Broadband has come a long way over the last few years in Australia, and what was once a simple task of picking a provider and getting connected can now seem a little overwhelming. The NBN has been the cause of much of the complexity – especially since it was redesigned mid-way through its rollout to use multiple different technologies. But alongside the NBN, consumers now also have other options – including various flavours of mobile broadband.
With the added array of options and different ways to get connected to broadband Internet, customers have had to decipher a whole range of terms used. Indeed, shopping for a broadband service can be as confusing as reading a car service manual to try to figure out why it won’t start!
So let’s take a look at some of the common terms you’re likely to run into when you’re shopping for broadband or trying to troubleshoot problems with your existing service. Be sure to bookmark this page to refer back to later!
An obvious place to start! NBN stands for National Broadband Network, a name which describes exactly what its purpose is. A long-term project that was set in motion nearly eight years ago, its purpose was to serve as a replacement for the ageing copper phone network and give access to super-fast broadband connections to all Australians. It’s been changed substantially from its original concept – and now holds on to some existing copper phone lines – but the purpose is the same. Ultimately, everyone will be connected to the NBN, both for broadband and for the home phone line.
FTTP, FTTN, FTTB and FTTC
This rather confusing set of terms is one of the most useful things to know about when it comes to the NBN. They describe the various different ways a customer can connect to the NBN, with the common thing between them being the first three letters, which stand for “Fibre to the”. The last letter tells you how close to your actual home a super-fast fibre optic cable from the exchange will come – and generally speaking, the closer the better, since the remaining distance is handled by copper phone lines, which are slower the longer they are (fibre doesn’t have that problem). FTTP was the original NBN design, with a FTTP fibre optic cable coming right into your home. FTTN connections run fibre to a “node” – a green box outside in the street to which all the surrounding properties connect via their copper phone lines. FTTB is seen in many apartment buildings, with fibre running into the building but the various apartments connecting via reasonably fast cable. And FTTC is a new connection option where the fibre is run right up to the border of your property, for faster overall speeds for everyone.
Many people have been getting connected to the NBN via HFC – which stands for Hybrid Fibre Coaxial. It’s basically Fibre to the Node (FTTN) but with the connection to homes made by a thick coaxial cable, rather than phone lines. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s what Foxtel used for years to connect people to pay TV, and what Telstra and Optus used for what they called “cable broadband.”
A technology that made it possible to squeeze reasonably fast broadband data down an ordinary phone line, ADSL is what most of us have used for many years – and it’s served its purpose well. The downside to ADSL, as many will know all too well, is that the speed of the connection depends on the length of the phone line between your home and the nearest phone exchange. Combine a long phone line with other problems (like noise on the phone line caused by faults, interference or even rain) and ADSL doesn’t shape up too well. It was easy, cheap, and worked on the existing phone system, but the NBN’s being built to replace it entirely.
This cheeky-sounding term is actually quite descriptive – a naked DSL service is basically an ADSL connection made on a home phone line that doesn’t have a home phone service running on it. It was important for one main reason – without the home phone service, Internet providers didn’t have to pay Telstra as much per month for the use of the line, and so they could get you connected more cheaply. Naked DSL is still in use but will be replaced entirely by the NBN.
Modem / Router
You often see these two terms used together, but they’re not the same thing. A modem is a device that can take a data stream from your computer and convert it to a digital signal that can be sent across phone lines or other cables; at the other end it’s converted back into a data stream again (fibre connections right into the home don’t need this conversion, and so a FTTP service doesn’t use a modem at all). A router is a device that takes the data coming from the Internet and decides which of your devices to send it to – important so multiple devices can use the same broadband connection at once. For everything except FTTP, you’ll be getting a modem and router in the one device, making setup easy and hassle-free.
A clever tech that you’ll find on almost every modem and router as well as on most larger internet-connected devices, Ethernet is a cable that lets you connect your computer, game console or streaming box directly – without using Wi-Fi. It doesn’t suffer from the interference that Wi-Fi can, so it’s the most reliable way to get any device onto the Internet – if you can put up with cables running from your devices to the modem/router, that is! A lot of modern apartments have Ethernet cabling built in. If you’re having connection problems or slow speeds from one of your devices, try connecting it via an Ethernet cable.
You’ll see “bundles” mentioned a lot when shopping for a broadband provider. It’s something providers love – it’s a way for them to get you on board with many of their services instead of just one. So you might see a “broadband bundle” that includes a home phone line, a pay TV service, a streaming box and an allowance of free phone calls, all for a single monthly price. There can be some incredible value to be had from bundles, and it has the advantage of everything being on the one monthly bill. But always check and compare the price of paying for all the bundle’s inclusions individually.
These are the most common terms you’ll run into when you’re shopping for broadband, but it’s by no means an exhaustive list. If you run across a term that doesn’t make sense that we haven’t covered here, be sure to let us know in the comments below, and we’ll de-mystify it for you!