The Fastest NBN Speeds – Who are the Winners?


As Australia’s massive National Broadband Network rollout heads towards its expected 2020 completion, more and more people every week are being switched over to the new network – and many are enjoying, for the first time, a real choice of which broadband internet provider they’re going to subscribe to. It’s one of the significant benefits of the NBN that’s rarely mentioned: without ADSL’s reliance on equipment at phone exchanges owned by a handful of companies, access to the new network can be had through a vast range of providers. Whether established or new, large or small, every provider gets access to the same NBN and the same connection to your home.

Why do the NBN Speeds Differ?

So why do providers differ from each other so much in terms of performance? Why are some providers excellent, some average and some (thankfully few) are an exercise in frustration as the word “buffering” becomes a familiar sight?

The Netflix Effect

In the ADSL days, before Netflix and Stan arrived to kick off the streaming revolution, pretty much any broadband provider was good enough for most people. But when high definition (or even 4K) streaming video was added into the equation and quickly became millions of peoples’ go-to source of evening entertainment, the cracks very quickly started to show.

Even some of Australia’s largest broadband internet providers were caught off-guard by what some called the “Netflix Effect”. As a large percentage of their customers began demanding more data for more extended periods for streaming – all around the same evening hours – the cracks in some networks began to show.

Internet Performance

There can be many reasons why a provider’s network stops performing well at busy times, but the problem that showed itself first was simply a demand for too much data from provider’s own internal networks – their personal connections between phone exchanges and to the broader internet were at full capacity, and more and more people were trying to squeeze data through the pipes. Think of it as a pedestrian tunnel after a football game – thousands of people make their way slowly from one end to the other, but if someone wanted to get through the tunnel faster – or in the other direction – the sheer number of people filling the tunnel would make that slow going.

That was something most providers could solve fairly easily – though not without some considerable expense upgrading their various high-speed links. But another cause of slow broadband speeds was already starting to show itself – this time a problem exclusive to the NBN

How Users Affect NBN Speed

Australia’s NBN charges internet providers who use it in a different way to some other networks. Without getting too deep into the terminology and gritty details of it all, it basically works this way: your provider buys access to the NBN in terms of speed, rather than the number of users or the amount of data consumed. As a customer, you connect to the NBN at one of 121 access points around Australia, and for each one, your provider has to buy enough capacity (speed) to cover the number of their users who’ve connected to it. 

Now, as a user, you can buy plans that run at anywhere from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps, but your provider doesn’t add up all its users’ plans at an access point and buy that much capacity. Instead, they presume that not every user will be using the full capacity of their connection all the time, and not every user will even be downloading (or streaming) anything at all most of the time. And of course, that’s right – think about all those hours every day when your NBN connection sits around idling. 

So a broadband provider might buy only a few Mbps per user, and that’s usually fine. If every user started streaming Stranger Things at the same time of an evening, that would be a problem – but in reality, not everyone will. However, there’ll be enough users streaming during the evening to potentially use up all the capacity your provider’s bought on your access point. And when that happens, you get congestion – downloads get slower, web pages take longer to load, and video streams start buffering.

Choosing the Right NBN Provider

That’s where the real difference lies between the many different providers you can choose from – how well they handle that most demanding period of the day, the evening peak. It’s been such a problem since streaming TV arrived that these hours are now specifically used as a measure of just how well a broadband provider does. A good provider will make sure they have plenty of capacity to allow breathing room for their users on each and every access point, and the result will be little or no slowdown of speeds during the evening peak. But less worthy providers will sign up as many users as they can, then buy just enough capacity on each access point to get by. When the peak demand arrives, they can quickly get congested.

The Australian Watchdog

Australia’s consumer watchdog the ACCC has been keeping an eye on broadband providers in recent years to try to measure, amongst many other things, the amount of “peak slowdown” each provider suffers from. To do this, they run a program called Measuring Broadband Australia, where volunteers are chosen to have a particular metering device installed on their home broadband connection. This clever little box automatically does speed tests at various times of the day and night and sends the information back to the ACCC to be compiled. A report is regularly released detailing the results – it’s free to for anyone download from the ACCC web site if you want the full details. 

But the thing most want to know is whether a provider manages to reach the top speeds of its plans during the high-pressure evening peak – and if not, how close they come to it. The “typical evening speeds” you see advertised with broadband plans are drawn from these numbers.

Measuring Connection Speeds

It’s worth remembering that even under perfect conditions, it’s impossible to reach 100% of the actual connection speed – for example, a 100 Mbps connection will speed test at best around 96 Mbps. That’s simply because the sending and receiving of data on the internet have a small overhead using up some of that bandwidth, necessary background info on what type of data it is, where it’s from and where it’s going. 

There’s another slight “gotcha” with the ACCC numbers, too – they don’t take into account the type of connection being measured. That can be important, as some NBN technologies like Fibre to the Node and HFC (cable) can drastically vary in speed depending on the distance to the node, condition of the line and local capacity (congestion can happen at the node before your data even gets to your internet provider). 

Underperforming Connections

The ACCC recognises this and nowadays attempts to identify “underperforming” connections, but it’s worth keeping in mind when looking at the numbers. There’s also one other potential problem with measuring speed during peak hours: to get the speed of a connection, the box doing the measuring needs a connection that’s not being used at all. If streaming or downloading is going on all evening, and the box tries to take a speed reading, it will report a slower speed than the maximum since it has to share the connection.

Typical Evening Speeds

Ultimately, the “typical evening speed” and the percentages you see are useful as a general guide, but there’s so much more involved with delivering a fast, responsive broadband connection. Do read the ACCC report to see all the juicy details if you’re curious, but if you’re shopping around for a broadband provider, the best way to find out how good (or otherwise) they are is to try them out. Thankfully the NBN makes switching providers easy (in some cases, like with Fibre to the Premises, you can connect to several providers at the same time and compare them) so be sure to think twice before agreeing to any lock in contract. A good broadband provider won’t need to tie you down to a contract to get you to stay – you’ll hopefully want to because they’re great. 

ACCC Report on ISP NBN Speeds

The key takeaway from the ACCC report for many, of course, is just that question of whether a provider can give you the speed you pay for, and now that we’re several years into the NBN rollout, the good news is that most of them can – even at peak hours. The overall percentages of advertised peak hour speed for providers were ranked in the latest report as follows – taking into account only 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps plans:

  • TPG: 88.3%
  • Aussie Broadband: 85.9%
  • Exetel: 85.2%
  • Optus: 85%
  • iiNet: 84.5%
  • Telstra: 83.5%
  • MyRepublic: 81.9%
  • iPrimus/Dodo: 81.8%

Now, those percentages work well as a general guide to which providers are doing better than others at peak evening hours, but remember, it’s only a guide. The sample size is minimal and not evenly spread between providers, and as mentioned, there are many factors that can mess with accurate readings. 

Which Provider to Choose?

As we said above, with such a wealth of choice and value across broadband providers these days, your best bet is to pick one that ranks well and will let you sign up without a contract and leave without penalty if you’re not happy. 

What does Telstra Offer?

Telstra is a natural choice for customers who want to bundle in other services, such as a home phone, streaming TV or even Foxtel. As the owner and operator of many of the Australian and international links used by other providers, they’re in a better position than most to ensure your NBN service is kept nice and speedy.

Telstra Plans

Core Internet Plan
  • Up to 20Mbps Standard Evening
  • 200GB Data
  • NBN 25™ Fixed Line
$75/mth
Min Cost - $1,899 if you stay connected for 24 mths (incl $99 connection fee)

Unlimited Internet Plan
  • Up to 40Mbps Standard Plus Evening
  • Unlimited Data
  • NBN 50™ Fixed Line
$90/mth
Min Cost - $2,259 if you stay connected for 24 mths (incl $99 connection fee)

Unlimited Internet Plan + Foxtel Sport
  • Up to 40Mbps Standard Plus Evening
  • Unlimited Data
  • NBN 50™ Fixed Line
$129/mth
Min Cost - $2,727 when you stay connected to the internet for 24 months and Foxtel from Telstra for 12 months (incl $99 connection fee)

Unlimited Internet Plan + Foxtel Drama
  • Up to 40Mbps Standard Plus Evening
  • Unlimited Data
  • NBN 50™ Fixed Line
$120/mth
Min Cost - $2,619 when you stay connected to the internet for 24 months and Foxtel from Telstra for 12 months (incl $99 connection fee)

Unlimited Internet Plan + Telstra TV
  • Up to 40Mbps Standard Plus Evening
  • Unlimited Data
  • NBN 50™ Fixed Line
$99/mth
Min Cost - $2,475 when you stay connected for 24 mths (incl $99 connection fee)

What does MyRepublic Offer?

And while MyRepublic’s showing isn’t the best in this survey, their value pricing, flexible contract terms and custom-built plans tuned for gamers make them one to watch.

MyRepublic Plans

Unlimited Premium Month to Month
  • Up to 80Mbps Premium Evening
  • Unlimited Data
  • NBN 100™ Fixed Line
$94.95/mth
$94.95 for first 12 months, $99.95 thereafter
Min Cost - $94.95 over 1 month

Unlimited Premium 12 Months BYO
  • Up to 80Mbps Premium Evening
  • Unlimited Data
  • NBN 100™ Fixed Line
$89.95/mth
$89.95 for first 12 months, $94.95 thereafter
Min Cost - $1,079.40 over 12 months

Unlimited Premium 12 Months
  • Up to 80Mbps Premium Evening
  • Unlimited Data
  • NBN 100™ Fixed Line
$94.95/mth
$94.95 for first 12 months, $99.95 thereafter
Min Cost - $1,150.40 over 12 months (inc modem and $10 P&H)

Gamer Pro Premium Flexi
  • Up to 80Mbps Premium Evening
  • Unlimited Data
  • NBN 100™ Fixed Line
$99.95/mth
$99.95 for first 12 months, $104.95 thereafter
Min Cost - $99.95 over 1 month

Gamer Pro Premium 12 Months
  • Up to 80Mbps Premium Evening
  • Unlimited Data
  • NBN 100™ Fixed Line
$99.95/mth
$99.95 for first 12 months, $104.95 thereafter
Min Cost - Min cost $1210.40 over 12 months (inc modem and $10 P&H)

What does Aussie Broadband Offer?

Aussie Broadband made all of its plans completely contract-free last year, and you can even custom-design a plan to suit your exact needs if you like. Highly rated by their users, with direct high-speed links to Netflix and with a reputation for excellent support, Aussie Broadband is well worth checking out.

What does Exetel Offer?

Exetel is a bit of a dark horse on the NBN scene but has been winning lots of fans with its keen pricing and excellent customer service (something they place particular emphasis on). Their strong performance in the latest survey means they should be on your list as well.

Summary: Internet Service Provider Speeds are Improving

The good news is that overall, across all the providers the ACCC mentioned, NBN services reached 90-95% of their rated download speeds most of the time. This is a vast improvement over what we saw even a few short years ago, and that’s great news for you as a customer. Regardless of which provider you pick, you’re likely to get decent download and streaming speeds (assuming no other connection issues). But remember, the power is in your hands – avoid contracts, and if you’re not happy with the provider you’ve got, shop around!

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