Some states in the USA have less than 10% broadband availability , so a country with a centralized fibre operator , supplying and upgrading networks looks a a way lot better.

  • jadyn2014

    If HFC has been declared substandard by the NBN; then how come they are installing it in my area?

    • Steves

      FTTN is substandard but that doesn’t stop NBN building with it. I guess HFC is just the same…

  • Bumblebee

    I’ve had to spend approximately $2000 in airfares to get the nbn[no bloody ‘net] installed – today, hopefully, is my LAST airfare from a remote locality @ $600+ per trip – to supposedly have a satellite dish installed – because the OTHER nightmare is – having tall trees on ones property – ANOTHER anomally KRUDD forgot about when his loose lips sunk this ship….in the NT – we have had contractors, contracting to other contractors whom then expect yet ANOTHER contractor with their OWN abn to work for a pittance – jobs are sent for the next day at 2130 – 2200 – how the hell is that acceptable, these contractors[in the NT – usually young and/or Irish!!!] are expected and we as consumers demand notification for these jobs, we have workplace commitments[as per usual with Labor – that is NOT a concern – afterall, in Australia you can receive unemployment benefits???!!!] for which planning ahead is required – but, that doesn’t concern the IMBECILES mismanaging this rollout…they’re pocketing $$$$millions whilst the taxpayer takes it up the back passage….as with anything and everything that the labor governments come up with – if it doesn’t kill you immediately, it WILL kill you for the dishonesty, the imbecilic system and the imbeciles mismanaging this rollout should be fined – but, as we ALL know the toothless tiger[TIO] whom is in the back pocket of ALL the telcos, accepting handouts and kickbacks to stay silent on the conundrum should also be re-staffed with people whom can call these indecent, imbecilic, greedy telcos as well as the mismanagement team at nbn[no bloody ‘net] out and FINE them accordingly, of course, then those people at the TIO might have to reach into their own overflowing with cash pockets and pay that fine with their OWN $$$$ – the ONLY way to make these imbeciles either disappear[preferred] or get their acts together and get on with the job – royal commission into this – imbeciles with hands in cookie jar to be jailed, preferably with the paedophiles….luckily for them I am Not yet ready to go to jail – the date is getting closer though……

  • Chris Mac

    It’s a fucking joke. Time and time again we see politicians waste our country’s money overpaying contractors or just through a lack of foresight. We should never have tried for cable nbn in regional area which would have been better and cheaper with wireless. Cable should have been reserved for metro and major regional areas.

    I live in a suburban in Waratah Newcastle and we get fttn. The suburb next door already has fttp. What the hell is that about? I have a business that relies on fast Internet and quite often I can’t do my job because of limited bandwidth. It’s a fucking disgrace. Spend the money and do the job properly