Updated 8th August, 2019
Even if you’ve been around the Internet and modern tech for most if not all of your life, there’s no ignoring how fast things have advanced in such a short space of time. For those from an analogue age, it can seem mind-boggling just how quickly digital technology has connected not only our lives but the globe.
The Digital Age in Australia
Advances in digital technology have made so many aspects of our day-to-day lives easier — from getting information about a business to booking a plane flight, to finding your way around an unfamiliar area, to simple stuff like ordering dinner or buying the groceries. The sight of hundreds of people walking around with their eyes glued to smartphones might make you think things have gone too far, but so many of the relatively recent technological arrivals in our lives have made things better.
Technology moves fast — in a couple of decades we’ve gone from dial-up Internet that drew text line-by-line on the screen, to streaming 4K movies into our lounge rooms with Netflix. Australians have always embraced technological innovations and changes (we were an early success story for the Compact Disc, for example!). In the coming years, everything from the light globes in our homes to the sensors in our cars will want a slice of our Internet bandwidth — it’s happening already and on a larger scale every day.
But what actually does the near future hold for our connected world? Where are we now, and where are things headed? It’s a question that would have been a lot easier to answer a few years ago — before politics started mixing with one plan for the future!
The National Broadband Network originally started rolling out with the intention of being a world leader in its use of modern, future-proof tech. Designed to replace the decaying, century-old copper phone network, the NBN was planned to be an all-fibre-optic network, with ultra-fast fibre running right into each and every home, apartment, and business. The advantages of that were (and are) numerous — extremely fast and ultra-reliable connections that didn’t just treat the Internet as something you download from, but rather, something you communicate with. Possibilities abounded, and the network was designed to be upgradeable to even faster speeds long into the future.
Liberal Government Changes
With a change of government came the first of many changes to the NBN rollout, though, and as many know today, the reality doesn’t quite fit with the original vision. So, looking forward, plans are already in motion to bring the NBN up to speed again — most notably with the adoption of a fairly recent tech known as Fibre to the Curb (FTTC). This allows homes and businesses connect to the NBN by tapping directly into the main fibre optic cables running down the street, without needing to have a copper phone line running potentially a kilometre or more to the nearest “node”.
With FTTC, a compromise has been found between the expense of an all-fibre connection and the low cost and speed of connecting the existing copper line in the home straight into the fast fibre outside. A method that leaves open the possibility of upgrading to a full-fibre connection later if needed, despite the already massive spending blowout from the original plan.
But what about those news stories that have been telling us we don’t need the NBN at all — that in the future, wireless is the way to go?
Before that, you may want to check out how all the leading NBN providers compare with their monthly rates below:
Last audited 18 November 2020
5G — Is It the Future?
We’re almost all using what’s known as 4G wireless on our mobile phones today, which was a pretty amazing innovation for its time — when conditions are ideal it’s extremely fast, reliable, and versatile. It’s a mobile tech that’s served us well. But tests are already being done — and standards are being set in place — for the next generation of mobile broadband. 5G will allow each mobile phone tower to pump out a remarkable 20 Gb/sec (that’s 2.5 gigabytes a second by the way) with upload speeds around half that.
Whoa, you say. Not even the fastest fibre can do that! The thing is, though, fibre can and does — the main fibre cables running between cities and countries carry data at many times that rate —and that same tech could be adapted for home use in the future. 5G’s just wireless playing catch-up, though admittedly with the benefit of true mobility (fibre is, of course, restricted to a location by its very nature).
Last audited 18 November 2020
Actual Download Speeds
Actual usage speeds on 5G devices won’t be pumping 20 gigabits a second into your phone, of course. Everyone has to share each cell tower, so users are more likely to see 100 Mb/sec — or around the same as the highest speeds offered by the NBN now.
So why wouldn’t 5G replace “wired” tech? Well, aside from the obvious issues of congestion as more and more people try to connect to the same towers (tried browsing the internet at the MCG lately?) there are other factors at play, like the location. 5G needs “line of sight” between you and the cell tower to get its top performance, so anything in the way — walls, houses, inconvenient hills, tall buildings — can slow it down.
And ultimately, all those towers need to get their data from somewhere. It’s telling that they’ll be using the most proven, reliable, and upgradeable tech to send and receive data for all their users. They’ll be using fibre optic cable.
What are my digital options now?
For the time being, as the NBN continues to roll out around the country, there’s a messy mix of different technologies in play which directly impacts the sort of data speeds that end users can get. For many people, that’s not a big deal — as long as it’s fast enough for them to browse the Internet and stream stuff on Netflix, they’re happy. And a great many people are now enjoying NBN speeds far above anything they could have previously got on ADSL.
But we’re heading towards a future that’s more and more connected with every passing year, and experts agree that our demands for raw broadband speed are going nowhere but up. Thanks to Fibre to the Curb, the NBN should be ready to cope with the demands of the near future, and 5G will certainly help plug the gaps.
In the longer term, though, we’re probably going to need to upgrade the nation’s communications to something more reliable and capable, and no matter what happens with the admittedly exciting world of wireless tech, one thing’s almost certain — our next national network will be fibre optic.
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!)