NBN installation and the elderly

Just want to relate the experience of some elderly family members (and then us as a consequence). They are both elderly, one has dementia and the other isn’t coping too well either. They rang us from their local police station to say that their phone hadn’t been working for two days and their TV could only get Channel 7…a crisis from their point of view. So we went over. First, re-tuned the TV and got that going. Then rang Telstra to report the phone dead. Only then did we discover that the NBN had been installed two days earlier. We found the black box and the white box and a jumble of wires, nowhere near the phone. With help, we got it plugged in and got the phone working in the new location.
The point is that there might be some installations where the installer needs to go the extra mile and explain to non tech-savvy people that their phone will need to be moved to a new location and that they will need to leave the power turned on for the phone to work.
My relatives thought that the NBN had nothing to do with them and that it must have been something the landlord had organised. Clearly they did not attend to the installation at all. But I think the installer should at least have left their phone in working order, if nothing else.


Hi @ccrittenden, thanks for sharing your experience and raising the issue on the Community forum. We’ve recently published an article on the internet and older Australians. Though no specific laws currently exist, the United Nations Principles for Older Persons encourages governments to ensure that older persons should:

  • Have access to appropriate educational and training programmes
  • remain integrated in society
  • Be able to pursue opportunities for the full development of their potential
  • Have access to the educational, cultural, spiritual and recreational resources of society

There are also some useful links to educational resources in the above article. If other readers have an experience they’d like to share, please feel free to post in the comments below.


My father in law is 91 years old and lives in Condobolin on his own. He is checked daily by the local community health ladies and relies on his phone for a nightly call from one or both of his daughters; one who lives in Wagga Wagga 270km away and the other in Orange 210km away. He also has a Vital Call emergency pendant which relies on his telephone land line.
Last week he was notified that the NBN was to connect him to the network and that an order would be drawn up to install. My wife was with him when he received the call from a salesman from the TSA Group; a sales arm of Telstra as far as I can see.
As he is hard of hearing and verging on slight dementia, he would need someone responsible to be at the residence for connection. The date was set for 16th August as that is when we could get there to assist. However, NBN reported that the transition date was 21st August. Again we said we could be there on that day.
I rang the TSA call centre to try to get some firm details but everyone seemed to be unaware of what was going on. I was then directed via 3 different TSA call centres to Telstra NBN services. I was informed that the original order had not “matched” the address with phone number and consequently, the order had been cancelled.
Our concern is that we cannot get a firm date for installation or if the phone will be connected on the day. We were told that there could be a delay between the installation of the NBN hardware and the actual phone connection and proper function.
This leaves us with the fear that if something goes wrong, he will not be able to access the Vital Call link to get help. I wonder how many other elderly people might be in a similar situation. Not sure how to resolve without persistent nagging to the Telcos concerned.


@crofty1080, in addtion to your concerns about installation make sure whichever company is installing/supplying his NBN service is made aware of every item that depends on the old landline. If he will have FTTP it should be straight forward, but if he gets VOIP phone service like the rest of us it could be anything from no worries to a show stopper and anything in between.

For NBNCo’s “advice” about the pendant see here.

NBNCo is clear that NBN subscribers should always have charged mobiles available if phone communications is important.

The NBN is clearly unfit for service to replace the PSTN network as I see it. The NBNCo flags all the shortcomings and essentially dumps the problem onto us and our ISP for a solution that might work. Some of the “solutions” can be expensive or “ugly”.

I trust @grahroll will add some detail.


Hi crofty, is there any mobile phone coverage at your father-in-law’s home ? My mother used a VitalCall for a while, and it used the mobile network, rather than the landline. VitalCall may be able to swap ?

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Thanks Brendan. The main issue here is safety. The dementia condition means that the opportunities for training in new technology unfortunately do not apply. One of these relatives tried a simple mobile phone and some instruction, but could not grasp the essentials and gave up. They rely on the landline for safety, and the NBN installers left it not working.


You said it eloquently enough!

The NBN is a train wreck that still has carriages piling up behind. Until they make the system FTTP in as many areas as they can rather than this cobbled together mish mash of technologies there will be glaring examples of the utter uselessness of the system we are being thrust into. It reminds me of these two famous sayings “Look before you leap” and “They who hesitate are lost”…then picture a person standing atop a cliff above a river, with a pride of lions bearing down on them with mouths agape and the river below full of crocodiles looking up. The copper is rotting, some almost as old as Adam, and once the NBN is in an area customers only have 18 mths to change over or lose all telecommunications other than their mobile phones. What choice? The lucky ones get FTTP but that is not the majority by a long stretch.

Here is a slightly older chart showing the results you will likely have in a power failure:

Well respected tech experts are saying that this MTM (Multi Technology Mix) NBN of Messrs Turnbull and Co will only last about 3 years before it will need to be re-done with Fibre properly. The ALP are moving to a FTTC/K (Fibre to the Curb/Kerb) model and dumping FTTN and similar dodgy connections so that an eventual and necessary change to FTTP will be easier to undertake (NBNCo acknowledges this would be better). Higher costs, more interruptions, different connections in homes, this is turning into a very obscene joke at our expense.


ccrittenden, thank you for that. I have been ignoring the whole thing, but I realise that’s probably not the best thing to do. From a pamphlet I received in the mail:

‘Do I have to switch to the NBN?’

The short answer is yes. Depending on where you live, the nbn “will replace most existing landline, phone and internet networks” It’s important to make the switch early to avoid the nbn disconnecting your current service.

So I will be are forced to use a mobile phone, something I have not needed so far and have avoided. At almost 80, I am dreading this change, that doesn’t sound like it will bring me any particular benefit. Right now, my internet speed is excellent and my landline serves me well, though I make very few calls these days.

What happens when you have to hang on for 20-30 minutes waiting to speak to someone, which is a frequent occurrence? At present, it costs me one call, but a mobile (as far as I know) charges by the minute. This all sounds very expensive for someone who is no longer earning a wage. I really don’t like being forced into something I didn’t choose.


You will not necessarily be forced to use a mobile after the landline goes. Look into NBN packages that include VOIP (phone over the internet). I have one where I get the VOIP service for $20 PM including unlimited local, interstate and mobile calls. I can hang on for hours if I have the patience. VOIP works exactly like a landline in most respects as far as your experience is concerned, I use the same handset as before, you don’t need to know the differences behind the scenes. In many cases you can retain your current phone number. Depending on what kind of NBN connection you get you may (or may not) have to buy your own battery backup to keep the phone on during power failures if continuous service is important to you.

More precisely, if you have FTTP you may have or can get a battery backup that maintains services during a power fail - at least so long as the battery lasts. That is generally enough to ride through the typical power fail.

Every other flavour of NBN (FTTN, HFC, fixed wireless, satellite, FTT’alphabet soup’) goes down when power is lost either at your premise or at your local NBN router. There is no reliable battery option because even if you put a UPS on your own modem-router, if the power goes down at the NBN premises, your internet and phone are down.

NBNCo states clearly if you need a reliable phone you should always have a charged mobile backup, assuming you are in decent mobile coverage.

These links have been posted more than once.

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syncretic, thank you for the explanation. I will talk to my son soon about what might be the best way to go. Mobile reception here is not good, unless you walk outside - not the best if eg you are lying on the floor with a broken leg! I have a lot to think about!

I have gone through numerous blackouts of varying lengths and not lost connection. When might the power go off at NBN premises? How often does this actually happen? I suspect in saying you need a mobile too the NBN is being very cautious here to avoid possible criticism.

Isn’t the landline phone system also limited in a similar way? The phone lines are powered from the Telstra end and mostly stay active even if the domestic power is off. If the blackout is severe enough won’t Telstra lose power too? How often does that happen?

Unless we know what the risks are it is hard to know how to choose.

I agree that if you absolutely must have a line at all times then the belt-and-braces approach (have a mobile as well) is needed but what if you don’t?

All this leads me to a broader question. If the risk of power failures causing the NBN phone system to go down is substantially greater than the fixed line failing for the same reason why was the system built that way given that it will become obligatory? Did the architects simply assume that everybody has a mobile and forget about it?

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No. The NBN requires power at both ends, the PSTN only at one, and that end has backup systems.

What NBN technology do you have? FWIW VOIP, in addition to power fails, is subject to server malfunctions just like the internet.[quote=“syncretic, post:12, topic:14271”]
why was the system built that way
The original FTTP was not subject to these problems. The mixed technologies were championed by the present government as supposedly an equally competent but cheaper solution. It appeared to be a purely partisan political decision as many have stated since, and still cost far more for an outcome many of us feel is not fit for purpose.

They were given a scope of work and had to make that scope work as best they could.

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As @PhilT stated the service you have determines how long you last in the event of a power cut.

If FTTP and you have a back up battery installed they state the length of service is about 5 hours. If you have other means of supplying power to the Panel on the wall then as long as that power runs you will have communications until the Exchange that you connect to loses it’s backup power.

For FTTN (Fibre to the Node) in most of the normal large Nodes (the big green cabinets) they have fitted back up batteries and have had to come to service agreements with Electricity suppliers to try and ensure some service, but it is nowhere near a good service. Basically in the event of a power failure at the Node site you will lose service, a power failure at your house without power to your modem that supports the VOIP service will leave you with no calls and no internet.

HFC (Cable Internet) is a similar issue to FTTN and the same for Fibre to the Curb/Kerb and Fibre to the Basement, basically you are without service.

If you have NBN Fixed Wifi it will depend if they keep your copper circuit in place, in my mother’s case they didn’t and her phone service is through the panel on the wall from the antenna and when they lost power recently she lost all communications including her mobile as the Mobile Tower went out as well.

Satellite is different as most of them will continue to have the old copper circuit kept so phone communications will continue in the event of power loss.

Again as @PhilT stated the original system would have seen almost all people connected by FTTP and the risks of losing communication in a power cut was able to be largely circumvented by either having the Battery installed at the panel or using an alternative power source eg Generator, Solar System with batteries, a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). People still on copper eg Wifi or Satellite Internet could still use their phones and in the case of Satellite could still have internet if they can supply power to their system.

Why did we get what we have, well basically we (Australia) voted for it when Australia supported Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott’s Multi Technology Mix NBN and threw out the far and by a long way superior Labor NBN. All this because we believed the Politicians in the LNP that they would save us buckets of money and it would take a lot less time to install even though every worthwhile to listen to expert said it wouldn’t do any of that and that we would end up with a terrible, inefficient, overly complicated, unreliable, outdated, over-priced, harder to maintain, system that would not/could not work in major disasters. Even then we purchased a system that the LNP would only promise a maximum of 25/5 Mbps speeds for the vast majority of Australians. This because they decided that was good enough for us all and any future technology that needed greater speeds was not important for us, including Remote Medicine, Online Business and so on.

Almost everywhere else in the World are ripping this stuff out and replacing it with the FTTP system we should have had. It has become increasingly cheaper all over the world to do this, as the experts said it would, to the point it is far cheaper to have FTTP (because of many factors including the maintenance costs) but we will be stuck with the system we have now because of the contracts that are already signed, because of the fitouts already done and it will now be more expensive to go back and replace what is in place.


Now to the concerns of julwood. If you are getting the NBN by any other means than FTTP, Wifi or Satellite and you want reliable communications you will have to have a mobile in the case of emergencies when power is not available to your system. This may mean you need to get a mobile that is recommended for fringe area reception. Telstra sell some styles that are marked with a Blue Tick to indicate this and I think Optus also have some they recommend for fringe reception areas. They are not all expensive to buy. See here for a selection of Telstra Pre-Paids which do have Blue Tick phones among them


If you are getting FTTP ensure they are aware of your wish for the backup battery, also if you are with Telstra try to get registered for Priority Assistance as this will mean they will try to ensure the battery is part of the install.

If you are really concerned about the mobile reception and don’t want a new phone you can also ask about getting the booster devices (Telstra call it the “Telstra Mobile Smart Antenna”) that can be mounted in a better reception part of the house and boost the signal inside the house. It will still need external power and requires 2 power points (so not useful in a power failure unless you have them connected to perhaps a UPS device)… See this document for more detail about the Telstra one https://www.telstra.com.au/my-offer-summaries/download/document/my-offer-summary-smart-antenna.pdf. I think Optus have a similar product. The cost is not cheap at around $700.


@grahroll, as usual you have made a most excellent and well written post. kudos!


I was talking about whether using battery backup at the user end for VOIP would be a waste of time should the network end lose power in the same blackout. The limitation that is similar between PSTN and VOIP is the requirement for power to be maintained at the network end.

I have fixed wireless and have maintained VOIP using a UPS which lasts about 5 hours, good enough for me, during several blackouts. The power has not gone off at the network end in those episodes.

I am interested in comparisons between the two, specifically how often each is likely to fail due to lack of power at the network end. If PSTN has its own battery backup at the network end the question is why does VOIP not. Saying that this wasn’t in scope is no real explanation and only leads us to ask why it wasn’t.

No doubt VOIP can also fall over due to software or hardware malfunction but so can PSTN. PSTN can also fall over for many other reasons. My neighbour never had phone service in wet weather due to a line fault that was never found over many years.

As we have no figures for the likelihood of failure of either system it is possible in principle that all those who have a mobile for backup of VOIP should also have had one for backup of PSTN.

I would be much more comfortable if the NBN could support their admonition to have a mobile handy with figures so that I could make my own assessment of how much trouble to go to in order to maintain some kind of phone. As mentioned before I have to suspect they are being quite cautious - possibly because they have no reliable measure of risk.

Is the NBN required to keep a log of outages? Is it public? If not why not?

@syncretic Your fixed wireless is analagous to the PSTN in that a tower is a ‘robust’ facility augmented by your own UPS, and that goes a long way toward aping the reliability of FTTP w/battery.

I can only speak of my local power issues in subsurban Melbourne. We have myriad short power interruptions (1-2 minutes), and more recently one 3 hours (blown transformer), one 8 hours, and one 12 hours; the last two were scheduled but the last went 5 hours beyond the estimated power-back time. My internet service (ADSL for now) frequently fails for a minute to 20 minutes at a time (ISP issues) but my PSTN conection has only had 1 x 20 minute fault, caused by a sloppy technician, not a failure, and one that was 11 days because of incompetence by multiple parties

You could find the answers to most of your questions by referencing the myriad links from these threads and doing some basic net reseach on the NBN MTM implementation. There is a wealth of information out there.

Yes that is similar, in that all networks require the remote end to be working. The difference/s between the PSTN network and the NBN are a few. Depending on the technology in an area there may be several places where a power failure could affect usage. Let’s look at your Wifi tower compared to your old wired connection.

Wifi Tower
Points of possible power failure interruptions
Your house
The Tower
The Node (Collector where multiple connections come together and this could be the exchange or POI)
The POI (if not already the Node)

Old Copper
The Exchange

Next we can look at FTTN
Your house
The Mini Node (if you are unlucky to have one)
The Node
The POI (Exchange for easier explanation)

Your House

Your House
The Cable power supply (usually at the poles)
The Node (yes they to have a node)

Satellite (if not using the old copper)
Your House
The Satellite (this would be a big issue)

The POI power supply is pretty solid, it is like the old exchanges and in many cases are the old exchanges, they have multiple backups including Generators and Battery banks. Likelihood of failure is very low unless catastrophic failures occur eg Floods, or Fires within the exchange.

FTTN Cabinets (Nodes) are being fitted with 3 backup batteries but the NBN state not to trust that system but up to 4 hours may be expected. They are also generally in relatively close proximity to your premises and are easily affected by floods if in low lying areas. Also affected by lightning strikes. The remaining copper lines to your premises can also be affected by water in the pits and pipes just as your neighbour experienced on the old PSTN network

Mini Nodes do not have backup power and fail if no power in the area. They also are compromised by water inundation and lightning damage. And again the remaining copper wires may be affected by water in the pipes and pits.

HFC (Cable) has no backup power and so like Mini Nodes in power failures they cease to operate. The pole or ground nodes if flooded cease to work. Lightning strikes can be an issue. If underground cable the pits and pipes flooding is also an issue

Wifi Towers have backup power again good for around 4 hours maximum and again no warranty on that as my mother experienced. Lightning strikes can be an issue. Cyclones and similar strong wind events can destroy or badly damage the tower.

FTTP only requires power at your house and the POI. Works even when flooded, does not corrode, non conductive so resistant to lightning damage. As most of the FO infrastructure is underground it is largely protected from wind damage.

The risk of failure for most of the NBN technologies is much higher than that of Fibre to the home and Fibre to the home is less likely to have failure than even the PSTN system. Satellite is a problem not so much because of power but because of weather conditions as @gordon can attest to.

In floods the copper circuit, whether it was/is on the PSTN or as part of the MTM NBN, is easily compromised by water and if you are likely to have your copper connection affected by floods either at your premises or between you and the exchange then yes a mobile is a sensible precaution.

The NBN has done risk analysis and has told us that we should have a mobile ready in case of failure particularly if we require uninterrupted communications, they are not requiring or demanding that we get a Smart Phone or some expensive model. They have said they cannot guarantee us service and they are telling us a mobile phone is a precaution to take just like people who live in areas affected by Cyclones who are advised to have torches, batteries, a portable radio, potable water etc ready for the storm season.

A site where you can check and comment on NBN Outages:

From the NBN Statement of Expectations:
“Communicating and managing risks
The Government expects that nbn will actively manage risk. It should communicate risk to Shareholder Ministers and Departments, and engage closely with them, including by providing monthly progress reports. The Government expects that nbn will continue to strengthen its engagement with Government agencies. This should include security agencies to address security risks related to the network.”

From the NBN Co site re Emergencies and outages
What to expect in an emergency

Equipment connected over the nbn™ network will not work during a power blackout.

While nbn will endeavour to get our network back up and running as soon as possible, you should be prepared to be without internet and telephone services for a period of time.

An emergency may trigger a power outage. If you require a safety critical device such as a medical alarm, fire alarm or lift emergency phone to work during a power outage, nbn recommends that these should be connected to secondary communications technology such as a mobile network connection or battery backup. You should make enquiries about the operation of these safety-critical services during a power outage with your device provider or your phone or internet provider.

Prepare an emergency kit

We recommend that you put together an emergency kit, which includes equipment that can be used in the event that there is a power outage or your connection to the nbn™ network is disrupted.

Equipment connected over the nbn™ network will not work during a power blackout. Electronic equipment connected to the nbn™ network needs its own separate battery backup to work in a power outage. Examples of devices requiring separate battery backup include your modem, cordless phone, gateway or WiFi router. This is not provided by nbn.

A number of factors influence the resiliency of the nbn™ network to continue to provide uninterrupted services during a power outage. Even with network power resiliency and in-premises battery back-up, power outages may last longer than the battery life. Therefore, we recommend you are always prepared to be without internet and telephone services for some time.

nbn™ network outages

Unplanned or unexpected outages to your nbn™ network connection can occur for many reasons, such as severe storms, cyclones, bushfires, car accidents, or trees or branches falling onto power lines.

nbn understands the inconvenience unplanned outages can cause to users. This is why we have an emergency response team dedicated to preparing for and responding to the recovery of the network in emergencies.

We have worked with local authorities and emergency services to identify high risk areas and buildings of importance like hospitals. We are constantly working to make sure our network is as resilient as possible, undertaking work such as vegetation clearance around sites in high risk bushfire and cyclone areas, checking seals on cabinets in flood prone areas and the stocking of operational vehicles with the agreed levels of network spares along with the required tools and equipment in order to respond to emergency events.

Where possible, nbn will deploy temporary network infrastructure into areas where extended outage durations are anticipated. This infrastructure is designed to provide temporary services to support emergency services and the community and its allocation will be based on the network infrastructure available and be on a best efforts basis."


Here’s an update, and another warning for those less technically agile. We visited our relatives today. They reported that the phone wasn’t working; it was making a strange noise. Telstra apparently turns on Telstra Home Messages on NBN connections even when the message service had not been being used previously! The ‘strange noise’ was the tone indicating that there were messages…actually 14 messages, some relating to medical matters. Setting up an account and clearing these messages then restored normal dial tone. It was not an easy matter to get the message service turned off either…it took at least 20 minutes on the phone to Telstra. Even then, we were told it would be turned off ‘within 24 hours’. Let’s hope no-one leaves a message in that time and sets off the ‘strange noise’ again! And, yes, my relatives go out walking a fair bit, and good luck to them: it’s not a bad way of dealing with dementia if you can manage it.

Telstra is “deeply saddened”. Words escape me.


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