Article updated August 2017 to add HFC to the NBN connection methods now being used for the rollout.
While almost everyone will have heard to the National Broadband Network – the NBN – through the many news reports on its progress over the past few years, there’s still confusion about what it is, what it’s for, when it will be completed and how it’s going to affect the way you connect to the internet of the future.
What Is the NBN?
For years now, you will have been connecting to the internet via either your home phone line or the pay TV cable network that runs past your premises. The vast majority of people are connected via the former method, using a technology called ADSL. It works, and it can be reasonably fast – but ADSL has many disadvantages. It relies on aging copper phone lines that were never designed to carry high-speed data, and as a result it’s prone to slowdowns or outages caused by faulty phone lines, being a long distance from the nearest phone exchange, or even the weather. Cable internet is more reliable, but comes with its own problems – not least, a very slow upload speed, and the need to share the available speed with everyone else on the same stretch of cable.
And then there’s the delays in getting connected. ADSL connections require a technician to visit a phone exchange and plug you in, and that can take weeks to happen. Cable, meanwhile, restricts you to one of two ISPs, and locks you into their services.
The National Broadband Network, NBN, was designed to change all this. Run by a Government-owned company not connected with any of the telcos, it treats all customers as equals regardless of which ISP you’re with, and it’s designed in such a way that getting connected (or changing ISPs) can be done almost immediately. It’s also designed to be fast – especially in its original form as an all-fibre network – and to deliver these decently fast speeds to all Australians rather than the lucky few.
While the internet is the prime reason for the NBN rollout, it will also replace the current landline phone system – though don’t worry, your existing phones will work just fine on the NBN. You can check to see if you have access to the speedy internet via our NBN Rollout Map.
Last audited 14 September 2020
Same NBN, Different Delivery
For those in capital cities and major centres, there’s four different technologies now being used to roll out the NBN – and which one you’re getting will depend on where you live. Each method connects to the exact same network, but what it can do for you in terms of speed will vary depending on which you have. All of these methods are able to provide speeds that outdo an ADSL connection, regardless of how far from a phone exchange you live. The four options are:
Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)
The original technology planned for the entire NBN rollout, this runs optical fibre cable down the street and into every home and business. Fibre has huge advantages – it’s incredibly fast, it works over long distances, it’s immune to the weather and it lasts for decades. This is the most expensive method, though, in terms of installation, as it requires techs to do works on your property to get the fibre cable inside. These days, FTTP is only being rolled out for brand new housing estates and apartment buildings.
Fibre to the Node (FTTN)
This one involves running fibre cables down streets to large metal cabinets on the footpath (the “node”). The regular phone lines already in place are connected to these boxes, and customers receive their broadband using a special high-speed version of ADSL, known as VDSL. Not as fast as FTTP, and with slower upload speeds, it’s also faster and cheaper to install, and doesn’t require new lines to be installed into properties.
Fibre to the Basement (FTTB)
This is the favoured method of getting the NBN into existing apartment buildings and flats. It’s similar to FTTN, in that the fibre cable is run to a central “node”, but in this case one located inside the building itself. That node is then connected to existing cables inside the building – though in some cases, FTTB installs can use faster Ethernet cables instead of copper phone lines. But the relatively short copper cable distance makes this method a very fast option for apartment dwellers, capable of speeds that match the full-fibre version of the NBN.
People in remote areas, meanwhile, will have alternative options including fixed wireless and satellite for their NBN access.
Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC)
Now the preferred method of NBN connection for homes where the Telstra/Foxtel cable exists in the street, HFC is the name of the tech that’s been used by Telstra for cable broadband for many years. It’s similar to FTTN except that the cable from the box in the street to your home is a thick coaxial cable that’s far less prone to speed loss. NBNco is taking ownership of these cables and upgrading them for faster speeds – and more importantly, for direct connection to the NBN, meaning that you’ll have your choice of ISP for fast cable broadband rather than being restricted to Telstra. While Optus also built a HFC cable network as part of its rollout years ago, that network won’t be used for the NBN.
While there are those who might insist they don’t need a Broadband internet plan, the reality is that it makes every user’s life much better – even if you’re not interested in the fastest speed available. Reliability is high – no more dropouts or slowdowns when it rains – and the increased speed makes everything you do online more responsive and smooth. It’s the sort of thing you need to try to really appreciate, and once you have, there’s no going back!
More reliable downstream speed also means that you can subscribe to streaming TV services with confidence, knowing that the dreaded “buffering” issues are going to be a thing of the past (barring technical issues on the provider’s end, and of course assuming that your chosen ISP is providing enough capacity to meet peak demand).
And higher upload speeds – especially with FTTP – means that uploading photos or videos to share with friends is smooth and seamless, and also helps prevent your connection from stalling due to lack of upload capacity (every downstream connection also needs its share of upstream to talk back to the server at the other end).
And, as we mentioned, you have your choice of ISP and can change at any time (choice of Broadband offering permitting, of course) without needing to put up with no internet at all for a week or two while you wait for your new connection to be plugged in at the exchange.
The Future of the NBN
There’s been some suggestion of dumping FTTN in favour of a newer technology called FTTdP – Fibre to the Distribution Point. This would run the fibre cable to right outside the front of your premises, and then connect to you via the existing copper phone wires. This method can achieve phenomenally fast speeds without needing to install cables into every building, and if it’s adopted for the NBN, it’ll be hugely beneficial for everyone. And that’s because the future is “gigabit” – an internet connection ten times faster than the fastest fibre connection you can obtain today. Sounds like overkill? Well, look at it this way: as our lives move more and more online, we’re going to be seeing many services doing the same. TV networks will inevitably move online, as will pay TV. Home automation is going to be a big thing in the future and a fast internet connection will be vital. 4k video streaming is here now, with 8k around the corner; virtual reality is now very much a thing you can buy, and will expand outside of the gaming world it’s currently marketed at.
The whole idea of gigabit is simple – you never want to be constrained by your broadband connection. It should always be fast enough for anything you want to do, and gigabit speeds deliver that. Not to mention, that Game of Thrones episode in HD that you bought from iTunes would take only 18 seconds to download and be ready to watch. A feature film would take under a minute. The internet, in other words, stops being a barrier and becomes a utility as dependable as turning on a water tap.
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!)