The Fast Lane – Why the Right NBN Download Speed Matters

Broadband satellite

When getting connected to the NBN, be sure to take a look at the various higher speed options available from your provider – they unlock the true potential of the NBN’s promised faster, more responsive broadband.

The Fast Lane: Why Choosing the Right NBN Download Speed Matters

So the NBN has finally come to your area, and you’re hearing from a whole bunch of internet providers about their various offers for your business – as well, of course, as your current provider. You take a look at the NBN prices on offer and see what look like some great deals – unlimited downloads for only $60 a month, on the new, super-fast NBN! An absolute bargain, right?

Well, not necessarily. The NBN works differently than the ADSL broadband you’ve spent years using. Your ADSL download speed was totally out of your control – it completely relied on the length of the copper phone line between your home and the nearest phone exchange. If it was too slow, there was nothing you could do about it. On the NBN, though, download (and upload) speed isn’t influenced by line length (aside from Fibre to the Node installations, where the copper from you to the box in the street still plays a role). Instead, it’s divided into speed “tiers” that you get to choose from when signing up. And it’ll come as no surprise that the faster you go, the more it’s going to cost.

So you decide to opt for the cheap, unlimited-download plan, and most likely find yourself on the “12/1” speed tier. The numbers here refer to download, then upload speed, and it’s the maximum speed you’ll be able to attain – but measured in megabits per second rather than megabytes. 12 Mbit/sec is at the mid-range of possible ADSL2+ download speeds, and it’s very possible your old copper connection was serving the internet to you faster than your shiny new – but speed-limited – NBN service is.

It doesn’t help that the 12/1 tier was initially referred to by many ISPs as “Standard”, with everything above it advertised as “boosts”. Many people think – completely understandably – that since their previous broadband was fine, then “standard” sounds about right. In reality, though, it’s not a great advertisement for the new network at all. Able to download at a maximum of 1.5 MB/sec if you’re lucky, it’ll be a real bottleneck for the stuff that’s now become everyday internet usage – especially demanding applications like Netflix.

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The Shower Effect

Think of the internet pipe into your home like the water pipes that deliver the H2O to your shower. Of a morning, you jump into a nice hot shower and start waking up and planning your day… and then someone else gets up and turns on the tap in the kitchen to make a coffee. Suddenly the pipe that had plenty of capacity to deliver water to one person is struggling to supply two. The result? Less cold water for your shower, resulting in an early-morning blast of scalding-hot water.

You can’t do much about the water pipes in your home – well, not without spending a lot of money – but the data pipe is easily upgradeable to handle anything a household or family can throw at it. It’s all about picking a speed tier that’s right for your usage.

Running at its top speed – 100 Mbps – the NBN is a revelation, something you only really appreciate when you spend some time with it in your home. Always-on broadband that never slows down even when there’s two people streaming Netflix, someone else watching YouTube and the kids on the PS4 playing games online. Whenever you head to the computer to load up a web site it’s there almost instantly, even while all that’s going on. Broadband stops being something you think about as a service with limits – it becomes a hassle-free utility that’s as much a part of the fabric of your home as the power, water and gas connections are.

That top speed does come at increased cost, of course. But if you compare the monthly rates at top internet providers, you’ll find that it can be cheaper than your average phone bill – and not too much of a per-week step up in cost from the drastically slower tiers either.

Most providers initially settled on lower-tier speeds of 12 and 25 Mbps, and though the latter will certainly serve many people adequately enough (NBNco themselves don’t even class the 12 Mbps tier as “fast broadband) most ISPs have dropped it in favour of the 50/20 tier at the same or a similar price. And if you want to experience the real strengths of the NBN, going faster is often more useful than you’d think. For example:

Netflix and Stan

If you’re one of the millions that loves their streaming TV and wants to do so in full HD, you’ll want to be on a 25 Mbps plan at a minimum. While the lower tier might seem enough numerically, streaming services rely on users being able to maintain consistent speeds – and anything else on the connection using up bandwidth (a Windows update, a file download or upload etc) and you can run into the dreaded “buffering”. If you’ve just bought a shiny new 4k TV and were hoping to stream Netflix’s 4k material on their top plan, then not even 25 will cut it. You’d want the 50 Mbps tier at a minimum – but many ISPs don’t even bother offering that, jumping straight to the top-speed 100 Mbps, where 4k will stream flawlessly and still leave room on the connection to do other stuff.

It’s also important to note that these services will automatically choose the resolution of the stream based on the speed of your connection, so you have to manually adjust it if you’re looking to reduce the amount of data you spend while watching Marvel’s Jessica Jones. Also, these services are unmetered on some providers, so that’s something worth inquiring about before choosing a broadband plan.

Video Games

guy playing video game

Modern online video games love fast broadband connections – not only do they benefit from the faster upload speed when talking to game servers (and the lack of congestion when getting vital game info back down to you), they also happen to be a product that’s increasingly going fully digital. Buy a game these days and you likely have up to 50GB of game to download before you can even play. A full-speed NBN connection can handle that download in an hour or so, rather than the full day or more it can take on slower connections.

Photos & Video

woman taking a photo

Your huge library of digital pics and videos – from your phones and your dedicated digital cameras – tend to be the sort of things you want to upload and share with friends and family, as well as storing for safekeeping. Doing that on a slow connection can be painful – these can be huge files – but with the higher-tier NBN plans featuring the fastest upload speeds around, getting those creations and memories online is fast and easy. Sadly, upload speed is still underappreciated, even with the NBN – the absolute fastest upload speeds (20/40Mbps) are only easily available if you’re lucky enough to have a fibre NBN connection.

There’s plenty more examples of how a truly fast NBN connection – paired, of course, with an ISP that has the network capacity to handle the speed without congestion of their own – can make your entertainment and work life better. Suffice to say, if you spend any substantial part of your day using the Internet for its many and varied purposes, you’ll get the seamless and speedy online experience that you didn’t think you actually needed. It truly is one of those things where you have to try it first-hand to see what you’ve been missing out on.

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