It’s a streaming world these days – there’s no getting around it. And fans of quality TV and movies have never had it so good! Gone are the days when you’d flick between five channels of an evening hoping to run across something that grabbed your interest (and chances are, the really good stuff was buried at 11.30pm after most people had gone to bed). If you loved a show, you had to be home to watch it, remember to record it, or just miss out. It seems so primitive now.
But then, we’re really spoilt for choice these days, and for not very much money at all. When Stan arrived in Australia with Netflix coming in hot on its heels, the way we watch TV was changed forever – and oh boy, didn’t our broadband plans know it!
Stream All Things, Use All the Data
Suddenly we’re streaming everything. Dark dramas like Black Mirror and Mindhunter or acclaimed award-winners like The Crown and Orange is the New Black on Netflix. Cutting-edge action comedy like Get Shorty, the poignant Jim Carrey comedy-drama Kidding or the weirdness of Twin Peaks on Stan. Brilliant sci-fi drama like The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime. And if you’re signed up with Foxtel from Telstra, you can stream a vast array of shows and movies, including the entire HBO catalogue – Game of Thrones, Westworld, Big Little Lies and so much more, as well as thousands of movies.
What’s on the Menu?
There’s now millions of Australians using streaming services every day for their TV and movie entertainment, and the content each service has to offer is continually evolving and changing – there are new arrivals almost every day, and content being retired just as quickly.
Just working out what shows and movies are on what service can be an almost impossible task since their web sites are designed more around exploration – not a bad thing in itself, but what if you want to know exactly what’s on offer on each individual service? Luckily, we’ve got that covered.
Netflix’s vast range of content alongside its original movies and shows keeps people coming back for more, with people constantly talking about what they’ve been watching on the world’s biggest streaming service.
The Demands of Data
All this streaming uses data, obviously. And despite massive advances made in squishing high quality video down to a fraction of its size, streaming can still use a lot of data. If you spend any time with your favourite shows and movies on Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime or even Foxtel from Telstra (where you get free streaming access to almost everything they have to offer, in crisp HD) then you’ll have realised long ago that your budget $25/month “works most of the time” broadband simply isn’t gonna cut it, especially not with that 100GB monthly download limit – which seemed like so much data, until streaming arrived to eat it all in days. No, these days, you want a broadband plan that offers unlimited data, so you can stop stressing.
One of the most important things to remember about any streaming service is that no matter what you watch, it’s going to consume part of that monthly download limit – and sometimes to quite a hefty amount. The big streaming services like Netflix, Stan and Amazon have spent a lot of effort in trying to limit the amount of download data their streams use, and the actual download speed varies not just between shows, but even between episodes. Services like Netflix even have multiple tiers of download speed for each quality level (HD, 4K etc) so it can seamlessly adapt to your connection without interrupting your viewing.
So it’s no longer easy to quote even a rough estimate of how much data you’ll use per hour – but as a very rough ballpark, if you’re viewing at home in 1080p HD, you can expect to be using around 3GB of data per hour. 4K streaming of course uses a lot more – anywhere from 7GB to 10GB per hour.
And now we’re in the age of mobile phones that support HD video and above, it’s good to be wise to those numbers. Because while 3GB per hour might not mean much on your home broadband’s data limit (if it has one), on mobile, those shows are going to chew up your monthly allowance in half an evening. For mobile, always download shows over Wi-Fi first – the big streaming services now all allow this.
The Need for Streaming Speed
Of course, there’s also that annoying problem with streaming that’s so often complained about – buffering. If you sit down to stream your favourite stuff of an evening and find that it keeps stopping and starting, trying to stream far enough ahead to make things seamless but failing, you may be a victim of the dreaded “peak hour slowdown”. Basically, your internet provider has signed up too many users and not paid for enough capacity to serve them all – so when a whole out of users all get online and start streaming stuff, a data traffic jam happens and everyone has a bad time.
Streaming in HD or 4K might come with vague speed recommendations – but don’t think that just because they say you should have a connection of 7 Mbps to stream HD that it’ll be guaranteed problem-free.
NBN Speed Tiers and Streaming
As you may have seen when browsing providers, the NBN divides plans up into “speed tiers” which you, as the customer, get to choose from. This is probably the most important decision you’ll make when it comes to your broadband plan if you’re planning on doing a lot of streaming. The recommended speeds quoted by providers like we mentioned above aren’t the whole story, either. All broadband connections have overhead that uses data of its own, you never get the full speed of your connection all the time, and anything else happening on the connection can cause streaming video to buffer or drop in quality.
With that in mind, we’d recommend that you ignore NBN plans at the NBN 12 speed unless price is really an issue. NBN 25 and up will be fine, though if multiple household members are going to stream at the same time, aim for NBN 50 instead. The golden rule of streaming is that you can never have too much speed.
Generally, the motto is “as fast as possible, as much data as possible”. Within your budget, of course. Look at the NBN tiers and match them to the sort of streaming you’ll be doing, as well as how many people will be doing it at one time.
NBN 12: Single user, streaming to web browser or tablet. HD streaming possible but not guaranteed.
NBN 25: Single user, streaming to high quality devices lie smart TVs and streaming boxes. Problem-free HD and 4K streaming.
NBN 50: Multiple users – a family or share house with several people watching streaming content at one time. HD and 4K streaming to multiple devices at once.
NBN 100: Able to handle anything streaming services can throw at you, to multiple users while others are downloading or uploading files or doing work. Very fast, but expensive and not available on all connections.
The best way to solve streaming pain is simply to choose the right internet provider and get yourself a broadband plan that’s designed with streaming and entertainment in mind. In many cases, that can be a real win for you as the customer – since there’s some great bundles out there which give you everything you need, from a fast and reliable broadband connection to the hardware you need to stream like a champion.
For home, then, you’ll want to be looking at bundles and plans with unlimited downloads and fast speeds as key features. Let’s take a look at some of the best bundles currently on offer, especially for the streaming life.
Telstra Broadband – Unlimited + Streaming Bundle
As Australia’s largest communications company – with a vast network as the foundation for everything they do – Telstra has long been one of the go-to companies for fast, reliable broadband. The dreaded peak-hour slowdown was never an issue for Telstra customers, since the company actively monitors capacity on their network and tweaks things to make sure your broadband performance is just as smooth and fast an experience in those key evening times as it is the rest of the day and night.
This bundle, with unlimited downloads and solid 25 Mbps speed, comes with a very nice bonus – the well-liked Telstra TV 2 streaming box, which will take care of all your streaming needs. Netflix, Stan, and of course, Foxtel Now. And just to make sure you’ve got plenty of stuff to stream, you get a 24-month Foxtel Now subscription bundled in as well. With the Telstra TV box usually priced at $192 and Foxtel Now normally $25 per month, you don’t need to be a maths whiz to realise this is great value.
A new addition to Telstra bundles this year is the Telstra Smart Modem, a clever little device that takes advantage of the vast Telstra 4G mobile network to provide an instant and seamless backup for your broadband connection. It’s a fact of life that broadband outages do occasionally happen, but with the Telstra Smart Modem you’ll never be without an internet connection no matter what.
The Unlimited + Streaming bundle, on a 24-month contract, includes a home phone line with unlimited local, national and mobile calls – so when you factor the usual cost of a home phone into the equation it’s a pretty stunning deal for fast broadband with no data limit.
Aussie Broadband Bundles, Now with Fetch TV
There’s lots of flashy advertising and big names being thrown around in advertising for broadband plans and bundles, and you’ll be all too familiar with most of the big players. But that doesn’t mean you should just opt for the provider with the most familiar name – not when there’s an alternative around that’s generating incredible word-of-mouth buzz for some very good reasons.
Aussie Broadband has been around for a while, but has really come into its own in the past few years as the NBN has expanded across the country. Aussie took it as an opportunity to do something truly different for an independent broadband provider. With the aim of offering the best (and fastest) broadband network in the country, they set up their own links to every NBN access point in the country. The results are paying off – Aussie Broadband is fast. Really fast – in fact, they’re routinely rated at the top of the charts when it comes to speeds at the key peak evening hours.
That’s where Aussie Broadband turns out to be brilliant for streaming TV. With a fast network that aims to eliminate congestion, you’re already off to a great start, but Aussie keeps a close eye on the performance of key services like Netflix, Stan and Amazon and optimises the path from them to their users. They’ve even got a dedicated Netflix server at their Melbourne HQ to ensure fast streaming in the southern states, and a direct link to Netflix’s main Australian server to make the rest of the country speedy as well.
Aussie offers a range of plans that let you tailor your service to the speed you need (and that your NBN connection can provide, with their 250 Mbps plans for some FTTP users currently by far the fastest consumer broadband in Australia. All plans are contract-free, too (though if you’d like a high quality modem, agree to stay for 24 months and it’s yours free!)
If you’re after a full entertainment package, though, Aussie lets you take things even further with a fully customisable bundle including home phone and Fetch TV. Thanks to Aussie’s completely customisable plans, you can pick any combination of speed and data limit you like, optionally bundle included calls for the home phone service, and add a Fetch Mini or the 4K-capable Mighty box to give you the perfect way to stream everything from Netflix, Stand and YouTube to Fetch’s own premium TV channels and rentable movies. We love the Fetch TV boxes and combined with Aussie’s network, you’re ready for anything the streaming world can throw at you!
Dodo Unlimited Supercharged with Fetch TV
Now a part of the massive Vocus network, much-loved provider Dodo has streamlined its offerings in recent years – this is the company that used to bundle things like tablet computers with their internet packages – and now has the undeniable advantage of being on a blazingly fast network that has near-direct connections to the servers that deliver all your streaming TV – Netflix, Stan, Amazon and Foxtel. That means great speeds, no buffering, and a generally seamless streaming experience.
Opting for unlimited data and a 25 Mbps NBN connection speed, you’re getting some quality budget-conscious broadband. You also get a phoneline at no additional cost, a free modem/router if you go for the 24-month plan and no setup or connection fee either.
But the best thing about Dodo is that they offer something not many internet providers do – Fetch TV. This brilliant service is based around the Fetch Mighty set top box, which acts as a free to air TV recorder and a streaming hub not just for Fetch TV’s range of channels, but also for Netflix, Stan and more. You can add a Fetch TV service to your bundle, and then add extra channel packs as you like.
Plans with Fetch TV
All the above bundles will serve you extremely well when it comes to streaming all the many and varied services that we now subscribe to (as well as the free ones like YouTube and Twitch). But for sheer speed and quality we’d go for Aussie Broadband’s bundles. With a blazingly fast network, smart locally-based customer service and the Fetch TV box to stream everything with, you’re getting the complete package at an extremely high quality – and best of all, you get to tailor the bundle’s speed, data and phone inclusions to exactly what you need, all without worrying about any sort of contract.
There are of course options for those on a tighter budget – the Dodo bundle with Fetch is especially great, and if you’ve become a fan of having a smorgasbord of entertainment to choose from, you’ll love having live and on-demand access to everything from free-to-air and pay TV to Netflix and Stan, all through the one Mighty box. If you want access to Foxtel’s channels, meanwhile, Telstra’s bundle is a value winner.