Fibre-to-the-Curb (FTTC) NBN: What you need to know

The newest NBN technology type on the block is one of the best.

While the NBN’s Multi Technology Mix (MTM) may have curbed fixed-line enthusiasm for a metro home not fortunate enough to have a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) connection, the newest NBN technology type is one of the best.

Excuse the Americanised spelling in Fibre-to-the-Curb (FTTC) – it totally should be Fibre-to-the-Kerb in Australia, but is still infinitely better than the confusing Fibre-to-the-Distribution-Point – which is likely a hang-up of the original American spelling of the broadband technology. Spelling gripes aside, FTTC brings the fibre network extremely close to home for suburbs serviced by the NBN FTTC rollout, and it’s effectively a fixed-line close-second alternative to the full fibre solution of FTTP.

Most NBN providers will hook you up with FTTC if your address is eligible. In the meantime, we’ve rounded up a few premium picks so you can get an idea of how much it will cost you.

What is FTTC?

FTTC is a broadband technology that uses both fibre and copper wire cabling to connect homes to broadband internet. While still a hybrid form of connectivity, the fibre is driven much closer to homes in serviced areas: namely, to the kerbside telecommunications pit outside your home or to the driveway.

The fibre runs all the way to a small Distribution Point Unit inside the telecommunications box before connecting to existing copper lines to get into the home. For NBN, this means saving time and money on not having to dig lead-in conduits to homes.

For users, it means there’s a better chance your FTTC home internet connection speeds will be on the better side of average. That is, of course, assuming your provider has high typical evening download speeds.

The hybrid breakdown

FTTC sees fibre driven to outside the home, with the signal carried the rest of the way by existing or upgraded copper wiring. While this can lead to speed degradation that’s not likely to be present in a full-fibre FTTP connection, the shorter run of copper wiring means that FTTC download and upload speeds have a better chance of being close to advertised.

You should also take into account that copper wiring doesn’t just connect an FTTC home to the NBN’s fibre network; it’s also likely what’s used to connect the outside of your home to internal telecommunications. For homes, this means copper wiring is running from the kerbside telecommunications pit to your home, then through the home to your telephone wall socket (wherever that might be).

For apartment buildings, the run of copper wiring is likely even longer, as the initial run of copper wiring connects the kerbside telecommunications pit to the building’s communications room. The communications room then connects to each individual apartment via the building’s existing wiring. If your building is old, then this is likely copper wiring. And the higher the apartment, the longer the run of copper wiring.

How does FTTC work?

FTTC uses an advanced form of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology, which utilises the second-iteration of Very-High-Speed DSL (or VDSL2). All forms of DSL technology, including ageing ADSL broadband, use a non-voice spectrum of the copper-wire telephone line to transmit data.

As you can imagine, VDSL2 does a much better job of this than the older ADSL technology, which means that connection technologies like FTTC can reach theoretical speeds of up to 200Mbps download and 100Mbps upload. NBN consumer plans are almost exclusively capped at 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload max across fixed-line technology types (including FTTC).

Even though FTTN, FTTC and Fibre-to-the-Building/Basement (FTTB) all use VDSL2 technology, the latter two NBN connection types drive cable much closer to the home, which is why they can reliably deliver faster download and upload speeds.

How to set up FTTC

You can punch in your address on the NBN website to see whether FTTC is available in your area. If it is, like any NBN technology type, you can connect by first speaking to a provider. Your provider will liaise with NBN for your in-home setup, which may mean an NBN FTTC connection device (or connection box) is sent to your home or an NBN technician is booked to install the connection device.

Either way, you’ll have to wait for the connection box to get online. In the meantime, ensure you have a compatible router to connect to the FTTC connection box for sharing your broadband internet around the home.

If an NBN technician is booked, confirm you’ll be home for the initial booking time or speak to your provider to organise one that’s a better fit. On installation day, the NBN technician will need access to the telephone wall socket and a nearby power point to install the FTTC connection device. This networking device is effectively an NBN FTTC modem.

If you’re sent your NBN FTTC connection device, connect the included telephone cable to the telephone wall socket, then the power cable to the power point. Finally, turn on the FTTC connection device.

Now wait 20 minutes until the DSL, Connection and Power lights are all blue on your FTTC connection device, then connect your BYO router or the one provided by your provider. Ensure you connect the Ethernet cable from the FTTC connection box to the correct WAN/NBN/internet port on your router. Connect your devices to the router, either via Ethernet cable or WiFi, and get online.

We’d advise running a basic speed test on Google or a more involved version on the Ookla Speedtest website. This test is best run when no connected devices are download or uploading. Compare the results with what your provider is advertising to ensure your FTTC speeds are in line with what’s advertised. If they’re off by a noticeable margin, talk to your provider.

FTTC upgrade paths

Currently, all non-FTTP NBN connection technologies can apply to upgrade their current technology type to FTTP as part of NBN’s Technology Choice Program. FTTC can upgrade to FTTP, and FTTC users inside a multi-dwelling unit (e.g. an apartment block) can apply together to also have FTTC switched to FTTB. Please note that there’s an application fee, which doesn’t cover the costs involved with actually having fibre connected directly to your home if your application is successful.

For FTTC itself, NBN has mentioned potential upgrade pathways for FTTC via copper-acceleration technologies G.Fast and XG-FAST. G.Fast has the potential to deliver speeds of up to 1Gbps and NBN hit 8Gbps speeds in its XG-FAST trials. Those XG-FAST speeds are particularly relevant for FTTC, as those 8Gbps speeds were achieved over a 30-metre stretch of twisted-pair copper lines, which is within the range of copper distance for FTTC connections to homes. That said, whether NBN opts to roll out G.Fast or XG-FAST is yet to be confirmed.

NBN Connection technology face-off

So, how does FTTC compare to the other fixed-line connection technologies that are part of NBN’s MTM?

FTTC vs FTTP

FTTP is the current gold standard for fixed-line internet around the world, and this is also true of NBN in Australia. This is because FTTP links homes directly to the NBN access network with a pure fibre connection. While FTTC uses a mix of fibre and copper cabling, the fibre runs to just outside the home, which makes it second only to FTTP in terms of reliability and speed potentiality (including future upgrade paths beyond 100Mbps).

FTTC vs FTTB

Conceptually, FTTB is FTTC for apartment blocks, and is actually closest to FTTP in that it brings fibre directly to the building. The only proviso is that the FTTB fibre runs to the building’s telecommunications room and is then reliant on existing building telecommunications wiring, which may be copper.

In this respect, FTTB has a slight theoretical edge over FTTC in that it drives fibre directly inside the building, rather than to the telecommunications pit outside the building. That said, top-floor apartments that make use of older wiring will potentially have a longer run of copper cabling than, say, from a telecommunications pit to a house.

On the plus side, newer apartment buildings or refurbished ones may also have internal fibre telecommunications wiring, which effectively converts FTTB connections to FTTP because it’s an all-fibre connection from the NBN access network to individual apartments.

FTTC vs HFC

While FTTC uses portions of the existing telecommunications network, namely the copper wiring running from the kerbside telecommunications pit and into your home, Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) utilises portions of the existing coaxial cable network. This cable network is what’s used to deliver cable internet and pay TV services like Foxtel.

According to recent ACCC data, FTTC and HFC connections are neck-and-neck when it comes to the percentage of maximum plan speed delivered during the internet busy period (typically between 7pm and 11pm), with 90.2% for HFC and 90.3% for FTTC.

FTTC vs FTTN

Both FTTC and FTTN are hybrid fibre/copper connection types that utilise VDSL2 technology to get serviced homes online. FTTN has a fibre connection that leads to a node; from here, homes are connected to the node via copper cabling. These homes may be up to one kilometre away (with a reported average of 400 metres) which impacts overall speed. If you’re too far away, you may be ineligible for NBN100 plans.

Also, a lot more homes can be connected to an FTTN node, whereas only a maximum of four homes are connected to the kerbside telecommunications pits used for FTTC, which means fewer shared resources between homes for FTTC. FTTC also has a much shorter run of copper wiring: handful of metres rather than hundreds of metres.