NBN: End User Services Taking Shape

In the first of a series of posts after attending the National Broadband Network (NBN) Collaboration Forum yesterday in Melbourne, I will discuss what has now become completely clear in terms of what services will become available to users once they are connected to the network, progressively over the next nine years.

As I discussed yesterday, I managed to get a few minutes to look over the network termination units (NTUs) that will be deployed, and heard explained in some detail what kinds of services will be available to end users through various service providers, from out of the same NTU.

There are two specific types of NTU – an internal and an external version – with the vast majority of installations so far being – (and expected to continue to be) – the internal type. As far as the network is concerned, each will operate identically.

Pictured below is the external type I played with yesterday – it is much easier to see the various different interfaces from this photo than the photo I have of the internal type – click for larger view.

Each NTU contains an input from the network – (whether it be from fibre, fixed wireless, or satellite) – and presents six interfaces into the customer premises. Two of these are exclusively for voice services, and four are for data services, or for voice and data services combined.

Each interface is called a UNI or User Network Interface, and are suffixed with “V” for voice ports, “D” for data ports, and a sequence number. The photo above clearly displays “UNI-V1”, “UNI-V2”, “UNI-D1”, “UNI-D2”, “UNI-D3”, and “UNI-D4”.

The two voice-specific ports will not be made available for configuration in wireless or satellite serviced locations, with the inherent high latency of services over these mediums declared unsuitable for voice services. This of course does not preclude the use of voice services over the data ports – (VoIP/FoIP) – but the issue of latency will remain.

In terms of voice services, there are a number of options.

A single service provider wishing to provide only basic telephony can provision a 150Kbps/150Kbps service to terminate at an ATA inside the NTU, and emerge as an analogue POTS service through either UNI-V1 or UNI-V2, using the SIP protocol to trunk the call to the provider’s voice servers.

A second option will be to provision that 150Kbps/150Kbps service against one of the UNI-D ports, and provide an external ATA to provide the FXS port to plug your old analogue telephone into.

Although this option exists, it is considered that it will be rarely used, as the chances of both UNI-V1 and UNI-V2 being both in use through other services to force a third basic telephony service onto a UNI-D port would be very slim.

The third option is for a provider to provide basic telephony and basic internet services over the same service, but have the voice component directed to a UNI-V port, and the data component directed to a UNI-D port. This enables bundled basic services equivalent to current bundled services, at the least possible cost.

Voice will be carried throughout the NBN infrastructure at the highest available priority traffic class, while basic data will be at the lowest “best-effort” priority.

The NBN will have four traffic priorities, from highest to lowest: Real-time (voice), Interactive (IPTV, Video conferencing), Transactional (Business data, gaming data), and Best Effort (basic data/internet services).

So what does all this mean?

In the end, it means you can choose to take only what you want/need from the network, and nothing more. A-la-carte if you like.

For example, you may choose to keep a fixed telephone service through Telstra on UNI-V1, a basic internet data service through, say, Internode on UNI-D1, and an IPTV service through Foxtel on UNI-D2. You still have UNI-V2, UNI-D3, and UNI-D4 available for other services, through other providers.

Does your boss want you to work at home three days a week? They could provision a WAN connection they control back to your home on UNI-D3, and maybe a fax line on UNI-V2. Done.

And you’ve still got a port left over – perhaps an e-health monitoring service to aid your ailing mother who lives in your back room on UNI-D4?

What it means, is complete flexibility, and consumer choice.

Fed up with your Internode data connection? Switch to iiNet at the drop of a hat – presuming of course you are not under a contract with Internode.

Telstra put your voice pricing up to a level you don’t like? Switch to Optus at the drop of a hat.

The network will no longer be the limitation that it has been for many years.

The network will be completely agnostic, and you are free to take on as many services as you want or need – (within the six available ports) – and not be hamstrung by bandwidth constraints or physical barriers such as pair-gain and RIM situations, both of which have prevented many from receiving anything other than very basic internet services – (if anything at all) – up until now.

At initial rollout, basic internet and telephony will be the only available services. Every six months, NBN Co plan to drop more services into the network – starting with multicast IPTV, then services focussed on the small to medium business space, and then the large enterprise space.

Over time, more and more service types will be developed and added to the mix.

For the market, this means that the providers who innovate and deliver the best products over the network will emerge on top. The competition will be furious.

And the consumer will win.

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  • Thanks Michael great post. I can’t believe Multicast IPTV is being lauded though. Presumably only licensed “Multicasters”.

    One thing I still don’t understand though. How does the ‘wire’ get from outside the house to the inside? I’ve heard so far – ‘through your existing phone line’, a ‘Retail Service Provider’ does the connection. NTU, PCP, RSP… is this guy wrong? http://nbnexplained.org/wordpress/user-premises-equipment/

    • He’s not wrong particularly, perhaps just doesn’t reflect the most recent updates to information.It certainly won’t enter your house through your existing phone line, as I’ve certainly never heard of light travelling along the inside of a piece of copper! Whoever came up with that one is a bozo!He is correct that the fibre from the street is terminated onto the building to a point on the outside of the premises and then -(depending which NTU you have) – “jumpered” with another short fibre straight to an external NTU or inside to an internal one. This is particularly important in an area served by aerial fibre.If a truck comes along and snags your overhead cable, this provides a level of protection against damage to the NTU – the closest to the NTU the fibre can break is at that first termination point – ie: it won’t yank an external NTU off your house, or rip a hole in your wall inside…which is a positive result!While it is most likely to break in the middle, you can’t always predict the laws of physics, and high wind in particular is another example.Multicast IPTV – (whether your a fan or not) – will eventually become a medium of choice for many. It will be far cheaper to deliver content over the fibre than over a DTH satellite service – (the Foxtel model for example) – and they won’t have to replace/upgrade $1b satellites every 10 or 15 years.It also opens up the market for new players, with relatively low cost of entry. You are quite right though that how this is licensed will be a interesting issue.

      • as someone who has been involved with IP Vid since 99 I find the use of taxpayers money to enable corporate copyright holders to deliver their content just plain wrong. But that is another story.

        The grey area for (and I worked for optus vision in 1995) me is what is the cost of getting it inside my hoes. Who decides how/where an NTU is connected internally. Does the service provider do it? If I’m in an MDU is it the body corp responsbility? If my house is 50 m from the st what is the cost etc etc

        • I don’t think it will be a matter of taxpayers money being spent to enable corporate entities to deliver copyright material. I have no doubt that licence fees will remain, and the potential of having move “broadcasters” increases the collection of those fees.Advertisers will still pay to be on those networks, just as they do now, and they still have to employ people to manage and run their playout centres.Many terrestrial television broadcast towers – (particularly in regional areas) – are funded by the government now – (and have been since the dawn of television in Australia) – and there are many more transmitters outside the major cities than there are inside them.As for getting it into your home, NBN is responsible for delivering the fibre from the street – (whether it be aerial or subterranean) – to your NTU, regardless of whether it is internal or external. At the NTU, their responsibility ceases.This is no change from the current situation, as Telstra’s responsibility ends at your first telephone port now.On your side of the NTU – (through any of the UNIs) – it is then your responsibilty. Many RSPs will offer to do this work as part of taking up an actual service with you, but many will not. If the NTU is internal, NBN Co will bring the fibre all the way inside your house. If the NTU is external, the fibre itself never comes inside, but Cat5/Cat6 cabling will need to be brought inside so you can access it, and as it is AFTER the NTU it will not be NBN Co’s job.Given that it is possible to have six services on the six different ports, that may involve bringing six cables inside.This is undoubtedly why almost all people have chosen the internal version so far – so they don’t have to do anything more to bring it inside. If you want minimum fuss, and you are given the option of which NTU you receive – (and most will) – pick the internal version.It will be inside, with the fibre, and you can plug your routers, and phones straight into it.

        • Jim, taxpayers are paying for a universal communications backbone to be built. Consumers are then paying for all services. If a user wants video (and many do) they just pay a retail provider for it out of their own pocket and it generates more wholesale revenue for taxpayer-owned NBNCo.

          • Taxpayers are not “paying for” anything. They are “loaning” money for a government-owned business to pay for it, funded by wholesale access fees, and repaid to the taxpayer.

  • Anonymous

    I presume from this setup that I will just plug my router WAN port into the NTU and away I go.

    • Spot on Graeme.

      • Anonymous

        But hang on a minute, I, like every other house in the country, have a Telstra boundary point for Phone that terminates inside the house.
        With the External unit connecting to the street fibre and then to the internal unit, this means that without doubt EVERY house will need at least some re-cabling to be able to get network connection inside.

        The phone is a non-event as the existing in house cabling will just connect to the NTU, but that wont take data.

        Example: I have ADSL2+ connection that is delivered over the phone line, so the phone connection is terminated into my study where I have the modem and a cordless phone base station. From this point I have a data network to serve gigabit to various devices around the house.
        In order to have an internet connection I am going to HAVE to get a cable from the NTU to my study.

        I find it extremely dingenious of anyone to insist that houses wont need at least some form of recabling to be able to get an internet service, as these is the ONLY example that someone that uses a wifi router that they can put at the NTU that doesnt require a cable run.

        • It’s not disingenuous at all.

          When they come to install your NTU – (internal or external) – you get to nominate where it is. Opt for the internal, have them put it in your study, and they’ll do that work.

          No issue.

        • But when people say “recabling” that implies to me that they’re going to have to rip out my old copper phone cables and outlines, and install new ones. That’s simply not true.

          This is only “recabling” in the same way that you need a new cable in order to receive foxtel or a second phone line. In fact, Foxtel often run promotions where they do the installation (including a new cable – all the way from the street!) for free – and it’s not like Foxtel even HAS any competition!

        • You have an internal Cat setup, most houses do not.
          And why can’t the NTU be in your study?

  • This should be very interesting. I can’t wait to see what the NBN actually brings in terms of tangible benefits in both the Short term and Long term.

    Just a couple of questions:
    1) What’s the laser power of the ONT? That, to me, would be one of the dictating factors in how long that backup powersupply lasts.

    2) Do you know if NBNCo has investigated using a battery on the ONT to provide power to consumer ATA ports on the NBN, if there’s any? That’d likely get about the issue of not being able to use the phone in a black out.

    • Thanks for the questions Gary.

      1) I didn’t think to check power ratings, but I don’t recall there actually being any power rating on them (not that I was looking). These were very much lab test units – (the external one in particular was marked as such).

      2) The battery backup in fact is there to back up the ATA ports – (UNI-V1 and UNI-V2) – only. It is not for supplying power to the UNI-D ports. The addition of the battery backup is solely to address the concerns of lack of power to the UNI-V ports when external power fails. The power goes out, you still won’t have internet.

      • Anonymous

        A very good reason to order the internal unit and use a UPS.

  • Sure, but you can do that now with your gear if you want your ADSL to stay up.

  • If you have different services coming in on different ports then it’s going to be a pain in the arse to have a separate phone, personal data, work wan and iptv ethernet connection happening. I mean you could put in a patch panel and have the appropriate devices plugged into a labelled wall plate – but imagine having to switch the ethernet cable in your laptop/desktop or have two wireless access points and switch your wifi profile when you wanted to use your home vs work internet…a VPN still seems like the go for that application. Although IPv6 will begin to be in effect by then so I guess you could just be placed on your company subnet and be done with it

    • Yes, in the example of a connection back to your corporate network, you would most likely be on their subnets, whether that be IPv4 or IPv6. They would also likely have a security policy disallowing you from being connected to your home internet and their network at the same time.

  • Anonymous

    The flexibility of 6 different connections is nice. Are there any ways to expand it though?

    Also all of the above kinda relies on you actually getting the fiber. Voice, IPTV, etc… over wireless? I wish.

    • There is talk that if required you may be able to get a second NTU. Every premise location within the fibre footprint is allocated three fibres – the main one, a second one in case your house lot is one day subdivided into two, and a spare in case of a failure.

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  • Shane Bryan

    Sorry technical question. When a new service is provisioned via the NBN and to your NTU, how is it decided which port is used for it and how is that then recognised? Does each port in the NTU already have a IP6 / MAC address and is the service then bound from the provider to that? (I assume this is the case, as I can’t see the point of these ‘digital’ services being assigned old fashioned PSTN numbers – as copper lines are handled now). Of course I’m not aware how many network addresses the NTU has, either a single one – or one for each port so hopefully someone can answer that.

    What I’m also curious about is how will things then be communicated to the customer? That after Foxtel come out, install their STU, that it can ONLY remain plugged into that one port or it won’t work. Most people will think that the NBN connection ‘is all internets’ and wonder why they can’t move their Foxtel to another room by themselves.
    Most people ARE going to want to rewire their houses for this I feel, if only so everything is labelled clearly for them! 🙂

    • The NTU contains enough intelligence to report its basic configuration. The NBN Co NOC can actually interrogate the NTU to confirm current configuration.

      In that way, when an ISP uses the OSS/BSS gateway between themselves and NBN Co, it will most likely not allow one ISP to configure a port in use by another ISP.

      Each port would have a MAC address, being a Layer 2 service – (data link layer).

      As for the customer, I would imagine when ISP X configures your NTU, they’ll simply tell you that their service is bound to port UNI-D1, or UNI-D2, etc, since they’ll be aware which port they are setting up via their interface to NBN Co.

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