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


Used to describe how much data is contained in a file or computer hard disk. A collection of eight bits makes up one byte. Common usage would see a 500GB computer hard disk holding 500 gigabytes of data, or a 2MB PDF document containing 2 megabytes of data. Most Internet service plans offer an ‘allowance’ for the number of bytes that can be downloaded each month.


Another term for a telephone company or telecommunications operator – that is, a company that operates a telecommunications system. In Australia, carriers are licensed and must abide by regulations administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. NBN Co is a licensed carrier and so too are Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, Macquarie Telecom and many others.

Digital Divide

The gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology and services, and those with very limited or no access at all. It refers both to a person’s physical access to technology and the resources and skills available to effectively use the technology. Often used in Australia to describe the different levels of communications service available between metropolitan and regional areas.

Digital Economy

The digital economy is the world around us, business and social, enabled by broadband and digital technologies. It includes the infrastructure and access technologies, it includes the devices and all the online services and applications that we use as part of our daily lives. It includes the digital tools that businesses across all sectors of the economy use to be more productive and efficient. It includes the vast amount of Government and other information that is being made available for access and adaptation by citizens and emerging businesses.

Digital economy is often used to describe the future environment that will be enabled by ubiquitous high-speed broadband. In areas such as business process, health and education we can already see early examples of how these services may operate in the future, however 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.

As digital technology and broadband-enabled services and applications become more entwined in all the things we do, it will be difficult to separate Australia’s digital economy from the economy as a whole.

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)

A family of broadband access technologies that transfer data over existing copper telephone lines between a premises and its local exchange, and can be used to provide access to the Internet. The majority of Australia’s fixed-line broadband services are currently delivered using DSL.1

DSL performance is limited by the distance a user is located from an exchange. For the most common variety of DSL, Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), the performance of the technology becomes poor at distances greater than 1.5km. DSL performance and availability can also be limited by the degraded quality of some copper network infrastructure and technical constraints such as Remote Integrated Multiplexers (RIMS), which were installed on about 10% of the Australian copper network over past decades.

Other varieties of DSL include ADSL2+ and VDSL (Very-High-Bitrate Digital Subscriber Line).


A common network language, or ‘protocol’, used for the orderly transport of data – often inside the home or office premises. In fact, Ethernet is the most common type of wired link between computers and telecommunications networks.

As well as the protocol, Ethernet also covers a definition of the plug/socket arrangement and type of cable used. Your current desk-top computer is likely to be connected from an Ethernet port via an Ethernet cable to your modem or home/office network.


A network hub, connecting premises in a local area into the telecommunications network. Exchanges are usually the terminating points for access networks and the point from which backbone networks extend to other major hubs. Typically also used to describe the physical building in which telecommunications equipment is housed.

Fibre Optic or Fibre

Fibre-optic cable (commonly just referred to as fibre) is often considered the ‘end-game’ when it comes to broadband access infrastructure. The cable is made up of super-thin threads of glass that carry beams of light. In telecommunications, data is translated into pulses of laser light that can be transmitted along the fibre cables.

Fibre-optic technology is less susceptible to ‘noise’ and ‘interference’ than other data-transfer mediums such as standard copper telephone lines and can be used more reliably over longer distances without loss of quality.

Fibre is used extensively in backbone and international submarine networks, and to connect the base stations of mobile and wireless networks. It is increasingly being used for the last mile connection for home and business premises, and over time will become the most common form of fixed-line access technology leveraging passive optical systems. See also FTTH/FTTP/FTTB.


Telecommunications networks have traditionally been based on fixed-line technologies, connecting locations such as homes and offices using physical infrastructure such as copper wires. Recent enhancements to copper fixed-line networks have included adding DSL technologies that operate alongside normal voice services.

Today, most new fixed-line installations, for example new housing estates, use fibre-optic cable. Replacing the existing copper fixed-line access network in Australia with fibre is the largest part of the work to build the National Broadband Network.

Fixed Wireless (as opposed to Mobile Wireless)

A family of access technologies that are often used to deliver telecommunications services and broadband to a particular premises or fixed location. These services are sometimes called ‘point-to-point’ or ‘point-to-multi-point’, and require an antenna that is generally permanently attached to the user’s building.

Fixed wireless can be used for backhaul in certain cases but also as an access technology, particularly in rugged or remote terrain and areas with low population densities that may make a fixed line alternative impossible, or at least, uneconomic.

Fixed wireless technologies are limited by the availability of wireless spectrum and physical impediments such as hills and valleys interrupting signals.


FTTH (Fibre-to-the-Home), FTTP (Fibre-to-the-Premises) and FTTB (Fibre-to-the-Building) refer to a broadband access network design that delivers a fibre optic cable connection direct to the home, building or other premises.

FTTH/FTTP/FTTB can offer the highest bandwidth to users, and is considered to be the most energy efficient way of providing broadband services. Countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, France and the United States are all rolling out networks of this type.

GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network)

A network technology standard that allows multiple premises to share a single piece of fibre optic cable for broadband access.

The current generation of GPON technology provides 2.5 Gbit/s (2.5 gigabits per second) that typically is used to support 32 premises. The emerging XG-PON standard supports evolution to 10 Gbit/s (10 gigabits per second) while future enhancements can be expected to increase bandwidth much further by increasing the number of wavelengths transmitted on a single fibre.

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