Everything you need to know about the NBN

The NBN is rolling out across the south-west.
The NBN is rolling out across the south-west.

What is the NBN?

The National Broadband Network is Australia’s new internet network. There are four key types of technology:

  • The fastest is fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), which is rare in south-west Victoria and connects fibre optic cable directly to your home/office.
  • The next fastest is fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), which is common in highly built-up areas and connects a fibre optic cable to a “node” in a neighbourhood before using the existing copper phone line to get from the node to your home/office. This is sometimes called “fixed line” technology.
  • Fixed wireless is slower than any fibre technology. It uses line-of-sight transmitters on mobile phone towers to connect to your home/office.
  • The slowest technology is satellite, which is being used in rural areas.

Can I get the NBN yet?

NBN Co has a rollout map on their website (nbnco.com.au). If you live in a purple or white area, you can get the NBN, either through FTTN, fixed wireless or satellite. If you live in a brown area, then the FTTN works are still being completed or a fixed wireless set-up is still being finished on a mobile tower in your area.

Can everyone get connected?

Everyone should be able to connect to the NBN through either FTTN, fixed wireless or satellite.

How do I sign up for the NBN?

You need to contact an internet service provider (ISP) such as Telstra, Optus, TPG, Foxtel, Dodo etc – not NBN Co. You can type your address into the NBN Co website to get a list of dozens of ISPs in your area. Be aware there are fewer providers for the satellite service.

Is it faster than my old internet?

Generally speaking yes it should be a fair bit faster. Old ADSL internet ran download speeds of up to 8Mbps (megabits per second), with ADSL2+ up to 20Mbps.

And how fast is the NBN?

This is the big question and there are a lot of factors in the answer. According to NBN Co, FTTN is capable of download speeds up to 100Mbps, fired wireless is capable of 50Mbps, and satellite is 25Mbps. Fixed wireless is expected to be upgraded to 100Mbps capabilities early next year. But those speeds are only possible maximums and by no means the norm and often unachievable. 

Why can’t it go faster?

The quality of your equipment (computer, smart TV, modem etc), software, broadband plans, signal reception, the condition of the copper wiring in your neighbourhood, your ISP’s network design, weather extremes, and you distance from the node can all impact your NBN speeds. According to NBN Co, “if people aren’t getting what they paid for, they should contact their retail service provider in the first instance”.

“The retailer will run tests to determine the cause of the problem and resolve the issue,” a spokesperson said. “If they can’t solve the issue they will contact nbn and we will investigate and work with retailer to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is becoming increasingly interested in this, which brings us to our next point.

How can I tell which internet service provider is the best value for money?

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said many NBN consumers are being “left angry, frustrated, and dissatisfied by internet services that don’t deliver”. As a result, they’re starting a broadband monitoring program which will use devices in about 4000 homes to measure FTTN internet speeds. 

“The broadband speeds program will also help to identify whether issues relating to poor speeds at peak times are being caused by the performance of the NBN or by (ISPs) not buying sufficient capacity to ensure you get the speeds you are paying for at peak times,” Mr Sims said.

Head to www.accc.gov.au/broadband by 31 July 2017 to be part of the program.

What plan is right for me?

The three factors to take into account are cost, amount of data, and download speeds.

The cost is up to you, but your usage habits will determine the amount of data you need.

Streaming the likes of Netflix or Stan is one of the most common usages, and it can use a lot of data. Standard definition video uses around one gigabyte (GB) per hour of viewing. HD video uses around 3GBs per hour. Ultra HD or 4K video take up 7GB per hour.

Online gaming varies a lot in terms of usage. According to NBN Co, something like World of Warcraft can range from using 10 megabytes (MB) per hour to above 40MB per hour, while Diablo III is around 25MB per hour. At the upper end of the scale, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive can use up closer to 250MB per hour while Destiny clocks in around 1GB per hour. Add voice chat to the gaming, and you add more MBs.

Music streaming at the highest audio quality will take eight or nine hours to use up 1GB.

As for speeds, the more devices you’re using is a factor. If you’ve got gamers or want your movies and music at the best quality, you need a plan with the capabilities of 100Mbps. NBN Co recommends 50Mbps for “streaming in HD, working from home and uploading/downloading large files”, while 25Mbps is recommended for “browsing the web, streaming videos (such as low-quality YouTube) and emailing”.

When do I need to switch?

If you live in an area covered by fixed wireless or satellite you don’t need to switch. You can keep your existing landline service. But if you live in a FTTN area, you have 18 months to change over once the network is switched on. “This allows time for those with special equipment including medical and security alarms and EFTPOS terminals, which operate using a landline phone connection, to contact their device provider and preferred phone company and internet service provider before the 18 month disconnection,” an NBN Co spokesperson said.

What do I need to connect?

Your ISP should provide with a modem to get you connected, but in some cases you can use your own.