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:
NBN Broadband Plans
- Up to 20Mbps Standard Evening
- 200GB Data
- NBN 25™ Fixed Line
- Up to 9Mbps Basic Evening
- 100GB Data
- NBN 12™ Fixed Line
- Up to 80Mbps Premium Evening
- Unlimited Data
- NBN 100™ Fixed Line
Min Cost - $94.95 over 1 month
- Up to 40Mbps Standard Plus Evening
- Unlimited Data
- NBN 50™ Fixed Line
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).
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.