Frequently Asked Questions

Will the copper switch-off deadline be delayed?

I get asked this a lot. With the chaos and disorganisation of the transition process it is clear that many parties (including the NBNCo) are not ready for the switch-off. So an obvious solution is why not just delay the deadline? It has certainly happened in previous situations such as the switch off of the Mobile CDMA network.

While nobody can absolutely predict the future, having researched the background to this, I believe that this is extremely unlikely. The switch-off date is part of the Definitive Agreement signed between Telstra and NBNCo in June 2011 and the Migration Plan agreed between Telstra and the ACCC in May 2013. These are both large complicated, legal documents which took considerable time to negotiate (multiple years). The Definitive Agreement (among other things) gives Telstra significant compensation for the disconnection of its legacy copper services and the Migration Plan agrees the actual process of the switchoff. Due to the complexity of these agreements between three very large organisations, delaying the switch off is not just a matter of the two CEO’s concerned calling each other up and suggesting the deadline be delayed. Indeed the government itself has expressed their powerlessness in this matter.

It is my opinion that businesses should take this deadline very seriously. The risk of losing their services and at best starting the transition too late to do it properly are just too great.

What if NBNCo are taking too long to install the NBN?

According to the agreements, if there is an order with NBNCo to deliver the NBN when the switch-off deadline is reached, your copper services will not be disconnected. So this in theory does give some extra time. However there are several issues with this:

  1. Telstra manage all their services according to telephone numbers, whereas NBNCo work with street addresses. Unfortunately it is not uncommon (particularly in multi-tenant buildings) for Telstra’s address records to be inaccurate. Telstra is expecting to go through the lines to work out which services should be disconnected and which should be left (due to an outstanding order) by lining up the addresses on the lines with the NBNCo orders. The possibility of error here is quite considerable and the services may be disconnected by mistake. How long it would take to reconnect your services or even is this would be possible is unknown.
  2. Once the NBNCo do install the NBN service, there is just 30 days to migrate your services before the copper services are switched off. In our experience this is simply not enough time for businesses to properly test new systems and perform the migration. It is certainly not enough time to change direction if the chosen solution does not work as intended.
  3. During the last 20 days before the disconnection deadline, no changes are allowed to the copper network (called “Order Stability”) in the area. This can severely limit what can be done in terms of testing and migration.

Our advice to businesses to to steer well clear of this deadline. Start the migration well ahead, give yourself plenty of time to choose your provider, negotiate any contract terminations, perform the migration with lots of testing and make sure all your copper services are disconnected by the time the deadline arrives.

Will my phone / phone system still work?

The short answer: not without some significant changes. The way that phones and phone systems work over the NBN is completely different to the way they work now. The NBN is purely a data network – i.e. digital – unlike the copper phone lines which are analogue. Telephones (and most of the smaller telephone systems), which are relatively simple devices, are designed to connect directly to analogue copper lines. They cannot be connected directly to the NBN. They must be converted, upgraded or replaced.

  • Conversion: This uses a converter device (called an ATA) which takes the analogue signal from the phone (or phone system) and converts the signal to the digital data required for the NBN. The conversion process is not perfect, there can be quality issues, echo and spurious hangups within the call. This method is appropriate for residential use, but for business users is not adequate.
  • Upgrading: This is only possible with phone systems and only modern ones. This entails inserting a new card into the phone system which talks the data protocols required (SIP). This can be a very expensive upgrade and will involve your telephone system supplier. The quality of the card and how competent your telephone system provider is at dealing with the NBN protocols can have dramatic effects on resulting call quality and reliability.
  • Replacing: The final option is to simply replace your phone system with a VoIP based phone system that talks natively on the NBN data connection – there is no conversion required. If done properly, this should result in the best call quality. Unfortunately VoIP systems are often not implement properly (particularly by IT Companies) and have received a bad rap for poor quality (calls breaking up etc).

What about ISDN lines, are they affected

One type of phone line that will not be affected by the switch-off are ones that use ISDN lines. Typically (but not always) these lines are used with phone systems. They are only ever used by businesses – typically larger ones with multiple lines. The only way to tell if you are using ISDN lines is to look on your phone bill and see if there is the word “ISDN” on there.

Interestingly some carriers (particularly Telstra) have been installing ISDN services as a way of getting round the switchoff. This often requires a completely new phone system at considerable expense. Unfortunately the reprieve for ISDN is not permanent – once Telstra announce a replacement product, there will then be 18 months before ISDN too is switched off. I have heard rumours that this may occur as soon as March/April 2014.

What is unclear at this stage is how adequate this replacement product will be. Given the way ISDN works, it should be better quality than the standard analogue telephone replacement, however at this stage this is unclear.

My recommendation is that you carefully consider your options before investing in new equipment that uses the ISDN service if you are in an NBN coverage area.

Alarms, Fax, EFTPOS, Lifts, Gaming Machines – will they work?

Probably not reliably. All the above devices often use a traditional telephone line to communicate either with a central monitoring point or another subscriber. They work by converting the small amount of data that they need to send into audio sounds using what is effectively an old dialup modem (remember those?) and sending it over a telephone line.

The big change when moving across to the NBN is that there are no real telephone lines, they are just emulated using VoIP. The problem with this emulation is that it isn’t perfect. VoIP is designed to carry voice (speech), not the raw sound used by dialup modems. In particular there is one fundamental attribute of the old telephone network that is different with the data transmission of the NBN: guaranteed delivery time. One of the things you can guarantee with the old network is if you send a stream of sound across the network, the sound will arrive at the other end (with some hiss and crackle).

When these same sound signals are carried by the VoIP, there is the occasional loss of data leading to small gaps in the sound. For speech this is of no consequence – the human ear is extremely good at filling in those gaps, however dialup modems will probably lose synchronisation and the data transfer will fail.

My recommendation is that an alternate communication path is chosen. How this is done depends on the type of equipment. For more information: