Shopping for Broadband – what to avoid
- Why Naked DSL can usually be avoided
- How VoIP is transforming
- Good bundles, bad bundles
Apart from writing content like this, we also take inbound calls here at CompareBroadband. Our main goal on a call is to provide a comparison of providers that service a caller’s area, and narrow down the selection according to that caller’s needs.
We talk to thousands of people a month, and we see trends emerging in what people want, and what misconceptions people have. We try to take as independent an approach as we can to the products on offer from providers – but frankly there are plenty of plans, technologies and solutions that offer no value to most customers, or are advertised as appropriate when they won’t be.
The formula for making a recommendation is pretty basic, once you get past the individual needs of the caller:
If Optus is available, then the customer will have good options for Naked DSL, whether it be directly through Optus or through Dodo, Internode or countless other second tier ISPs who use Optus Wholesale. These customers can also get free calls if they still use a landline.
If Telstra is the only wholesale operator (common in regional and rural areas) then the prices will be the same across the board for most providers. The caller is best off with a budget provider like Club Telco or Dodo, who offer more data and lower contracts at the same price point.
But aside from price, not every customer actually knows that they need, or what certain terms mean, or the value of certain products. Here’s a breakdown of services we usually don’t recommend for the confused, because of their negligible value or because another solution would suit better.
Most customers have been around the block enough to know that mobile (or wireless) broadband can be slow and choppy, with very little data, while ADSL2+ (what a lot of people call ‘broadband’) is faster, more stable and provides tons of data. But they don’t want to pay for a home telephone service that they don’t use.
The problem here is that Telstra, the owner of the copper lines that deliver ADSL2+, have a system that relies on an underlying phone service as the ‘master’ service- everything else, including internet service, is ‘bolted’ on to that underlying phone service.
Naked DSL is an attempt to get around that, but it fails in execution. The physical side of it is that your ISP buys a full copper ‘path’ – the actual line of copper connecting you to the exchange, from Telstra. They can then configure that however they like- and that means running JUST a broadband service over it. This sounds great, and it sounds like a way to eliminate ‘line rental’ charges. But it doesn’t.
The cost for your ISP to interconnect the Naked line with the rest of the phone grid is more expensive than using one of Telstra’s bundled lines. So the price of Naked DSL comes out to be the same amount as a normal bundled service.
Not only that, but Naked DSL takes longer to provision in the first place (up to 4 weeks as opposed to 2 weeks for bundled lines) and prevents you from easily switching to another provider (instead of transferring or ‘churning’, you have to fully disconnect from your Naked DSL provider and reconnect with your new provider, leaving you without internet again for 2-4 weeks).
Naked DSL has a place – it allows for more flexibility, once installed, for certain business applications. The lack of a standard phone service can help contribute to a small (very small) boost in speed. If you’re in a share house, it can remove the possibility to make calls, to provide cost control.
But in the end, most customers are much better off taking a bundled phone + internet service and then not using the phone. You don’t even need to plug in a handset. If the reason you want Naked DSL is because you want to pay the least amount possible for a fixed-line internet connection with the least amount of fuss and you don’t want to use the phone, then Naked DSL is actually not what you want.
Exception – Internode 150GB Easy Naked Special, $59.95 – Internode is the only major provider that offers a Naked Broadband plan that’s better value than a bundle at the same price. Internode’s excellent customer service and tailored, customer focused approach makes this the best overall Naked plan we’ve seen. Call 1300 106 571
Mobile Broadband is called many things by our callers – 3G, wireless, Wi-Fi, stick internet – where the ‘stick’ in question is a USB ‘dongle’ style modem. But in the end, whatever the form factor is, the idea is the same – the link between your modem and the network is made on a radio link to a mobile phone tower.
It has two major advantages over fixed line broadband – it’s available in several areas where ADSL is unavailable, and it’s mobile. It can be taken with you out of the house, to be used wherever a mobile signal is available.
Beyond that, Mobile Broadband is in no way, shape or form a recommended alternative to any fixed-line internet connection. Even with 4G mobile data providing amazing speeds that exceed most ADSL connections, the problems with mobile broadband can’t be overcome with faster speeds.
The main issues with a 3G or 4G data connection is that the signal can drop out at random, which is frustrating on a phone call, but a complete day-ruiner for a family trying to use the internet. Like any radio technology, mobile broadband will get interrupted by bad weather and brick walls. But it is contention – the amount of people on the network all trying to use it at once – that really makes mobile broadband more painful than useful. There’s always a lag between there being too many people using a single cell (mobile tower) and the ability for the network to upgrade that cell.
The other main disadvantage of mobile broadband is that there are no plans that offer more than 18 or 20GB, and those plans are very expensive anyway. Many people don’t know what a gigabyte is, let alone how many they need – but the Australian average data consumption crept past 20GB per person this year, making it unworkable for most families.
Exception – If you need the mobility, then we always recommend a Mobile Wi-Fi device. Club Telco has some excellent deals on mobile broadband without contract, with mobile Wi-Fi devices included. Call Club Telco on 1300 138 155.
For coverage, Telstra is still king, whether it’s 3G or 4G. It’s more expensive, but sometimes it’s the difference between something that will work and something that won’t. Call Telstra on 13 76 63.
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
When Skype came out a few years ago, most people didn’t get the point that the internet connection was doing all the heavy lifting behind some very clever software. But internet service providers sure did, as did many fly-by-night ‘professional’ VoIP providers, who bundled in cheap-as-chips handsets with some hastily written software to make a confusing product that almost kinda, but didn’t, work. People are just too accustomed to the public telephone network, with its 99.9% uptime and good audio fidelity.
Since then, VoIP that works off your home internet connection has gone out of vogue, especially as people have adopted more comprehensive mobile plans. But carrier-grade VoIP – where the actual service provider receives your call and then switches it over their own heavy-duty internet links, is very popular. Any time you see a too-good-to-be-true regular phone plan with free local and STD calls, then the chances are the ISP is using some top level VoIP. The best examples are Optus (1300 137 897) on their Fusion Bundles and TPG (1300 106 571) with its $10 Big Talk add-on.
Exception – some providers go to great lengths to make sure that their home VoIP service works well, thanks to well built software and hardware that has been tailor made to their service. Internode’s Node Phone Service and MyNetFone are good examples.
Bundling a home phone and ADSL2+ service makes sense, as the two services use the same physical connection to get to your home, and the services are inter-related. But that necessary bundle is usually confused with all sorts of additional ‘bundled’ services that offer negligible discounts and otherwise lock you in across a variety of services – some of which you may be happy with, and some of which you may not be happy with.
This puts a lot of eggs in one basket. If a single bill is unpaid? All those services could be shut off. If you decide to get rid of one of those services? The complicated conditions of the bundle could see your bill go way up when you decouple one of those services.
Bundles can offer a single point of payment for a bunch of complex services, but more often than not they seem designed to add confusion, so that you get a bill, well over what you expected to pay, that would take a mathematician to decode.
We usually recommend keeping your mobile plan and home phone/internet separate, and the same goes for Foxtel or other Pay TV solutions.
Exceptions – Optus has a similar profile to Telstra, in that they’re a ‘carrier-grade’ provider of services – they own their own comprehensive telecommunications infrastructure, from satellites to cable lines and fibre links, to mobile towers and more. As such, like Telstra, they’re capable of providing all services without relying on wholesale access from other companies.
Telstra seems determined to own your entire digital life for as long as possible, with fiendishly complicated bundles that go for 24 months. That gives Optus plenty of room to offer innovative bundles that better match what people are doing. Their best example of this is an $89 Timeless Mobile plan, complete with a free top-of-the-line smartphone, with a 50GB Naked Broadband connection included. This combines a comprehensive phone plan (with free calls to mobiles and landlines) with a fixed-line broadband connection. Not ideal for people who need more data, but a surprisingly innovative effort from such a big company. Call Optus on 1300 137 897 for more info on this plan.
As always, we encourage people to call us first on 1300 106 571, to at least help decode what you’re actually looking for, and to help narrow down the confusing array of options to a handful of workable solutions.