What you need to know about NBN connection types

woman sitting on the floor on her laptop using NBN connection

Most Aussies are now streaming, scrolling and surfing the internet on the National Broadband Network (NBN)

But did you know that not all NBN connections are the same? 

In fact, there are a range of different NBN connection types and unless you’re willing to pay out of your own pocket (or your dwelling has been earmarked for a free upgrade by NBN Co), you’re likely stuck with the type of NBN connection you currently have.

Your type of NBN connection has important impacts in a couple of areas, most critically when it comes to the maximum supported speed – and therefore the kinds of plans you can subscribe to – and also when it comes to reliability.

No matter what type of NBN connection you have, you’ll need to sign up with an independent internet service provider (ISP) to gain access. Once you sign up for a plan, you may be provided with a compatible router or modem that can connect you to the NBN.  If you do take a provider modem it may not always be the most capable but it can make dealing with support requests easier.

So the question is, what is my NBN connection type? 

Let’s break it down … 

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) 

A FTTP connection runs directly to the property. This means that the fibre-optic cable line that connects to the NBN feeds straight to the home of the internet user, where the fibre node is located. Because of this, FTTP connections tend to be the most reliable and often the fastest. However, FTTP is not the most commonly used NBN wired connection. 

If you are opting for FTTP, an NBN technician needs to install an NBN utility box outside of the home in addition to a connection box inside. Just bear in mind, upgrading to FTTP can come with some hefty installation costs if you choose to do it outside of an NBN Co-provided free upgrade.

FTTP has access to the full suite of NBN speed tiers, from NBN 12 all the way up to NBN 1000, aka Gigabit.

Fibre to the Node (FTTN) 

Unlike a FTTP connection, FTTN doesn’t feed into the premises directly. Instead, the fibre-optic line runs to a shared neighbourhood-installed box or cabinet, generally located at the end of a street or collection of streets. The last section of the connection uses existing copper phone wiring in order to run a signal into a property. 

FTTN connections are more common in Aussie households, however they can also be slower than FTTP. For example, if your house is located further away from the shared NBN box or cabinet, your internet connection may be slower than that of neighbours located closer.

FTTN is also speed limited due to the use of copper cabling, with NBN 100 (100Mbps downloads) being the fastest tier currently available.

Fibre to the Building/Basement (FTTB) 

Typically used to connect apartment blocks and large buildings to the NBN, FTTB connections run to the bottom or basement of a building. In this instance, a fibre-optic cable is installed and connected to the fibre node at the bottom of a building. This is then connected to existing cables within the building which send internet signals to each apartment or unit. 

Like FTTN, the distance you are from the fibre node at the bottom of a building can impact the speed of your FTTB connection. Similarly, the quality of the existing wires within the building can also impact the reliability of your NBN connection.

Because the in-building cabling situation can vary drastically from property to property, if you’re in a building with FTTB the fastest plan you could sign up for is NBN 100.

Fibre to the Curb (FTTC) 

Another NBN connection option is FTTC, which runs through existing copper wires to connect a property to a Distribution Point Unit (DPU). A DPU is often located inside a telecommunications pit on a street. 

FTTC can theoretically offer higher speeds than FTTN, as the copper wire generally only runs for a few metres to reach your home. This type of connection requires an FTTC NBN connected box to be installed inside the property, and in some cases you may be able to perform self-installation (without the need of a technician).

Officially, Fibre to the Curb connections can only support up to NBN 100speeds, however NBN Co has said it hopes to roll out NBN 250 and NBN 1000 options to FTTC users sometime in 2021, with feasibility testing taking place in March-April, 2021.

Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC) 

If you already have a cable network or pay TV service such as Foxtel, you might be able to access an HFC connection. Running from the nearest available fibre node, this connection utilises the existing TV cables to connect the NBN to your home. 

To access an HFC connection, an NBN technician needs to install an access network device at the point where the TV wire enters the property.

The quality of HFC connections can vary, so while in theory the technology can support NBN speeds up to the full 1000Mbps, NBN Co has stated that only 7% of HFC installations can reach that speed. The majority of HFC users should be able to sign up for an NBN 250 plan, which is the next tier down.

Fixed Wireless 

In some cases, NBN cables are too far away to connect a property to the internet, as in many regional areas. So a Fixed Wireless connection may be used instead. This type of connection uses data transmitted through radio signals from a transmission tower. The signal is then sent to an NBN outdoor antenna which is connected to the property. 

This option requires an NBN technician to install both the outdoor antenna as well as an NBN connection box to be placed where the cable runs from the antenna indoors.

Fired Wireless NBN has a maximum download speed of 75Mbps, although congestion during peak periods means average speeds in the evenings are often around the 50Mbps mark.

Satellite 

Another option for regional and remote Aussies when it comes to NBN is the Sky Muster satellite connection. This type of NBN connection reaches remote areas on both mainland Australia and Tasmania, including places like Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, or Lord Howe Island.

Those using a satellite NBN connection will need a roof satellite dish installed at the property by an NBN technician, as well as an NBN supplied modem installed where the satellite dish wiring enters inside.

Because of its highly specialised nature, Satellite NBN only supports a top speed of 25Mbps (aka NBN 25). As with Fixed Wireless, that speed is likely to be further reduced by peak hour congestion, with averages dropping to around 15Mbps in the evenings.

So, what’s the best NBN connection type? 

The ‘best’ connection will largely revolve around what type of internet user you are. 

From a purely technological standpoint, FTTP is the best because it offers an end-to-end fibre-optic connection  that feeds directly into your home, meaning it’s likely to be both the fastest and most reliable option. However, as mentioned in our intro, if you don’t already have FTTP then getting it will very likely come at an extra cost. Moreover, not every household needs the kind of ultrafast speeds that FTTP can offer, so in many cases its main advantage will go unused.

HFC
is the next best option to FTTP, and its broad support for 250Mbps means it’s fast enough to support even more demanding users and, if you’re lucky, you may even be able to reach 1000Mbps speeds on HFC. 

At the bottom of the heap are connections like FTTN, FTTB and FTTC. While these may be slightly less reliable, they can still provide a solid connection to suit a regular household’s internet usage. And for those living in regional and rural areas, a Fixed Wireless or Satellite connection is often your only option for connecting to the NBN.

Want to start comparing NBN providers today? Head over to our NBN hub.

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