NBN & Phone Services – Emergency Situations

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I have recently had cause to have some discussion with some of my elderly neighbours about their connection to the National Broadband Network (NBN) within Australia.  In my discussions with them it has become clear that they are not being told the full story about the phone connection that they are purchasing.  It could also be argued that they are not asking the “right questions” but surely full disclosure is what should be common practice.

A quick aside before I talk about the phones.  Your NBN connection begins with the line in.  If you have what they call a “drop line” it will be coming from a pole to the house much as your power does.  I can not stress strongly enough that you need to be there and closely supervise the installation as to how and where you want it.  My experience and the experience of others I have spoken to is that they tend to do it quick and easy, not necessarily neat and tidy.

Back to the phone systems.  My own experience when I connected to the NBN was a learning experience in itself.  I did my reading and began to ask questions about the service and was surprised with the responses I received from the NBN Service Providers – some not being able to answer the questions at all.  First lets look at the NBN equipment that is installed in your house.  The image below shows the equipment you should expect.

NBN-Fibre-Equipment-nbnSP

Inside your house they will install a box (Network Termination Device) that has a number of ports allowing you to connect you equipment.  Two of these ports are what they call Uni-V, designed for use by voice equipment.  The remaining four are Uni-D, obviously for data equipment.

nbn-fibre-installation-rear

The documentation clearly states that the big box (Power Supply Unit) contains a battery backup system that in the event of a blackout provides power to your Uni-V ports only.  The design of this system is essentially to replicate the current phone system in houses.  If you have a blackout you still have access to a phone in the case of an emergency.  The obvious proviso being that you have a phone that does not need power to operate.  I have one of these for that express purpose.   I continue to resist the temptation to replace it as it does exist for emergency situations.  Those of you yelling mobile phone just hang on for a minute.

One of the first questions I asked my potential NBN providers was how they supplied their phone services.  I was surprised that in the vast majority of the cases that it was via a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) system.  I am not bagging VOIP systems here but it obviously means issues exist in the event of a blackout.  VOIP equipment is connected to the Uni-D ports on the NBN equipment.  A blackout will result in no power to these ports so no connection for your phone system.  The only way around this would be to have your NBN system as well as your VOIP system on an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS).  This is not supplied with the system and is something you will have to buy for yourself.

This is not explained to the non technical users of this equipment and I am sure that this would be the majority of the people being connected.  Of all the services I contacted only one provided phone services using the Uni-V port as well as data.  As I said earlier the vast majority of resellers were using VOIP  phone systems.  Telstra indicated they would provide data via NBN but continue to provide phone via the traditional copper wire system.  Asked about the future the Telstra person I was speaking to said they would probably be going VOIP.  I did manage to find some providers who would provide phone services only that used the Uni-V port of the system.

To me that puts in question a couple of groups who are potentially at risk.  The elderly, the infirm and perhaps those with young children.  No power, no phone service, no contact.  Now those of you yelling mobile phones need to remember a couple of things.  If you live in a major area you are probably assured of mobile service.  If you live in some regional areas of Australia you are not.  Living in a largish regional town I can say that there are areas where I can not get mobile service reliably.  Also consider the reliability of the mobile services in regional area.  There have been many times when the mobile service is simply not available for some reason.

The more important questions here are probably related to the uptake of mobile phones by the elderly within the community.

  • Do they have one?
  • Is it charged?
  •  Will it work in the event of an emergency?

I know my father has a mobile phone but it is never charged for use.  I know of quite a few other elderly people who do not even have a phone yet they now have the NBN connected to their houses and are expecting it to work just like the old phone system does.

It is only in an emergency that they will find out it does not – just when they need it most.

Just another consideration for the modern home.  My advice – ask about what happens in the event of a blackout for your phone service if you are connected to the NBN and make sure you keep one of those old phones to connect to you Uni-V port – just in case.

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