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What is the NBN? Your ultimate guide to the National Broadband Network

Niko Iliakis

Wednesday 29 May 2019

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the National Broadband Network (NBN). Its rollout has been underway since 2009, and it’s finally expected to be completed by 2020. With more than 6 million users already connected, it’s being heralded as the next step in Australian broadband.

The goal of the NBN is the complete overhaul of Australia’s existing cable infrastructure. The current broadband service will be replaced with faster, more reliable technology, giving Aussie homes and businesses access to high-speed internet, no matter where they live.

But if you’ve been following the news of its rollout over the past few years, you’ll know it’s laden with jargon and plenty of confusing acronyms. This guide aims to cut through all the terminology and give you everything you need to know before you make the switch.

How does it work?

The main selling point of the NBN is the replacement of the previous copper wire networks with modern, fibre-based infrastructure.

Why is this a big deal? A fibre connection means much faster internet speed. The existing copper networks were not originally designed for internet use, and struggle to handle the transfer of large amounts of data.

That’s why internet speeds under ADSL or ADSL2+ connections differ by area. Distance is a factor in copper cabling, and the further away from your local telephone exchange you live, the weaker your connection will be.

Fibre-optic cables don’t have these limitations, at least not nearly to the extent that copper networks do. Unlike copper cables, they transmit digital information via pulses of light, making them capable of delivering much faster internet speeds.

This also makes them less susceptible to signal degradation and outages. Since the cables are underground, we generally don’t have to worry about rain and other weather conditions affecting the quality of the connection.

And while many NBN setups will still make use of the existing copper cables, they’ll get around the problem of weak connections by making sure the distance to the nearest node is much shorter.

What are the different connection types?

There are a handful of NBN connection types and which one you’ll get will depend on where you live. Here’s a breakdown of the main ones.

Fibre to the Premise (FTTP)

FTTP connects your home directly to the NBN using fibre optic cables, making it one of the more reliable options available. A technician will install an NBN utility box outside your home, as well as a connection box inside.

Fibre to the Node (FTTN)

This will see the installation of a box or cabinet in your neighbourhood, usually at the end of the street. Fibre optic cables will then travel from the cabinet and connect with the existing copper network, allowing the NBN signal to reach your home.

Fibre to the Curb (FTTC)

FTTC utilises the existing copper network to connect your home to a Distribution Point Unit (DPU), which is located inside the telecommunication pits on your street.

Fibre to the Building (FTTB)

Also known as Fibre to the Basement, this is generally used when connecting apartment blocks or other large buildings. A fibre optic cable is installed at the bottom of your building, where it will link up with the existing cables to send to deliver internet signal to each unit.

What are the benefits of NBN?

As mentioned above, the main benefit of a primarily fibre-based network is much faster service.

When you compare the maximum speeds of ADSL2+ and the NBN, there’s really no competition. NBN offers download speeds of up to 100 Mbps, much more than the maximum download speed of 24 Mbps offered by ADSL2+.

And if you compare by average speed, ADSL fares even worse. Since internet speed is affected by proximity, the average ADSL speed sits at a measly 8Mbps. The average speed of the Basic NBN plan, according to a report from the ACCC, is 22-23 Mbps.

Which NBN plan is right for me?

Another advantage the NBN has over ADSL is it allows you to choose from different speed packs. The four tiers are:

  • Basic (NBN 12)
  • Standard (NBN 25)
  • Standard Plus (NBN 50)
  • Premium (NBN 100)

Which one you opt for will depend on your internet usage habits. For example, if you’re big on gaming or streaming services, you’ll likely benefit from one of the faster speeds available. If, however, you only use the internet for basic web browsing, a regular speed package should suffice.

NBN speed tiers

BasicStandardStandard PlusPremium
Small households (1-2 people)
Checking email and social media
General browsing
Checking email and social media
General browsing
Basic streaming
Basic movies and music downloads
Gaming
Video calls
HD streaming
Larger households
Small businesses
Working from home
Intensive gaming using Steam, Xbox Live, PSN
HD streaming
Activities which require large upload and download capabilities

Depending on which provider you go with, you might find some variation within these tiers in terms of data allowances and type of contract. Some offer unlimited data options, either in place of or alongside fixed data plans. And if you want to try out a provider’s service before you commit, some providers offer month-by-month options.

If you're unsure about who offers the best deals and want to shop around first, our NBN Experts Choice Award winners are a good place to start.

How to get NBN installed

Once the NBN has been established in your area, you’ll receive a notification letting you know you have 18 months to make the switch. It’s not a good idea to ignore this or leave it to the last minute — once the 18 months are up, your previous landline and broadband services will be switched off.

The first thing you want to do is head to your preferred provider’s website and pick a plan that suits you. Once you’ve placed your order, your provider will then set up a date and time to install the service. A technician will arrive on the agreed date to put together all the necessary equipment. Just make sure whoever is home is above 18 so they can let them in and sign off on any important decisions.

If you haven’t received any word about the NBN, it might be because rollout hasn’t commenced yet in your neighbourhood. If this is the case, you can register your interest with your provider online and they’ll contact you when your address is ready to connect.

What’s this about typical evening speeds?

So you’ve gotten your NBN installed but you’ve noticed your internet has a tendency to slow down in the evenings. With all the harping on about supposedly faster speeds, you might be wondering why this is the case.

The reason behind this is that connections tend to slow down during ‘peak hours’ - usually 7 pm to 11 pm, when most people jump online. The more people using the internet at a given time, the less bandwidth is available per user, meaning that the max speed advertised on your plan is significantly reduced.

Nowadays, providers are required to provide reasonable estimations of the kind of internet speeds you can expect during peak hours, which is why you’ll see info about typical evening speeds listed next to max speeds. Here’s what you can generally expect with each plan.

Typical speeds by plan

PlanMaximum speedTypical minimum speed
Basic12 Mbps7 Mbps
Standard25 Mbps15 Mbps
Standard Plus50 Mbps30 Mbps
Premium100 Mbps60 Mbps

Many providers have moved away from advertising maximum speeds and only emphasise typical evening speeds. These should be the absolute minimum speeds you’ll receive, and if you find you’re getting less there might be a problem with your connection.

Fortunately, many providers have introduced measures to limit how much your internet slows during peak hours, such as by purchasing increased bandwidth. In many cases, the difference in speed will hardly be noticeable.

So if you’re on the lookout for an NBN provider, whether to sign up or make the switch, be sure to check out our NBN Experts Choice Award winners for a look at some quality deals.

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