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What's life really like with the NBN?

Willunga, a one-hour drive south of Adelaide, is a rural town that was announced as one of five first release sites for the National Broadband Network (NBN).

It has now been on the network for over 12 months, with the NBN switched on in September 2011, covering 940 premises.

NBN Co says there are now just under 1100 premises passed in Willunga and almost half of all premises have signed up for an NBN service.

Computerworld Australia spoke to three business owners in the town about their experience with the NBN.The Alma Hotel

Melinda McCauley from the Alma Hotel has had one of the most difficult transitions to the NBN.

McCauley took advantage of training sessions for the network to learn about the benefits of high-speed broadband and potential drops in phone and broadband costs.

She was previously using a USB-connected mobile broadband modem for Internet access and now has three NBN plans with NuSkope -- two for residential premises on 12Mbps and a 100Mbps connection for the hotel, which provides free Wi-Fi to customers at around 70Mbps.

McCauley has experienced several outages on the NBN. She has a VoIP line on the NBN for the hotel and was unable to make and receive calls for several days due to an NBN Co update, which she says she was not informed about.

NuSkope's CEO, Michael Blake, posted on Whirlpool about the problem.

"What my customers and I myself want to know, WHEN do NBN plan to get their act together? It better be before the phone lines all get cut here in 18 months because how do NBN expect business to run at all without phone lines? Let alone for a 3-4 day wait for a tech to come out. Even Telstra is faster," he wrote.

"This is my second PLEASE EXPLAIN to NBN this year in regards to outages, if the network is going to be this unreliable perhaps they need to hire a few more techs just like Telstra has to cover the issues with their network that's not even 10 per cent built yet and already failing customer's needs."

Blake said over 80 per cent of the NBN faults in Willunga had so far been due to remote firmware updates that failed.

NBN Co told Computerworld Australia a scheduled firmware upgrade of the UNI-V or voice port was carried out in October after technical engagement with and notification to retail service providers.

"During the upgrade an issue arose that affected a handful of voice services offered by one service provider, and NBN Co worked with the provider to minimise the disruption and resolve the issue," a spokesperson said.

The Alma hotel also experienced an outage when a painter at the hotel damaged the fibre connectors in the hotel, which took around three days to get fixed.

The two outages occurred at busy times for the hotel -- one in the lead-up to Christmas and the other around Melbourne Cup.

"So we had quite a few people say 'we haven't been able to reach you -- what's the problem?' It does have an impact on our business," she says.

Despite the problems, McCauley says she likes being on the NBN and puts the issues down to teething problems.

She says she's saving at least $100 per month on phone costs alone. In total, the saving is around $200 a month, factoring in phone line rental costs and cheaper calls.

"Also, now that we're able to run the extra service of Wi-Fi for our customers that we weren't doing before. Because Willunga is a fairly small country town, it has a big tourist element, so being able to offer [that to customers is good]," she says.

Everyday Marketing Solutions

Gary Lodge, business owner of Everyday Marketing Solutions, also took part in early education sessions about the NBN and free trials on the network run by Telstra.

He also encountered some early problems in the wake of switching to the NBN, though in his case related to his on-premise wireless network.

"There were a lot of teething problems, which were pretty frustrating at times when the internet wasn't available or there were technical problems. [But] that's to be expected, I think, with any new technology or new system coming into the town," he says.

He experienced problems with the wireless router in his double brick home, with the connection not reaching all areas of his premise.

Lodge says this required getting Telstra to put in signal boosters. However, there were also issues with boosters breaking down.

"They just tried some different things -- just a bit of trial and error to get everything up and running with the speeds working how it should," he says.

Overall Lodge is happy with the NBN and has not had any problems since and says the network is helping his marketing and website creation business.

Often going out to meet locals in the area, Lodge says businesses are becoming more aware that they need to adapt to new technology and change the way they are doing things and the NBN has become a way to market his business.

"The [businesses] that are finding it tough tend to blame the government or blame somebody else for their problems. They're the ones who haven't changed and they're still doing things like they were doing 20 years ago," he says.

"So it's been a bit of a kick up the backside for a lot of people who have said 'Yes, we do need to do something to change the way we do business'."

Everyday tasks have become easier, such as sending large files online and communicating with staff who don't live locally via online video.

Lodge is paying around $20 to $30 more for his NBN plan than his ADSL as Telstra requires him to still have a copper phone line.

"That's one thing that I'm a bit disappointed with," he says. "There are no packages without that. We never used that home phone before because we've got mobiles, but we had to have it to get broadband."

OzFeathers

Linda Sanders, creative director at Oz Feathers, has been on the NBN for just over a year and is a strong supporter of the network.

As part of the OzFeathers business, a Web-based business that designs marketing banners, Sanders sends large files to customers. Previously, these had to be sent in the mail.

Sending files of any size was an arduous process on her dial-up connection, which she was using until around 2010 when she was finally able to connect to ADSL.

With only 5GB of data, she frequently exceeded her limit, despite not downloading large files or streaming videos.

Oz feathers is now on an Internode 12/1Mbps plan.

"Since 13-14 months ago, we've had reliable Internet -- we've never had to worry about the Internet not working [and] we've never had to worry about too many people [being] online at once," Sanders says.

The NBN has also helped increase her confidence in uploading videos and using YouTube. She can now also communicate with clients via Skype.

"Having the NBN helping our business just means that we can communicate with Korea or Thailand without worrying about the quality of the phone line or the speed of email or the size of email. It's just opened our thinking to outside our local domain," she says.

"We live locally, but everything we do is global."

Like others, Sanders says she is paying more for her Internet, but she is receiving a greater download limit. Previously paying $29.95 a month, she is now paying $49.95 a month and also has a phone line on the copper network with Telstra.

Sanders says although the NBN has done wonders for her business, there has been a lack of education and awareness about the network and what users could expect.

For example, the installation of the NBN box, the Network Termination Unit.

"Someone just rocked up on the doorstep and said 'here we are' with a screwdriver in hand," she says.

"We had no idea what the box was or where it should go or what we did with it once it was there. We had to turn them away because where they wanted to put it was ridiculous because it was on the outside of the building.

"The next stage would have been to drill through a 30cm solid stone wall and come out in the middle of our bedhead."

Sanders eventually built a cupboard to house the box in.

Once the NBN connection was live, she says it has been "amazing" and there has been only been one further glitch in her connection, which caused an outage for around four hours.

"It's a way forward for Australia," she says. "We're looking forward to the future and what the NBN will be doing when our grandchildren go to school and we'll be able to follow along with them and they'll be teaching us [things]. It's a big learning curve but it's fantastic."

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU


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