What is the National Broadband Network? A glossary of NBN terms

Understanding the NBN: An electronic version of an Alcatel-Lucent brochure that explains NBN-related jargon

The National Broadband Network will impact every Australian, linking every premises and changing the way we connect with the important things in our lives.

As an enabler of innovation, the NBN will shake-up the way services are developed, how they are delivered and how organisations relate to each other and to their end-users. It will improve the efficiency of many of the things we do today and raises the potential for a whole range of productive future services and applications that we can hardly imagine – in health, in education, in business and right across the economy.

The NBN is also a massive engineering undertaking and like any project of this kind, is surrounded by a whole world of unique terms and jargon. Indeed, it could be said that the telecommunications industry has its very own language, seemingly intent on confusing any innocent and unwary individual straying into its technical realm.

This document aims to summarise some of the key terms and jargon used to describe the various parts of the NBN, and telecommunications more generally. It’s certainly not the definitive list, but we hope you find it a useful tool when navigating the technical specifics of the NBN.

A glossary of terms

Access Technology

Used to connect people and organisations to telecommunications services, bridging what is often called the ‘last-mile’ between the user and a point of interconnect to the telecommunications network, such as an exchange.

Examples of broadband access technologies include FTTP, DSL, HFC Cable, 3G Mobile, Satellite and other Fixed Wireless systems. Access technologies have different strengths and characteristics, some of which are defined throughout this paper.

Backbone and Backhaul

Just as a major highway carries vehicles that started their journeys on many smaller roads around the country, a backbone network carries aggregated data across mid-to-long distances and between major centres. Gathering together data from many users and transporting it via a backbone network to its desired destination, for example an exchange or data centre, is often referred to as backhaul.


Usually measured in kilobits, Megabits and Gigabits per second, bandwidth is the common way to describe the rate of data transfer over a network (eg. 100 Mbit/s = 100 megabits per second).

Bit (as in bits and bytes)

A single, basic piece of information or data used in relation to computing and telecommunications. It has only two values: either a “1” or “0”. Bit is an abbreviation of Binary Digit.

Bitstream Service

A method of providing and managing a wholesale open access broadband network. Aims to emulate a physical connection between a Retail Service Provider and end-user, providing secure and reliable transfer of data and applications as if the service was built on a dedicated physical network.

The National Broadband Network will offer a wholesale bitstream service to Retail Service Providers.

A bitstream service can be modified, moved, disconnected or reconnected without requiring any changes to the physical infrastructure, which is shared by many users and providers. This means that an end-user can switch providers easily, add and delete service features quickly and even receive multiple services from different providers at the same time.


Used to describe an area, usually remote or rural and sometimes on the edges of cities, in which broadband or other communications services do not function adequately or are unavailable. Reasons for blackspots are normally related to the limitations of technologies, geography or a lack of investment.


First introduced to define an Internet service providing data transfer at rates in excess of traditional ‘dial-up’ services. Often described as ‘narrowband’, dial-up services were first introduced at 50 bit/s (50 bits per second) and were ultimately developed to 56 kbit/s (56 kilobits per second) – a snail’s pace by today’s bandwidth standards.

Over time, the bandwidth capacity of broadband has vastly increased and services of 1 Gbit/s (1 gigabit per second) are now quite feasible. In this environment, there are calls to revise the definition of broadband and to eliminate lower speeds such as 256 kbit/s (256 kilobits per second) from the category altogether.

It is important to note that broadband is often used to describe high-bandwidth access to the Internet, but in reality, the term more generally applies to access to any data network, not specifically the Internet.

Broadband Services and Applications

At its most basic, this might refer to the delivery of data bandwidth to a location or device. In practice though, these are the things that broadband enables, the things that turn bandwidth into something relevant and useful to the user.

Currently, broadband services and applications include things like Internet access, email, voice and video calling, networked gaming and the ability to transfer files through applications such as peer-to-peer (P2P) networking. In the future, as higher bandwidth broadband is made more widely available and new business models evolve, an increasing array of services and applications will emerge.

A few early examples include Internet TV, IPTV and high-definition video conferencing and over time we can expect to see a whole world of services and applications we cannot even imagine today, utilising broadband to meet specific business or consumer needs.

Imagine the potential benefits of a health specialist monitoring and adapting treatment for diabetes patients in their own home. How about a social service or finance provider managing a distributed workforce of personal consultants across the country, dealing directly with clients via high-definition video and immersive communications techniques? Think about how an energy retailer could use its direct relationship with consumers to market a new set of applications to control appliances and drive energy efficiency.

The opportunities are virtually endless, limited only by the imagination.

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