If you’re lucky enough to live in a suburb where Telstra or Optus have pay TV cable run down your street, you’ll want to think twice before calling up an ISP and getting connected. Almost everyone’s got access to ADSL, but it’s not always as fast as you’d like. With cable in your street, you’re one of the lucky ones – you’ve got options!
While these large high capacity cables (Telstra’s underground, Optus’s strung from power poles along the street) were put there to serve pay TV to customers, they have another use that gives you real choice if you’re after super-fast broadband and don’t yet have access to the NBN. The question is, which one is the best option for you?
Let’s take a look at the two very different technologies, how they affect your internet experience, and help you decide whether cable or ADSL is the right choice for you.
Does Cable have the speed you need?
Now, this is something that’s actually been available for many, many years, but the stuff we do online now – such as streaming Netflix, or engaging in gaming – makes cable really popular. New technologies are in the pipeline that will increase cable internet speeds even more. But right now, few would complain about a 100Mbit/sec connection direct to their home, which Telstra and Optus both offer – as long as you purchase a “speed boost” option for your connection. Even the “regular” speed of a basic cable connection, at 30Mbps, is faster than even the fastest ADSL, which can reach around 22Mbps. But only if you live right next to the phone exchange.
So what does cable internet offer aside from speed? Well, for starters, it doesn’t matter whether your local phone exchange is right next door or 20 Km away. ADSL uses the old copper phone lines to carry the data. The further away you are from where your line plugs into the nearest phone exchange directly impacts how fast your connection is. And for most people, that means that they have to live with a fraction of the speed ADSL is capable of. It can get to the stage where it’s not fast enough to stream Netflix in any decent quality. Cable is the obvious choice if you’re doing anything online that needs a fast connection.
Last audited 30 November 2020
Should ADSL be your choice of service?
Then there’s the other problem ADSL can have – reliability. The copper phone lines used to carry the ADSL signal were only ever designed to carry a low-quality voice signal from your home phone. They can be noisy – clicks and pops, crackling noises – which can cause your internet to disconnect. And in some cases people find that those problems get worse when it rains, as water comes into contact with the lines and causes problems. Cable internet uses a much heavier, insulated cable that’s pretty much immune to all of that.
The down side – and it’s pretty minor – is that the way cable internet is set up, you’re actually sharing the cable in your street with a whole bunch of other people. They can’t access your internet or computers, of course, but there’s only so much data that can fit down that cable at the one time. And if your entire street’s decided to have a Netflix binge at the same time, those promised speeds can become somewhat slower. In practice, though, it’s not a huge problem, and both Telstra and Optus have usually been able to provide extra capacity where it’s needed.
Oh, and one more thing to consider with cable, too – the NBN. At some point down the track, the NBN will be taking ownership some of those cables and delivering service through some of them them as one of the range of technologies the national network now plans on using. What that’ll mean for you, ultimately, is no change in speed at all. Quite possibly you’d be issued with a new cable modem and have to make new arrangements with your provider (under the NBN, all ISPs will be able to use the cables to provide broadband, rather than just Telstra and Optus as it is today). You can always check to see when the NBN will reach you using our NBN Rollout Map.
Last audited 30 November 2020
ADSL still has its uses
So is there any up-side to humble old ADSL? Well, yes, there is. For starters, ADSL gives you a massive range of different ISPs to choose from, some of whom offer incredibly good deals on broadband that cable can’t match. ADSL lets you use any existing modem you have hanging around, while cable requires a special modem that you don’t get any choice with as far as brand, model or features go. And ADSL uses the existing phone line that’s right there in your home already; with cable, if you don’t already have your home wired up for it, you might be in for an intrusive installation (fancy a trench being dug through your front yard? Didn’t think so!) And of course, for people in apartments and flats it might simply not be possible to get access to the cable even if it runs right past the front door.
If you want speed, cable wins easily
If you’re lucky enough to have access to cable broadband, though, you’ll be doing yourself a favour by taking a look at what it has to offer.
NBN v ADSL and Cable
The NBN reached over 1 million active users in 2016, and new work is being rolled out every week. The speeds available vary depending on the technology used, but most Australian telcos now offer an NBN option. You might have access to NBN-calibre broadband speeds right now, without even realising it!