What are you waiting for?
- Big changes on their way
- All you can eat data
- Fibre optic everywhere
Broadband connections now account for 95% of all internet connections. Why do we still say Broadband Internet? It's just internet, really. The norm now is to have a high-speed, always-on connection coming in over a cable connection (rare), a mobile phone network (common) or a copper-line, telephone connection (most common).
There's a lot going on in the internet and telecommunications industry right now. There's political challenges, legislative rules holding some campanies back, and lots and lots of new technologies. Regardless of whether you live within spitting distance of the Sydney harbour, or in the middle of a cattle station the size of Western Europe, you're waiting on something to change to bring you faster, better, more sensibly priced interwebz. Let's take a look at the major upcoming changes:
Importance – High
Likely Wait – Looooong
The rollout of the government’s new optical fibre network runs into snags every month, further delaying a process that is going to take 10 years to run to full completion. The main barrier right now is the back-and-forth between the existing ISPs, the ACCC and NBNco, which all have different ideas on how the NBN should be regulated for the next 30 years. Sooner or later though, suburbs will be getting turned on and customers will start jumping on, with speeds up to 8 times faster than the current average and fewer dropouts. No more "too far from the exchange" heartbreaks.
Importance – High
Likely Wait – Short, but fitful
Long Term Evolution is a generic term to refer to mobile broadband with similar reliability and speeds to fixed line connections, like ADSL or Cable. 4G is strictly speaking, a definition of high speeds. The two sometimes overlap, as with Telstra’s growing 4G network- which is very fast, but doesn’t have the same sort of steady, reliable nature as fixed connection. Improvements will be coming across all three networks, but in fits and starts.
Importance – Medium
Likely Wait – Short, but probably won’t be all that it’s cracked up to be
For the last few years, Mobile coverage has been a very hot topic and sore point for many. With so many people adopting smartphones and mobile broadband, the three networks (Telstra, Optus and Vodafone) have had to make massive upgrades to cope with the extra demand. Vodafone’s network suffered from a significant failure in late 2010, and is only recovering now. Optus has been wholesaling their network at a rapid rate, allowing companies like TPG, iiNet and others to become MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) to re-sell the Optus network. This fragmentation has impacted the reliability of Optus’ network as well.
Telstra has pushed an enormous amount of money and effort into their NextG network, which was already far superior to the competition, and then went further and have started building a 4G network, making them even more untouchable. It’s becoming a situation where Telstra is the only viable option for mobile and mobile broadband for many Australians. But many Australians also balk at Telstra’s higher prices.
Good news came in January 2012 that Telstra would quietly be opening up their NextG network to wholesale, letting other companies take advantage of their wider and faster network. The speeds on the network will likely be limited, but the coverage is the real exciting news here. Expect companies like Internode (1300 106 571) and Eftel (1300 106 571) to switch from Optus to Telstra some time in the next few months.
BIG DATA PLANS ON MOBILE
Importance – High (for some)
Likely Wait – Long, maybe never?
Mobile Broadband has a number of things going for it. It’s actually quite cheap, with plans starting from $39.00 with Virgin, for 10GB of data. The barriers to entry are very low – all you need is the modem, and you’re pretty much connected. It can be taken anywhere that there’s mobile coverage, and you can get plans without contracts and prepaid options as well. The bad thing? It’s not as reliable as a fixed-line connection, and if you need more than 10GB, you’re out of luck.
Some of this is by design. Mobile networks are having enough trouble as it is, maintaining their networks with all the USB dongles, Pocket WiFi, smartphones and tablets out there, not to mention the millions of actual telephone calls made every day. They limit the amount of bandwidth (ie. data available) to stop the network from being taxed further.
But there’s also a technological issue. Radio spectrum is expensive and simply incapable of carrying the same amount of data as a copper of optical fibre cable. Of course, most mobile towers are actually connected to their parent network by fibre optic cables, so it’s really only that last few hundred meters from the tower to your device that’s a problem, and that might be fixable with more towers. Or failing that, small repeaters fixed to every house, or something similar.
And not all radio is equal. Right now, mobile operators run their networks on slices of spectrum that are available, with the low numbers (like the 850MHz band used by Telstra’s Next G, and the 900MHz band used by Vodafone and Optus) being good with distance. Higher bands (like Telstra’s 1850MHz 4G network) are good with speed. But the gold standard is the 700MHz band, which is hugely powerful, travelling long distances and carrying a lot of data on it. This slice has been used in the past for analogue TV, and with the national conversion to digital TV, that frees up this slice. An auction is coming up soon, with all three networks expected to participate, and with enough spectrum left over for a possible fourth bidder. The current speculation is that Google will be that fourth bidder, which is a very exciting prospect for everyone. Google likes to give away services for free in exchange for advertisements, your private information and/or your soul; for a lot of people, that’s a decent trade off for high speed mobile broadband that actually works.
AN END TO DATA CAPS
Importance – Low
Likely Wait – None
For years now, TPG (1300 106 571) has offered an Unlimited Data plan for a low price. Other providers have jumped on board to compete, including Dodo (1300 136 793) and Eftel (1300 106 571). Club Telco (1300 138 155) offers Unlimited plans to regional and rural customers for the same price that Telstra charges for 200 GB. So we already have quite a few options for Unlimited broadband.
The holdouts include big guns like Internode, iiNet, Optus and of course, Telstra. The argument from these companies is that taking off the reins will invite those users who will really bash the network- downloading tons of movies and other large files, running games 24 hours a day, and other bandwidth heavy activities – and the rest of the network will suffer. This argument has a little merit, but with TPG offering Unlimited connections to tens of thousands of customers, and maintaining an 80% customer satisfaction rate (higher than Telstra’s), it’s hard to imagine the big guys holding out for much longer.
Of course, most people don’t use even a fraction of the plans they have right now- but that’s not really the point. Current plan structures are utterly baffling, and anything that can be used to simplify them is a good thing. A company that offers one flat price is going to make a lot of people happy. Club Telco are trying something like this right now, offering just the two speeds – 10GB, or Unlimited.
Remember - there are lots of great plans available with no contract or very short term contracts, to give you a connection now without having to worry that you won't be able to jump onto something better when it comes along. We recommend:
TPG’s Unlimited $60 ADSL2+ Bundle (6 month contract) – Call 1300 106 571;
Club Telco has an unlimited phone and internet connection for $70/$90 (depending on location) with no contract- Call 1300 138 155;
Internode has a 200GB Easy Bundle for $80 with no contract, call on 1300 106 571.