Coming to a wall near you: Meet the NBN ONT

Alcatel-Lucent may provide up to 12 million Optical Network Terminals (ONT) over the life of the National Broadband Network

The announcement of an $85 million deal between Alcatel-Lucent and National Broadband Network (NBN) wholesaler NBN Co brought with it the news that the telco giant, and source of many of NBN Co's hires, would be providing the optical networking terminal (ONT) infrastructure, which would be installed in each home as contractors roam the streets of announced trial sites to install fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) connections.

The ONT (also known as a networking terminating unit or NTU) pictured above is an example of the indoor units Alcatel-Lucent sells to 95 different FTTP deployments worldwide. However, the vice-president of the company's NBN division, Sean O'Halloran, told Computerworld Australia that the unit delivered to the NBN Co and subsequently to Australian homes would be unique.

Like any ONT, those installed in Australian homes will be capable of feeding an external fibre connection to Ethernet points within the home and, of course, delivering speeds of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps). However, the ONT has been made specifically for the Australian market, providing four Gigabit Ethernet ports, two telephony ports and a single ADSL2+ simulation connection... that's right - ADSL2+.

An opened external Optical Network Terminal (ONT) An opened external optical network terminal (ONT)

The connection doesn't actually use ADSL2+ technology, but rather delivers a data connection over the copper-based wiring that continues to lurk in Australian homes. That allows NBN Co to install ONTs on the front of the house and use the existing internal wiring, while also affording customers the ability to connect to the NBN through their existing ADSL2+ modem gateways without having to purchase additional equipment. It also allows Internet service providers to continue flogging existing ADSL2+ hardware, as iiNet has done with its BoB ADSL2+ wireless modem router to NBN customers in Tasmania.

The two telephony connections will also mean customers won't have to worry about purchasing analogue telephone adapters (ATA) normally required to use their standard telephones with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

Though Alcatel-Lucent's ONTs are already guaranteed for the first phase of the NBN rollout, NBN Co can shift allegiances and the remainder of the $1.5 billion it expects to spend on ONT and GPON equipment over the full deployment to another company, effectively changing the ONT design and characteristics. O'Halloran said Alcatel-Lucent believed it would go through two or three iterations of the device over the lifespan, with differing ports and capabilities, including support for fibre-based Ethernet cabling.

The company shipped its millionth ONT globally in February this year but, should it retain its contract with NBN Co, it could end up providing up to 12 million of the devices for Australia alone.

Optical Network Terminal (ONT) The optical network terminal (ONT), illustrated

The specifics of how these ONTs are to be installed, and what type of ONTs will be used, are yet to be formalised - according to both NBN Co and Alcatel-Lucent, installation at initial trial sites in Tasmania has largely been trial and error. Those who own the homes where fibre is to be installed have thus far had a say as to where the fibre would be run and the ONT installed, while the wholesaler and the telco industry as a whole is yet to decide how to best meet the challenge of installing fibre to each unit in an apartment block with minimal interference and without upsetting strata title owners. But, as NBN Co looks to ramp up to the 5,000 homes per day it hopes to reach at the peak of construction, it is believed these decisions will be either pre-determined or, at the very least, streamlined to minimise distraction.

A discussion paper on end-user migration released by the Communications Alliance suggested both external and internal, plug-and-play ONTs be offered to consumers as a range of options for installation and use.

However, more important issues, like power backup for ONTs and telephony use for emergency calls during an outage are yet to be addressed publicly by NBN Co.

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D Newman


Mostly the connection to a house will be installed in the easiest front wall point of a house and either leeched into exsisting copper in house walls or wireless/ ethernet cable.

However at the moment at least my ISP and a few others I have friends in, will install the wall point where you want within reason, ie study wall etc etc .....

Is this a honeymoon grace thing? well time will tell, but with the amount of e-mails expressing desire to be placed on a install list, install time allocation may become a factor later on, and a double slot install fee for custom placement may come in, this is by no means a prediction, just a guess based on my experience doing cable house installs for NTL/Virgin for over 10 years.



i wonder why we make the same mistakes, an ONT specific to Australia increases costs, makes adoption of newer technology more difficult. is this Telstra version of ISDN revisited?



No, in this case they are making it cheaper.
Adding multiple options to the connectivity, and then producing them in the order of millions makes it cheaper to install.

Having the option for ADSL2 between the ONT and the customer's equipment makes installation a simple matter of mounting the ONT on the wall, wiring in the existing phone line, and waiting for their ADSL modem to continue working as if nothing had happened. All without opening the front door.

Since that is not a technically superior option, the customer can later opt to install real ethernet cables at their own cost, to their specifications.
Unfortunately when you're rolling out 10million connections, speed is of the essence. There isn't time to consult with customers on an individual basis, and install new internal wiring.
It's actually pretty brilliant. Maybe ~20$ more for the parts, but around 2 hours quicker per house..



As im about to get my home network wired, i gather it would be benifical for me to get them to run cat 6 with the phone line to the external of the house thus future proofing?



I live in the Brunswick test area. I live on the second floor of an apartment building that does not have phone lines coming in from the street for 6 of the 7 apartments. We do have an ethernet line running from the garage downstairs (where a phone line pair comes in for only one of the apartments and a shop downstairs) up to each apartment. We have 3 phone connections in the apartment though I'm unsure if they are all part of the one connection or 2 or 3 separate lines.

Either way it's an RJ45 port so as long as NBN Co can get the fibre into the building from the street (a task that has proved too expensive or difficult for Telstra and my landlord to sort out for this poor renter), wiring up the apartments has already been done. Finally I can be rid of the evil dial-up speed and low download limits of 3G and actually have a real internet connection at home! BRING IT ON!!!

karl marx


ok. i'm getting jammed with some crap satellite or wimax option if i want this "awesome" nbn.

adsl2 is available in my town ( but not utilised due to the large number of RIM's that are here - hundreds of spare adsl2 ports )

surely it would be better to just lose the rims and give us adsl2 instead of some crap laggy satellite/wimax connection?



In apartments/units/flats with common property & multiple levels it will be impossible to get cabling done , paid by Body Corporates for a few users. In my unit block no extra cabling is allowed over common property nor holes drilles thru walls etc. There is 5 metres of lawn to get to a wall so no access will be given to dig up the lawn.



PS...Telstra/Bigpond can not install a cable internet connexion ,to my unit so fibre is out as well ! I suspect there are 5 million people in units etc so fibre optic NBN is only going to be available to householders?

D Newman


The householders in units, I will check into this but I was under the impression this is coming under utility upgrade and strata managment have no say as all units will be installed with it the same as if they were fitting a power line....

Not sure on the exact term of reference for the NBN co in relation to units, but as a rule I loathe strata title/management and any forms of dealing with them. Always end up ending a conversation with them muttering "#anker"

However its a good point I never considered and will see if I can dig up a more defintive response when I can find an excuse to wander over to the chap thats does the legal and liasing with the councils.

D Newman


Quick update, now this applies to strata management, and not a block of units run by a landlord/owner.

All listed strata management companies will be sent an information pack advising amongest other things the migration off legacy copper system and the future of cabling etc etc, now where it gets sticky is where someone is renting a unit.

Unit blocks make everything complicated, and as soon as you use the word Strata in any conversation around install managers you get instant eye rolls, typicaly they are a bunch of jumped up draconian mini empire human resources wanna be,s.

RANT off/ I cant find out much more till the NBN co machine rolls over areas of high strata/unit concentration and ISP,s start hitting the mini strata empires, at this point none of the main nationwide strata companies have any Q and A on the subject.

I will be watching with interest on this subject once it rolls through Perth shortly and I can get a hands on, as my interest is piqued as well, was a good question.



James, I am interested in more detail about this particular ONT. Do you (or anyone else) have the tech specs or Alcatel model number?



I find it quite interesting that the pictures above show an indoor ONT while the outdoor unit has a Coaxial cable plugged in and nothing else unlese it's hidden.
That said , I was under the impresion that RFOG was not being considered. which lead s to beg the question who supplied this SPIN DOCTOR MIERDA Shots



I think in our Home Unit NBN roll out situation , for older apartment blocks , we will end up with VDSL like TransAct do in Canberra.That will be 1/2 the speed of the home NBN but i wonder if many will pay for the service ? I would need 400gb per month to take advantage of the faster speed ? I imagine the ONT will be put in the utilities room & some ISP will connect the phone wires to the box ?I suppose the ONT will have 12 telephone connexions for a 12 unit block or more .



Wired the house in 2004 with redundancy, so there is an unused CAT5 and coax where the phone line comes in, plus powerpoints within reach inside and out. Pity the fibre will not come for many more years, not being in any of the country fairies' electorates.



Does this mean that residences that currently cannot get ADSL2+ will now be able to?
My house is too far from the exchange to get ADSL2+ which is much cheaper and faster than my current 1.5Mbps connection, and fibre plans will be expensive and not offer enough downloads for some time.

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