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.
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).
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:
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, Foxtel, Kayo, BINGE or even a gaming plan. 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. What makes Telstra’s broadband plans and bundles even better is that you get waived connection fee worth $99 when you buy online, Telstra Smart Modem with 4G backup, and unlimited landline and mobile calls! What’s more, you can score one month of Foxtel Now (any channel packs) — completely free — plus 3 months of BINGE streaming.
Last audited 22 September 2020
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. They’ve even recently introduced their new Unlimited Home Superfast 250/25Mbps plans with typical evening speed of up to 150Mbps!
Last audited 09 September 2020
What does iPrimus Offer?
iPrimus offers unlimited NBN plans that can be bundled with Fetch TV. They’ve also recently transformed their broadband selections so that they’re more affordable while maintaining the variety of your options. There are two data limits, three speed tiers, and two contract terms to choose from. Their fastest unlimited plan is configured on the NBN100 speed with typical evening speeds of up to 82Mbps. As for entertainment, it only starts from only $10/month with a free Fetch channel pack included.
Last audited 15 September 2020
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!
Frequently Asked Questions about NBN
For many years, Australia depended on a network of phone lines owned by Telstra, and broadband equipment owned by a handful of companies, for both home phone and internet services. Not only was it slow, it limited consumers’ choice of providers. The NBN – National Broadband Network – replaces that with a high-speed national network for all communications, which all providers can offer services on. That keeps prices down – and thanks to newer technology, speeds are faster than ever possible before.
The rollout of the NBN, started in 2010, is almost complete – so by now, most areas and households have either been switched over to it, or have access to it. There are a handful of properties around Australia that still can’t get the NBN, but even those will gain access eventually. You can check your NBN access and the type of connection you have using our interactive NBN rollout map.
Once the NBN is available in your area, you should get a letter in the mail letting you know you can switch over. At that point you can either contact your current provider to make the switch, or choose a new one – it’s good to compare NBN providers and plans before making a decision, as there are many great-value deals available.
Yes, usually they do. With the old copper phone network shutting down, your home phone will now work on the same connection as your NBN broadband and will need to be provided by the company that delivers your broadband. That’s not a bad thing – usually, you’ll find the home phone line is included at no extra charge. If you’re on Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) or Fixed Wireless NBN, you can have home phone and broadband with different providers, but the cost of doing so makes it better to stick with the one provider.
As a vast national network, the NBN itself is designed to never be “down” completely (though occasional technical problems can crop up). However, if you’re unable to access your NBN internet service it’s entirely possible that the NBN connection point you’re on may be having an outage, or your internet provider may be having technical issues. Your first port of call is your internet provider’s support line – they have access to all the info about the NBN and can tell you if there’s an outage and how long it may last, or get things fixed if there’s a fault in your service.
When the NBN is installed at your home or business, the NBN technicians will install all the things needed to get the connection into your home. Depending on your connection type, they will also possibly install a device known as a NTD where the connection enters the building, which is what you connect your modem or router to. With Fibre to the Curb connections, the NTD will usually be supplied by your internet provider, but sometimes may be installed when you have the NBN connected. In either case, it’s provided free of charge.
A vast broadband network that stretch across the entire country, the NBN works as a central hub that all internet providers can connect to via any of 121 connection points around the continent. It provides the pipelines and computing power needed to move data to and from each of those connection points, sending it to and receiving it from your chosen broadband provider. It’s an incredibly complex network that’s designed to be, for the end user, as simple as plugging a modem or router into a socket on the wall.
The NBN replaces the old copper phone network, and with it, your traditional phone line is also replaced. However, with some NBN technologies – Fibre to the Node, Fibre to the Curb and Fibre to the Building – existing phone lines are used to carry the NBN data from the street into your home. Because this is a far shorter length of traditional phone line, much faster speeds can be reached. When the NBN is installed at your place, the NBN technicians will make the needed changes to your phone line so it’ll work with the NBN.
While so far, most NBN connections have been limited to the NBN 100 tier as the top speed – that’s 100 Mbps downloads and 40 Mbps uploads – in 2020, new speed tiers were released, offering download speeds of 250 Mbps and 1000 Mbps (also known as “gigabit”). However, these speeds aren’t available for everyone just yet – in most cases, upgrades need to be made to the network to enable them for customers, and internet providers need to choose to offer them (at the moment, only a few do).
While you’re not required to have a NBN broadband connection or home phone if you don’t want one, the old copper phone network is being decommissioned and you will lose access to it once that happens in your area, making the NBN the only choice for wired broadband and phone. That’s not a bad thing, since it gives all consumers much more choice and cheaper prices, and the ability to switch providers easily without a lengthy waiting period.
There are several types of NBN in use around Australia, and which one you get depends on your location – you can’t choose which type you get. All connect to the same NBN in different ways and have different advantages and capabilities. To find out which type you have, search for your address on any NBN internet provider’s web site – it will instantly show you which connection type you have.
The NBN was a project started by the Rudd government a decade ago, and then modified and finished by the current government, as a publicly owned asset. At the moment, the NBN is still 100% government owned and run, but the longer-term plan has always been to sell it to recoup the huge cost of building it. While that will eventually happen, for the immediate future the NBN remains in public hands.
If you’re experiencing slow or unreliable broadband on the NBN, the actual NBN network is unlikely to be the problem. It’s possible your internet provider may be having technical issues or suffering from congestion, so call them first. It’s also possible that you’re suffering from a local fault, either with the cable out in your street or the cabling in your home; you ISP can help you diagnose that. If you’re using wi-fi, make sure you test your connection using a computer plugged into your modem/router via Ethernet first – wi-fi is notoriously prone to interference causing slowdowns.
TV and the internet are closely connected these days, and there are plenty of options if you’re looking to get some entertainment with your internet connection. Fetch TV can be added to unlimited plans from several providers (like iPrimus, mentioned above) or if you’re more of a streaming user, Telstra’s bundle pulling together a Telstra TV box, free months of Binge and Foxtel Now, a home phone and unlimited broadband is TV value that’s hard to beat for $99/month. Telstra also offers well-priced bundles with Foxtel included. You can check out all the latest TV and internet bundles on our comparison page.
If money’s tight and you’re looking to get connected to the internet without breaking the bank, don’t worry – there are affordable plans available, and while they won’t break speed records, they’ll keep you connected just as well. Belong Broadband – which uses the Telstra network – has its Starter plan available for only $55/month, which gives you slightly more than NBN25 speed. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that – and they include a wi-fi modem too.
What’s best overall is going to depend on your specific needs, but the plan which gives the most bang for your buck is Telstra’s NBN50 Unlimited Data plan. It bundles a fast, reliable connection, a modem with 4G backup, a home phone with unlimited calls, free connection and three months of free Binge (more if you join Telstra Plus!)