My area will get NBN in three years. So now what?
- ADSL2+ still the best option
- TPG, Amaysim and Optus providing the best value
- Cable and Mobile still have more minuses than plusses
NBNco, the company installing the National Broadband Network (NBN), announced their schedule for the next 36 months yesterday, flanked by the PM and Communications Minister. It was a big step, forecasting some 3.5 million homes and businesses for connection to a Universal, high speed fibre optic connection capable of speeds at least 8 times faster than most ADSL connections.
If you’ve checked out the NBN rollout coverage map and found your area is in line for this first major push, then congrats! Here’s hoping NBNco stick to this schedule with minimal political interference, and soon you’ll be blazing along at world class speeds. And if you’re not, don’t despair - A lot can change in 3 years, and the 2nd big phase of the rollout will be assisted by having most of the major big infrastructure already in place.
But what about right now? For most of us, we’re still stuck with 3 choices. 2.5, if you consider the low availability of Cable.
The first is ADSL – a fixed-line connection that requires a standard copper line connection, provided by Telstra Wholesale (and in a few cases, Optus). This is the most common option, and still the best available for a few reasons. There’s also a drawback or two.
- It’s highly competitive, and therefore, cheap. Here on CompareBroadband, we compare 11 ADSL providers. TPG is overall the most competitive- very cheap, and also very widespread, with over 400 exchanges activated around Australia (making them neck-and-neck with iiNet/Internode for 2nd place). Other providers may be slightly cheaper, but less widely available; or might be more widely available but with less control over the quality of their network. TPG’s $60 Unlimited Broadband Bundle remains the best overall value plan.
- It’s relatively fast and stable – The top speed available for most ADSL2+ connections is 24Mbps, which deteriorates the further away you get from the exchange. Most people get anywhere from 5-15 Mbps. Some lucky people are right on top of the exchange, and get close to full speed; others are less fortunate and get speeds around 1.5 Mbps. But even that is fast enough for quick web browsing and email. 5Mbps and up are adequate for high definition video streaming and gaming (though you’d be having a few problems). And being a fixed line connection, it’s overall quite stable, with few dropouts or service interruptions.
- It can be difficult to setup- For various complex reasons, most of the best deals require that you take a landline voice service, which you probably won’t use. And it can take up to two weeks to get connected- more if there are problems with the line. And it’s undemocratic – due to the patchwork nature of the underlying copper, your neighbor might be able to get it, and you can’t.
The second most popular connection method is Mobile Broadband. This is a connection that relies entirely on the Optus, Vodafone or Telstra GSM mobile network to transmit a data signal. It is the easiest to setup and the cheapest overall, but has some serious drawbacks.
- Slow speed and unstable. As smartphones get more popular, the networks that distribute mobile data get more and more overloaded, slowing data speeds to a crawl at peak times (like rush hour, when everyone is sitting on a train and reading their emails). As for stability- despite big advancements in mobile tech and improving standards, it still requires a line-of-sight connection to a mobile tower. That connection can penetrate walls, windows and trees, but each obstruction slows it down some. That’s going to be a problem for a while. Maybe always.
- It’s highly competitive, but not really. Almost every provider can offer a mobile broadband solution, but this is something of a mirage. Optus is the most prolific wholesaler – used to provide great mobile deals through TPG, Dodo, Internode and most other ISPs. Vodafone wholesales to TransACT, and no retailer has yet to jump on board with Telstra’s NextG wholesale product, announced just a few months ago. Telstra (BigPond) has a superior network, but at prices well above the average of the other providers.
- It’s cheap, but only for light users. Plans like Amaysims’s 2.5GB plan can be as cheap as $20, but that’s for only 2.5GB. The covers a few software updates, a song or two, and your browsing and email. The biggest plans top out at 18GB, like Dodo’s $60 18GB mobile broadband plan. Meanwhile, ADSL plans start at 10GB for $40.
Cable Broadband is, like the NBN, a fibre optic network that can deliver speeds up to 100Mbps. It should be the most popular, right? Except for a few mitigating factors.
- It’s uncompetitive. Telstra and Optus are the only two companies with a commercially available fibre-optic network, which means there’s little competition to drive the price down. There was a chance that they would both wholesale the fibre-optic to other companies, but the NBN may have scotched that.
- Not many people can get it. In a delicious (tragic) bit of irony, both Telstra and Optus basically put their networks side-by-side, and then, only in some built up areas of the inner capital cities. Which have widespread ADSL.
- Even where it’s available, it may not be – Both Telstra and Optus are expected to hand over their fibre to the build of the NBN, knowing that it won’t be able to compete and that they might as well get paid for all that equipment. As such, there’s not much reason for them to connect residences that have converted from large homes to apartment blocks. Multi Dwelling Units (MDUs) require a backbone connection, taking the fibre in the street and effectively splitting it amongst each unit. Because there’s so little future in those networks, Telstra and Optus will sometimes not bother, or price the upgrade at a rate that’s unattractive to developers. So while 100 Smith Rd, Sydney can get Cable, 102 Smith Rd, a block of 20 units, is completely cable-free.
For now, the NBN is still a while away from being a reality for even a good-sized chunk of Australians. At CompareBroadband, we would recommend aiming for an ADSL connection first and foremost – even if you’re far from the exchange and it’s not particularly fast. Even with the associated line rental; even with the two week wait for a connection; even with the often high connection fees, it’s still the most overall economical way to get a broadband connection in Australia.
For Mobile Broadband, we recommend Telstra for coverage; but if you’re in an area with otherwise decent Optus coverage, we recommend Amaysim (1300 106 571) and Dodo (1300 136 793) for the cheapest mobile broadband deals. If you’re in an upgraded area of Vodafone’s network (which you check on their coverage map), then try out TransACT (1300 305 545) or Vodafone for some of the best value mobile broadband around.
If you’re fortunate enough to be at a Cable address, the best plan right now is Optus’ $50 120Gb Naked Cable plan. If you have a choice between cable and ADSL2+, consider the cost benefits of ADSL2+.
And if you’re one of the 4000 or so residences already on the NBN, send us an email! We’d love to know how it’s going for you :D