What is the NBN and how might I benefit?
The National Broadband Network (NBN) is a huge nation-wide infrastructure project that’s being set up to provide every home and business in Australia with a fast and reliable internet connection, no matter where you live. We’re going to cover all the essential info about the NBN, including all the info you need to know before a letter arrives in the mail to tell you the NBN’s ready for you.
What Is It?
The history of what we now know as the NBN goes all the way back to 2003, when the Howard government recommended that a national fibre network be built to replace ageing copper phone lines. Fibre lasts for decades, is extremely fast and durable, and can accommodate future advances in speed.
The incoming Liberal government decided to use a mix of different technologies, still using fibre for newly constructed buildings such as apartments, but opting for a cheaper method called “fibre to the node” (FTTN) for much of the country. FTTN puts a big metal box on the street connected by fibre to the exchange, and users then connect to the box via the existing copper phone lines. It’s a system that will still give many people faster broadband, but it’s nowhere near as fast or future-proof as a fibre connection right to your home. Added to that, remote areas will not be connected by cables at all – instead, they’ll get fast wireless broadband, kind of an amped-up permanent version of the 4G tech used for mobile broadband on your smartphone today.
One very real advantage of the way the NBN has been set up, is with the way you connect to it. That two-week wait for the internet is very much a thing of the past on the NBN. You call your chosen ISP, sign up for whatever plan suits you, and you’re literally up and running within hours, if not less. If you want to switch ISPs later on, that can be done just as seamlessly, with almost no downtime. With the fibre NBN you can even, if you like, subscribe to multiple ISPs at the same time (potentially useful for shared houses where people want control over their internet connection, for example).
Can I Get connected to the NBN?
Unfortunately, thanks to the slow rollout and the changes brought about by politics, relatively few people have access to the NBN at the moment. As of March 2015, just over 700,000 homes and businesses have access to the NBN with slightly less than half that number having connected to it. As the rollout ramps up to full speed that should increase rapidly, but for now, the best way to find out if you’ve got NBN access now (or are likely to get it soon) is to head to the web. The government operates a special site for the purpose at https://www.mybroadband.communications.gov.au/ – you can enter your address there and it’ll tell you what kind of broadband services are available in your area, as well as a rough idea of the speeds you can expect. However, it’s not always accurate when it comes to the NBN – new buildings and houses that got the fibre NBN built in during construction often aren’t listed even though they can connect already. The best way to find out is to head to the NBN’s own web site at http://www.nbnco.com.au/connect-home-or-business/check-your-address.html – it also lets you enter your address to see if you have coverage, but also shows buildings already fully connected on a map. And, of course, you can use our very own NBN rollout tracker to see when the speedy internet will be available in your area.
If you’re one of the lucky ones and the NBN is ready to go in your area, then get in touch with your choice of ISP to get the ball rolling. All of the major ISPs offer NBN services, and the decision you make is going to come down to both price and the ISP’s reputation for service quality. For fibre NBN, you’ll get a choice of various connection speeds, ranging from 12Mbps (similar to an average ADSL connection) up to a blazing fast 100Mbps; faster, of course, costs more. With your decision made, your chosen ISP will check to see if the NBN’s fibre is already installed in your home. If it is, you’ll know about it thanks to the large NBN-labelled boxes on the inside and (for houses) the outside of the premises. Otherwise, an installation will have to be organised. This is done by NBN technicians free of charge.
Last audited 14 September 2020
What do I need to get connected?
It’s important to mention that your current broadband modem probably won’t work with the NBN (some more advanced ones can, but it’s relatively rare). For that reason, most ISPs will provide you with the hardware you need – known as a router – or alternatively, you can buy your own so you get a choice of features you might want (such as advanced Wi-Fi speeds, for example).
How fast is it?
How fast your download and upload speeds are will depend on the type of connection you get. FTTN connections are guaranteed 25Mbps down, but are capable of up to twice that, depending on the condition of the copper wires from your home to the street cabinet. Those connected via HFC (the existing pay TV cables) should see speeds similar to cable internet now, up to 100Mbps down with the potential to reach 300Mbps. With fibre connections, it’s a different story, as you get to choose one of five “tiers” of speed, with a faster link costing more per month. The speed tiers are:
|Tier 1||12 Mbps||1 Mbps|
|Tier 2||25 Mbps||5 Mbps|
|Tier 3||25 Mbps||10 Mbps|
|Tier 4||50 Mbps||20 Mbps|
|Tier 5||100 Mbps||40 Mbps|
Is the NBN Worth It?
If you spend any amount of time doing stuff on the internet, the NBN is going to make doing that stuff a much more pleasant experience. The sheer speed available at the top end means that streaming movies and TV from the likes of Netflix or Stan is an easy ask, with the dreaded buffering a thing of the past, and HD (or even 4K) streaming becomes hassle-free. But even just the day-to-day things done much faster – web pages load in seconds, files download at lightning speed, and everything still works when it’s raining! Added to all this is the faster upload speed that comes with fibre connections. Uploading photos or videos is so much faster you wonder how you coped for so long without it.
Ultimately, everyone will be moved over to the NBN in one form or another, and almost all of them are going to get a better internet experience because of it. If you can get it now, jump at the chance and discover all all-round nicer internet experience.
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!)