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Broadband Internet & NBN in Australia
Broadband in Australia has seen its share of controversy in recent years, with the NBN rollout changed and delayed. Australia has taken a little longer to organise and roll out a modern broadband network than many other developed countries. But the NBN is now available across much of Australia – a significant upgrade for most of us.
With the arrival of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Kayo, Stan and all the other streaming services, however, our needs have changed. No longer is our internet connection only required to be fast enough to allow us to check our emails. Now, it needs to be fast enough to stream our favourite shows or live sport, while also allowing for all of our usual internet activities.
Internet Streaming in Australia
A few short years ago, streaming TV didn’t even exist, and most people were perfectly happy with the free-to-air channels, occasionally supplemented by some pay TV. Nowadays, it’s tough to imagine life without streaming, and even having an internet connection which occasionally buffers is enough to throw us into a fit. Add to that the fact that we now use our phones and tablets for internet, and need faster connections for things like complex video games and voice calling and all of a sudden broadband is a huge part of our lives.
That’s where the NBN came in, but with it came an increasingly complicated range of technology. On first look, the array of different connection options available can be daunting, but if you can learn how to weed out the fluff and focus purely on the critical information, things become a whole lot easier. While the large number of internet service providers in the marketplace can make things seem complicated, the competition also means there’s plenty of choice and a whole lot of value. Finding the best plan for you isn’t always entirely straightforward, but if you know what you’re looking for you should end up with a deal to suit your needs.
Internet: How to Get Connected in Australia
How you ultimately get connected to broadband depends on a variety of factors. Your options will obviously be significantly impacted by whether the NBN has rolled out in your area, but other factors such as the type of building you live in and the size of your city or town also play a role.
Typically, you’ll be able to find out what type of connection you can get on the websites of any internet service providers, simply by typing in your address. This will give you some information on what sort of broadband is available, but remember, regardless of what type of broadband you ultimately get, you’ll still be able to access the same content online – you’ll just be doing so through a different medium. There are, however, advantages that certain connection types have over others.
National Broadband Network
You’ve probably heard a little bit about the National Broadband Network. The long and sometimes painful process of rolling out the NBN across our enormous country has been the topic of a lot of conversation, but we’re now at the stage where millions of homes and businesses are now connected to it.
There are various types of NBN connections in use, and depending on where you live, one will be chosen for you – unfortunately, the end user does not get a choice when it comes to the NBN connection type, so if you’re moving house, it pays to ask about the NBN connection!
The connection types available are:
Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) – the way the NBN was originally designed. Fast fibre optic cable that runs right into your home or apartment. While the rollout of FTTP was cancelled by the current government, a substantial number of buildings had already gotten connected with it by then.
Fibre to the Node (FTTN) – Fast fibre runs to a box in your street (or near it) and you connect to the box using your old copper phone line. Old technology that’s prone to congestion and slow-down.
Cable (HFC) – this is the former Foxtel TV cables, now owned by the NBN and upgraded for fast broadband. Very fast speeds are possible, but it’s not without its issues.
Fibre to the Curb (FTTC) – the best currently available option – fast fibre cable running right up to your front yard, that you connect to with a phone line. Capable of high speeds and very reliable.
Prior to the NBN’s extensive rollout, one of the best options for speedy internet was connecting to the pay TV cables which were owned by Telstra and Optus. Unfortunately, connection required one of these cables to be running directly past your home, which was only the case for a small number of people across the country. With the NBN’s rollout, the Optus cable is being shut down, while the Telstra cable is being taken over and upgraded by the NBN. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with this technology, you’ll soon have access to high speed and reliable broadband. But if you’ve been subscribing to traditional cable broadband for years through Telstra or Optus, you may now have better, faster and cheaper options available to you.
To ensure they delivered on their promise of providing everyone in Australia with NBN, a pair of satellites called ‘SkyMuster’ were launched into orbit. The intention of SkyMuster was to give those who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to access the internet at all a way of connecting. Though it isn’t the fastest connection in the country, it still provides potentially better speeds than the best ADSL would offer, and is more than acceptable for standard internet use and streaming. It’s not as useful for gaming, though, because of the latency involved (the time it takes for the signal to get to the satellite and then back to Earth and to its destination).
A trusty old way of connecting to broadband for many years, ADSL does still exist, and remains a viable connection option for many people. Though it certainly won’t provide the speeds that most NBN connections are capable of, it’s generally fast enough to stream in high definition – particularly if you’re close to the local phone exchange, where download speeds of up to 24 Mbps are possible. Once the NBN has completely rolled out, ADSL will become a thing of the past – though you might be able to re-use your old modem as a router for the NBN!
4G and 5G Mobile
All this may change with the eventual arrival of 5G phones, modems and networks. 5G – still in the final stages of its development – promises download and upload speeds that are faster than anything possible with regular broadband, and an ability to cope with huge numbers of users in an area. Whether it will ever replace your home broadband connection, though, is going to depend entirely on data allowances. With almost all providers offering unlimited data on fixed broadband plans now, 5G services would have to go unlimited in order to compete on the same playing field.
Mobile connections wouldn’t typically be thought of as a great option for a primary internet connection, but a huge amount of competition in the industry means you can suddenly get some pretty significant data inclusions on the 4G network for a decent price. Compared to fixed broadband, however, these limits are still generally fairly low, so if you’re a heavy streamer it might not be ideal, but for general internet use it’s a reasonable compromise for those without access to the other options.
Last audited 14 September 2020
How to Choose Your Plan
Broadband plans today exist to cater for internet users of all types. The needs of different people can vary enormously, and it’s important to know what your priorities are before you sign up with a service provider. The number of people in your home, for example, is an important thing to take into consideration when looking for a plan. If you’re living by yourself, you probably won’t need unlimited data – though it certainly doesn’t hurt, especially if you’re streaming Netflix nightly.
If you’re out of the house for much of the day, it’s possible you could make do with a cheaper plan offering a lower data allowance. If you binge watch shows (via streaming) for hours on end it’s worth doing a rough tally of the data consumption per hour to work out how much you’d churn through in a month. Families, meanwhile, may have a couple of Netflix accounts streaming at once and another kid studying or gaming online. That’ll quickly use up a lot of data, so make sure you account for that.
Alternatively, maybe you need internet for a business you run yourself. In that case, seek out the business plans that are available with some providers. These can often provide a few added perks like priority support and a fixed IP address to give you more value for your dollar, and just need a valid current ABN to sign up.
It wasn’t long ago that the idea of an unlimited data plan would only have entered the minds of those with a whole lot of room in their budget to blow on internet. Now, it’s basically the opposite. Virtually every internet provider offers unlimited data in most of their plans – which makes sense, in a world where much of our TV and movie entertainment is done via streaming in high definition, or even in 4K. And then there’s other data-hungry things like downloading games for the PC or consoles. Data usage is higher than it’s ever been, so for most households, unlimited data will be a priority.
If you want it, you’ll generally be able to find a plan that suits you with no lock-in contract. In the ADSL era, if you wanted to change providers it could take weeks, as someone would have literally had to change cables at the exchange to port you over. With the NBN, however, this is a thing of the past. As a result, some providers want you to sign longer term contracts to keep you from leaving, but the vast majority will also offer no-contract plans to allow you to leave whenever you like – making it perfect for renters and those looking to move. If you don’t mind being locked in though, long-term plans can have their benefits, generally offering better value and a few added perks, such as a free modem/router or slightly cheaper monthly pricing.
High Speed Broadband
The NBN is, on the whole, significantly faster than what we were dealing with a few years ago. Just how fast your connection is, however, can vary quite a lot. When you choose your plan you’ll be asked to select a speed, with the faster speed tiers being more expensive (they cost your internet provider more to get from the NBN). Ideally, you should go for a plan on at least the NBN 25 speed tier, but if you have a large family or particularly need or want very fast internet, the NBN 50 tier might be more suitable – especially with its much higher upload speed, which is essential for multiple high-data-use things to run smoothly.
Bundling Broadband to Save Money
One of the fastest-growing elements of the communications market in general has been the concept of bundles – and it’s easy to see why. For many people, a broadband internet connection is only one part of a range of services they need to subscribe to – there’s also the mobile phone, perhaps a home phone as well as its call costs, and even TV entertainment. Providers don’t just want your business – they want all your business, and as a result you’ll find some very attractive bundles if you roll in more than one service to one provider.
And some incredible value can be had, too. One prime example is Telstra’s “Unlimited + Streaming” bundle, which packages up an NBN 50 broadband service with unlimited data, a home phone line with unlimited calls, a Telstra TV 3 box to stream it on with a free $125 Telstra TV Box Office credit, a modem/router with 4G backup… and a Smart Modem because, well, why not? All that bought separately would set you back a fair chunk of cash, but as a bundle, it’s $99 per month. There are plenty more examples of the ways bundles can save you money – so make sure you compare broadband bundles on offer at the moment to see if one is the perfect fit for you!
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