ACMA prepares to test performance of NBN modems

The communications regulator is getting ready to launch a program that will test the capabilities of VDSL2 modems intended for use with NBN FTTN and FTTB connections

The Australian Communications and Media Authority is preparing to launch a new program that will test the performance of VDSL2 modems and modem/routers intended for use with NBN fibre to the node (FTTN) and fibre to the basement (FTTB) services.

“As part of its package to improve the consumer experience, the ACMA is conducting a study into the performance of modems used to supply phone and internet services over the NBN,” an ACMA spokesperson told Computerworld.

“The central component of the modem study is performance testing of VDSL2 modems and modem/routers to quantify the variability in performance of those devices and identify potential causes of underperformance. The outcomes of the study will assist the ACMA in determining whether any further interventions are required.”

The initiative is part of the communications regulator’s broader efforts to improve end user experience on the NBN. In December last year, the ACMA announced it would introduce a range of new rules to provide better protections for NBN end users. The announcement coincided with the ACMA’s release of research into complaints about user experience on the network.

The ACMA has so far introduced new complaints-handling rules, service continuity and consumer information standards, and service migration rules intended to protect consumers from being sold unachievable speeds.

The rules follow in the wake of Australia’s largest retail service providers (RSPs) being forced to offer compensation to tens of thousands of their NBN customers after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found that they had sold FTTN and FTTB services with unachievable speeds.

Because FTTN and FTTB services rely on a home or business’ existing copper phoneline, the maximum achievable speeds can vary dramatically depending on factors such as the length of copper involved as well as the condition of the line.

The new modem-testing program aims to examine another factor that can potentially impact on the end-user experience. The ACMA has begun seeking a supplier for the program, with the regulator issuing a request for tenders.

Tender documents state that the ACMA is interested in tests of modems and modem/routers that are supplied by RSPs to their customers as well as those that consumers can purchase independently of their telcos.

The ACMA is interested in testing both DSL and, for modem-routers, Wi-Fi performance.

“Often, there can be confusion about the underlying causes of of poorly performing broadband and voice services,” a tender document states. “This can lead users to attribute performance issues to their retail service provider or the network infrastructure deployed by NBN Co.

“For FTTB and FTTN connections, one possible cause of poor service performance is the VDSL2 modem or modem/router that a customer uses to connect to the NBN. As VDSL2 modems and modem/routers are supplied by RSPs, or sourced directly by consumers, there can be some variability in the performance of those devices.”

“This is not a variable in the performance of other NBN access technologies, where NBN Co provides the required modem or network connection device,” the document notes.

For DSL performance testing a range of metrics will need to be assessed, the ACMA said, including attainable sync rate, attenuation (in dB), signal to noise ratio (dB), the drop-out rate and the time to re-sync.

The testing will simulate the impact of crosstalk and cable impairments as well as copper lengths of 150 metres, 450 metres, 1050 metres and 1500 metres.

Wi-Fi testing will access received signal strength, throughput, and the maximum number of devices able to be connected to the modem-router.

The ACMA said it had budgeted $300,000 for the program.

A separate ongoing program by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is focused on performance differences between RSPs. Last month the ACCC released its second broadband performance monitoring report

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Tags broadbandNetworkingTelecommunicationsNational Broadband Network (NBN)Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)

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