Australian Stakeholders Debate Underlay Network Options Including NBN, 5G

By Brianna BoudreauOct 24, 2019


Australia is a place unlike any other. This is true for many reasons, but it’s certainly the case when it comes to Australia’s unique broadband environment.

This made for a fascinating backdrop as the TeleGeography team ventured to Sydney earlier this year for the first-ever WAN Summit in Australia. All that to say, the conversation was unlike those we’ve had in New York, London, or even Singapore, offering new, Down Under-specific insight into WAN management.

This unique broadband environment—centered on the country’s National Broadband Network (NBN) strategy—raises different issues for businesses as they consider underlay networks to support an SD-WAN approach. 

Stakeholders discussed these issues and the potential impact of 5G wireless in the panel “Keeping Up With Evolving Options of Underlay Networks: Evaluating Offerings Including NBN and 5G.”

One of the panelists was Ramesh Paramanathan, general manager of the business product portfolio for NBN, the company responsible for last-mile infrastructure in Australia. And that wholesales that infrastructure to retail service providers. 

Also on hand were executives from two enterprises that have operations in Australia, including Daniel Bostock, senior IT operations engineer for IT service management company EML Payments, and Mark Thomas, global head of network service management and Australian technology country head for multinational financial firm UBS. Rounding out the panel was Greg Spencer, senior partner for Beyond Technology Consulting, which consults with companies about SD-WAN and other technologies.


NBN wanted to make high-speed broadband available throughout Australia. To do this, the country took the novel approach of establishing a company to deploy last-mile connectivity nationwide. That company, NBNCo, acts as a wholesaler to retail service providers (RSPs), who connected their own backbones and aggregation networks. These providers include the likes of Optus and Vodafone. After making a deal with NBNCo, incumbent carrier Telstra also became one of these RSPs. The deal called for Telstra last-mile facilities to be decommissioned or, in certain cases, turned over to NBNCo. NBNCo is not itself an RSP; it only sells service on a wholesale basis. 

Another unique aspect of NBNCo is the nomenclature that it uses for its services. As Paramanathan explained, TC4 is a residential quality data service, with a minimum service level agreement (SLA), although some small businesses use it. TC2, on the other hand, targets businesses and is a prioritized traffic class. NBNCo also offers a MEF-compliant service that it calls “Enterprise Ethernet.”

Provisioning new services within Domino’s four-to six-month planning horizon was also a challenge initially and the team had to build in extra time to get services deployed.

Bostock, who previously worked for Domino’s Pizza, said Domino’s encountered some challenges when it transitioned 300 stores from Telstra MPLS service to NBN. Largely surrounding availability and SLAs. He noted, for example, that IT people had to work all weekend when a location went down on a Friday and no one on the service provider side was available to help until Monday. Provisioning new services within Domino’s four-to six-month planning horizon was also a challenge initially and the team had to build in extra time to get services deployed.

“From a customer perspective, early on, it was quite painful,” said Bostock.

Paramanathan noted that when NBNCo created business bundles, it mandated a 12-hour SLA effective 24/7, which it works with RSPs to support, to help remedy some of these issues. He did add, however, that some RSPs have been quicker to “push through” that requirement than others. He also noted that NBNCo now strives to have one of its technicians on site when an RSP is turning up service to a business-class customer.

In selecting an RSP, Paramanathan advised enterprises buying a business grade service to make sure it’s a TC2 service and to “make sure your RSPs are really partnered up with NBN Business and have productized or integrated a lot of these feature sets.”

Spencer cautioned that “there isn’t a lot of transparency” about RSPs—a gap that Beyond Technology Consulting often steps in to fill through their understanding of how various RSPs have built their networks.

Asked whether they would prefer to work with an incumbent provider, a regional internet service provider, or an RSP that is essentially a broadband aggregator, Thomas said that “quite often the Tier 2 guys have more fiber in the ground than the Tier 1 guys,” and often have better prices.

As a result, he has increasingly been working with Tier 2 providers.

Spencer said his answer would depend on a client’s risk factor, while Bostock said a provider’s SLA would determine his decision.

The Promise of 5G

Panelists were also enthusiastic about 5G as an underlay option.

Thomas noted that UBS is doing a 5G pilot in Houston with 30 users and that so far, “it works pretty well.”

Spencer said that before NBN deployed in his area, his home had three broadband options, but now all options are underpinned by the NBN infrastructure; 5G could help address that situation, he said.

“SD-WAN can take a bunch of average links and turn that into an SLA that’s quite high by intelligently steering traffic,” Spencer observed. “5G will give the ability to add performance to those links.”


He also observed that, unlike 4G, 5G will support network slicing, enabling it to support service guarantees that will be a “really important point for industry.”

“SD-WAN can take a bunch of average links and turn that into an SLA that’s quite high by intelligently steering traffic,” Spencer observed. “5G will give the ability to add performance to those links.”

He cautioned that 5G only achieves the highest speeds and lowest latency when deployed in millimeter wave spectrum, which requires additional cell site infrastructure to be deployed. Another concern is that Australian regulators have not yet released spectrum in that band.

Lessons Learned

Three key takeaways from the panel:

  • Enterprises making underlay network decisions in Australia face unique challenges in choosing an RSP. It’s important to understand the definitions of services underpinned by the NBN and to gauge how well individual RSPs support them.
  • One option enterprises could consider is using a consulting firm that is familiar with how individual RSPs architect their networks. Even though multiple RSPs use the same NBN last-mile infrastructure, their aggregation and backbone networks also can impact performance.
  • 5G has the potential to enhance SD-WAN networks by offering an additional path that traffic can take and capabilities such as slicing can further enhance performance.
  • It’s important to recognize, however, that the fastest and lowest latency 5G service requires millimeter wave spectrum, which will require additional cell site infrastructure and which has not yet been released by Australian regulators.


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Brianna Boudreau

Brianna Boudreau

Senior Research Manager Brianna Boudreau joined TeleGeography in 2008. She specializes in pricing and market analysis for wholesale and enterprise network services with a regional focus on Asia and Oceania. While at TeleGeography, Brianna has helped develop and launch several new lines of research, including our Cloud and WAN Research Service.

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