What To Ask Before You Switch To The NBN

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When you sign up for the NBN in search of a broadband boost, telcos don't tend to mention the hassles you might have with your home phone line. Here are some questions you need to consider before you move your phone to the NBN.

Whether we use it every day or ignore it completely, our home phone service is something Australians generally take for granted. By now most people realise that switching to the NBN means your home phone will no longer work during a power outage, unless you opt for the battery backup service, but we're not told about the other complications.

My friend Michael is a perfect example, he got caught up in Optus' push to quickly shift HFC cable customers across to the NBN but, despite the shabby treatment, decided to stick with the telco.

After threatening to cut off his home phone and broadband if he didn't move to the NBN, Optus' call centre staff kept insisting that "nothing will change, everything will be exactly the same". Michael soon found out that wasn't the case.

Firstly, Michael discovered that moving from Optus cable to NBN cable meant losing his long-standing "Optus TV featuring Foxtel" legacy pay TV service, which has left him weighing up the alternatives and contemplating a Fetch TV Mighty PVR. This week Optus has finally enabled the multi-room features linking the Mighty PVR in your lounge room to the Mini set-top box in your bedroom.

Then, at the last minute, Optus also told Michael that it was his responsibility to pay someone to rewire his home phone so it would work after the NBN switchover – an issue which wasn't raised at any point during the Optus sign-up process or mentioned in the paperwork.

Not so Plug and Play

The trouble is that Michael has his new NBN wall socket, NBN NTD modem and Optus NBN Gateway router installed in the spare bedroom alongside his computer. Meanwhile his home phone is plugged into a wall socket in the kitchen. This would be a common set-up across Australia but unfortunately it causes complications when switching your home across to the new national network.

The problem is that once you're on the NBN your home phone needs to plug into the NBN Gateway router supplied by your Retail Service Provider (RSP) – in Optus' case a Sagemcom [email protected] 3864 Gateway.

If you want to keep using the telephone socket in another room then you need to rewire that socket to connect to the Optus Gateway, but Optus doesn't always tell you about this. Alternatively you could plug a cordless base station into the Gateway and keep a second cordless phone in the kitchen but, like Michael, you might not want a phone in the spare bedroom if guests sometimes sleep in there.

According to Optus; "Customers only require a professional install with NBN when the end user is unable to complete the installation themselves or would like to continue to utilise their existing phone jacks, as opposed to a connection via the modem."

This wasn't explained to Michael. He was initially told that his home would require a "professional installation" – although exactly what this meant wasn't explained – and Optus would waive the cost. Then he received conflicting messages from Optus telling him that his home was designated as "self-install", so they posted him the Gateway and expected him to plug it into the new NBN modem himself.

Of course this didn't sort out the phone wiring, so Michael was told to pay someone to fix it or else he wouldn't be able to use the phone socket in the kitchen. It's not a one-off issue, as two of Michael's friends who've signed up for Optus cable have been through the exact same situation.

Once the phone was up and running Michael discovered that when people called his home an automated Optus service answered the phone after six rings to announce "The person you have called is not available" – not leaving enough time for his home answering machine to kick in. It even happens when he's on the phone, rather than the caller hearing an engaged signal. He also found that outgoing Caller ID was disabled. He's in the middle of another round of calls to Optus to sort out these issues.

Ask questions

If you're getting hooked up to the NBN, make sure you ask about your home phone arrangement upfront – explaining the exact location of your current telephone sockets and the preferred location of your new NBN wall socket. It's also important to discuss issues such as security alarms, medical alarms and other complications.

If the phone and NBN sockets are not alongside each other you'll need to rewire your telephone sockets, so make sure you clarify who will foot the bill for this work. If you're paying someone, you might consider getting them to also run Ethernet cables from your Gateway to behind your television.

In Optus' defence most telcos seem to be the same, treating the home phone as an afterthought during an NBN migration even though it's still considered an essential service by many Australians. Whichever internet provider you choose, you need to ask questions about the home phone service rather than assuming everything will take care of itself.

Telstra says; "To have a home phone connected in a different area of the house, customers will need some rewiring done so their existing phone sockets will work on the NBN. Alternatively, they can use a wireless handset that connects back to a base hub plugged in to the modem. The Telstra sales teams are trained to tell customers about this before they migrate to the NBN and it is also included in the welcome letter and modem install guides we give to customers."

"Telstra will arrange rewiring of existing phone sockets for customers with a voice-only service, customers with priority assist services and senior concession card holders at no additional cost. Customers on a bundle can choose to order a Telstra technician to professionally rewire their existing phone sockets as well as setting up their new modem and home phones for a fee of $240."

Listen up

The fact is that all NBN home voice services are actually Voice over IP, using the Gateway from your telco as the VoIP adaptor. NBN grants all Retail Service Providers 200 kbps per customer to use for this home VoIP service, but there are no rules as to how the RSPs run their VoIP networks and whether they offer Quality of Service to protect voice calls against interference from other internet traffic. Michael has already experience several call dropouts.

Of course many tech-savvy Australians already take advantage of VoIP at home, plugging their handset into a standalone VoIP box or a VoIP-enabled router like the FritzBox 7490. Unfortunately most telcos won't let you run your new NBN home phone service via your own Gateway. They refuse to hand over the VoIP login details to configure your own gear, so you're forced to stick with the teclo's Gateway in order to use the phone.

This has resulted in a lot of unhappy Optus NBN customers who would prefer to ditch Optus' mediocre Sagemcom [email protected] 3864 Gateway in favour of something better. Telstra NBN customers face the same restrictions, forcing them to stick with the Telstra-issued Sagemcom [email protected] 5355 Gateway if they want to use the home phone service.

The situation makes a mockery of the push to sell high-end NBN-ready Gateways over the last few years, if you need to plug your expensive Gateway into the budget Gateway foisted on you by your telco.

Your mileage may vary depending on your choice of Retail Service Provider. It appears that some progressive RSPs are prepared to hand over the NBN VoIP login details, although they might also let you use their own VoIP service with any Gateway.

The moral of the story is don't assume it will be smooth sailing when you move your home phone across to the NBN. Have you made the switch? Did you run into trouble?

This article originally appeared on Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


    I know this article is a repost, so it's not Kotaku's fault. But the original author really should differentiate between the different NBN technology types.

    That whole "your phone won't work in a power outage unless you get a battery backup"? Well, you can only get that battery backup if you're on FTTP, which they're hardly rolling out any more.

    If you're on the majority of FTTN/B or HFC connections, well you're shit out of luck. And those technology types have even more wonderful issues during the connection process than FTTP does.

      *groan* We're getting FTTN, why you insist on ruining my day hotcakes? Whyyyyy...

        You really do have my sincerest condolences. Hope you're not too far from the node!

        Or better yet, get stuck in the SC0 "further work is required" (AKA we passed your area-ish but didn't actually bother connecting you because you're in the too hard basket, but we're still going to count your premises as RFS) doldrums.

    Michael is a chump. They treat him like shit and he keeps at it.

    Personally I have fttp. And my house doesn't even have a home phone line.

    I rekon only people over 50 have any use for it because of their resistance to switch to a mobile service that offers the same thing, but much more

      Maybe where you live.

      Where I live, mobile service is unreliable (at best) - no matter which network you use. And it's not like I'm in the middle of no where.

      Perhaps when we eventually get NBN here (keeps getting pushed back every 6 months or so), we'll decide that having unreliable VOIP or unreliable mobile is much the same thing and ditch the "landline".. but for now, the landline is the easiest reliable thing we have for making/receiving voice calls.

      There's usefulness in a landline but predominantly only in an emergency. Take the Brisbane floods for example. People were cut off in some locations for up to two weeks with no power, no ability to *get* power in some cases due to rising waters and being left remote. A land line allows you to still connect and have some contact once they can reestablish the line connection IF it goes down (in most places, the basic lines didn't, only some). If you require power, you're shit out of luck.

        Are many people still using those old school no power needed phones? I haven't seen one in years.

          Yep, we have one at home. It's one of the super old Telstra phones they used to give out back in the day.

          Our main one in the kitchen still is, the rest got replaced with powered cordless handsets.

      A landline can also offer a phone service in mobile black spots. I know my parents live in one - to get a mobile phone signal from their house, you have to walk 300m to the end of the street. If they lost their landline, they'd end up without a usable phone at home, which at their age, isn't really an option.

      If my dad takes a fall while they're swapping to NBN, and they don't have a usable landline phone, and their neighbours are out or it's just him at home... If the internet's working, he'll be able to message someone to call an ambulance, but if that's still out as well... he's gonna be SoL.

        Pretty sure there is 18 months between NBN turning on and old lines turning off. So you've got plenty of time.

          And after that 18 months? I'm actually pretty sure it's a prerequisite under the telecommunications act that a working telephone line is available to people for emergency services communication hence the copper network was available even under blackout conditions?

            Don't care about after the 18 months. The comment I was replying to was during the swap to NBN.

            I believe this is still the case. Guess I wont be moving the grandparents to NBN.

    "When is it coming on being the map still says a year and 1/2 before its extended to my area" ....

    We decided to disconnect our home phone when we got the NBN installed. The only times we ever used it was when our mothers called us or telemarketers anyway, it was only really there for our old ADSL2+ connection. So we just told everyone that our home phone was being disconnected and to call us on our mobiles and that was that. Not gonna pay a monthly fee for something we don't need.

      When I'm out of where I'm living at the moment, I won't be getting a home phone at all. Like you said, I don't believe there's a need for one now (despite my point above about emergency phones) for myself as I have multiple spare charge packs for my battery in my phone and we don't live in a flood prone area thankfully.

    Home...phone? My parents used to have these... until it got through to them that they are redundant and a pointless expense.

    Im confused about something and I cant see to find the answer on line - not via Telstra page or any news/tech sites

    I heard that areas with HFC networks and NBN will still be using the HFC network - I am on Telstra cable and pay a very good price for what I get (especially when I compare it to NBN plans of a similar speed) - I know the Optus HFC customers are being forced off the Optus network onto NBN, but I've heard nothing about Telstra HFC customers...

    Do I still need to move to NBN? Telstra haven't sent me any advertising or letters telling me I have to - only that its now available if I want to consider it.

      You'll still have to switch. Telstra will just be giving you the 18 month switch period that NBN promised people. Optus are just ignoring that promise

    My experience on NBN is not great.
    I was on optus cable, now Optus nbn HFC. I think in my area the Optus cable is being decommissioned so I've been switched over to the Telstra line. Instead of getting 29Mbps on a 30 plan I'm now getting 24 on a 50 plan. And it doesn't feel like 24, shows that would normally stream perfectly are now constantly buffering.
    We lost service for a few hours during rain the other week which hasn't happened before.
    The new modem they've given us has poor range. If I go into my backyard I'm out of my Wifi network.

    Not impressed

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    I had a question about the NBN... I'm currently on ADSL 2+, but I live really close to an exchange, so my speed is excellent.
    I've seen reports that the NBN is actually giving speeds less than ADSL 2.
    My suburb isn't yet on the rollout map.

    My questions are:
    Is there an issue with speeds?
    Is speed affected by congestion?
    Is it likely to be an issue?
    When NBN plans list different speeds... is that actually accurate, or is it kind of a suggestion?

      Very much yes.
      It's just a suggestion that depends on on variable factors such as your distance from the node, your ISP's congestion rate due to time of day traffic and the type of connection you have.

        Well... shit.

        Is this something that is likely to improve with time... like, will they add capacity, or are they just going to let it be because users don't have a choice?

          Maybe? Depends if they ever bother upgrading you to FTTP or at worst, FTTC. But if like me, you're doomed to be sentenced to FTTN, you can just pray you're living right near a node. Luckily I can see the node from my house.

      There are lots of reports of people hitting congestion and low speeds on NBN connections. However, in most cases it probably isn't a problem with the NBN itself.

      Due to the cost structures, many ISPs are under-provisioning their bandwidth from the NBN points of interconnect to their own networks. This means that if too many customers for that ISP in a given area are active at once, they get crap performance.

      This will probably get worked out eventually by the TIO, since advertising a 25 Mb/s service with an actual speed of 3 Mb/s at peak is pretty clearly misleading advertising. Especially if the ISP is offering plans at multiple speeds and not even hitting the speed of the minimum plan. For now it is hard to tell what sort of service you'll get without looking for complaints from existing customers.

        Are they seriously advertising it as 25mbs with no caveat like "speeds up to" like iiNet used to state back when ADSL2+ was first rolling out? What idiots.

          Even if an ISP says "speeds up to", if they offer both an "up to 25 Mb/s" plan and an "up to 50 Mb/s" plan, it is misleading if the faster plan can't even hit the slower maximum speed.

          Also note that we're talking about a different bottleneck here. For ADSL, the bottleneck was caused by the maximum bandwidth that the copper between your house and the exchange could sustain. Here, there's nothing wrong with the wiring to your house: the ISP has just underprovisioned the connectivity between NBNco and their own network to save money.

    I'm on a 24Mbs ADSL2+ plan with iinet. They called me to say "hey, you can get the awesome new NBN" but the same plan is 12Mbs.

    I questioned this, they said I wouldn't be getting 24Mbs in my area anyhow. I checked, I generally get a stable 13-14Mbs connection - still faster than the non-guaranteed 12Mbs.

    Can someone remind me how this NBN is supposed to be so good again?

      It's not, not the way they are implementing it now. I'm not prepared to make the change until I don't have a choice.

    What an amazing Advertisment... oups , I mean article for Telstra! You Optus bullies!

    They should be outlining all costs involved potential or guaranteed upfront. If they aren't and you don't get a satisfactory resolution to an issue they know about in advance and dont inform you of properly raise a case with TIO and the ACCC. The protections are there for a reason.

    Telcos are currently either taking bribes from NBNco, or bribing their own employees to con people into signing up to NBN plans instead of the ADSL they are asking for/and is still available.
    Companies including iiNet are guilty of lying to customers about ADSL availability altogether.

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