There are many ways to access broadband internet, but not all of them are created equal. In addition, the types of speeds you can expect will vary depending on your location and the types of connections available to you. While many people consider that the National Broadband Network (NBN) has under-delivered on its promises, the fact remains that Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) NBN connections are most likely to offer the best speeds available.
However, what’s advertised on broadband plans can be a little misleading if you don’t know what you’re looking for. According to Wikipedia, broadband is any high-speed Internet access that is always on, which describes most internet connections in Australia. This broadband guide will tell you all about the different types of internet connections available in Australia, and the speeds you can expect to have access to.
Types of broadband
Because population centres in Australia are so spread out, with many rural and regional towns also requiring internet, the bold plan to build a National Broadband Network (NBN) was undertaken several years ago. In many ways, it promised the world and has somewhat under-delivered. However, for most Australians, it is still the best internet connection on offer. But depending on your needs, there are other options out there to consider too. Here are the major types of broadband you can access.
As mentioned, the NBN was an extremely ambitious plan to deliver high-speed internet connections to all Australians. However, there are lots of different connections used within the NBN, including fibre optic cable, fixed wireless, existing copper lines and even satellite technology.
The different NBN connections include:
- Fibre to the premises (FTTP)
- Fibre to the node (FTTN)
- Fibre to the building (FTTB)
- Fixed wireless
- HFC cable
All of these different technologies offer different maximum speeds, with satellite being the poorest at 25mbps. Satellite offers a maximum speed of 50mbps, while HFC, FTTB and FTTN typically offer a maximum speed of 100mbps. For ultra-fast, reliable internet, you need an FTTP connection that can offer up to 1000mbps.
While FTTP sounds like the most sensible connection (why wouldn’t you want lightning-fast internet if you had the choice?), the reality is that FTTP isn’t available everywhere, meaning FTTN is the most common in most parts of Australia.
It’s also important to note that the speeds quoted above are maximum speeds, not average speeds, and we’ll touch on the difference a little later.
ADSL and ADSL2+ were essentially known as the best internet connections available before the NBN. It stands for ‘Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line’, and was hugely popular in the early 2000s, freeing people of the painfully slow dial-up connections that were around previously. This technology uses copper phone lines, with ADSL delivering maximum speeds of 8mbps and ADSL2+ delivering up to 24mbps. However, the biggest issue with ADSL is that the further away from the local telephone exchange you are, the lower your speeds will be.
ADSL connections are practically being phased out now because while a maximum speed of 24mbps may be fine for many people, the NBN has surpassed those speeds even with its worst connection type.
Cable internet refers to the use of hybrid fibre coaxial cables. This connection is available where fibre optic cables can be used to deliver a higher speed, while coaxial cables connect your house to a nearby node. Once again, this technology is now considered outdated due to the creation of the NBN, however, even the NBN uses HFC cable technology for its connections in some areas. You can get maximum speeds up to 100mbps, so if this is the only option in your area, you’ll still get enough speed for most standard household broadband use.
Satellite connections are also available in Australia, and in the past have mainly been used to provide broadband services to remote and rural communities. Through the NBN’s Sky Muster satellite system, many people in remote parts of the country can access the internet with speeds of up to 25mbps. So, while it’s not incredible speeds, it’s the only option available for many people.
Outside of the NBN, Elon Musk’s Starlink venture has also arrived in Australia, boasting maximum download speeds of 100mbps. The speed is much better because Starlink satellites are positioned closer to earth. Relatively speaking, this technology is quite new in Australia but it is proving a popular choice for those who travel or live in remote areas.
Wireless 4G and 5G
You might more commonly recognise the terms 4G and 5G from your mobile phone service. However, the technology is also used for providing wireless broadband solutions. Basically, a modem in your home connects to the 4G or 5G network and creates a WiFi network in your home.
4G has a maximum speed of 100mbps, while 5G goes up to 1000mbps. However, not everything is as it seems, because this mobile network is generally considered less stable and reliable. Plus, you’re essentially sharing the connection with others in your area, meaning speeds could drop significantly at busy periods of the day or night.
Still, despite some early uncertainty, many have suggested that 5G wireless technology could overtake the NBN in the near future, provided it is reliable and powerful enough to handle more customers and more activity.
The difference between maximum speeds and what you actually get
When you compare NBN plans, it can be confusing to work out exactly what’s being advertised. Let’s look at the common elements of an NBN plan.
The maximum speed advertised is essentially just the maximum speed you could receive in absolutely perfect conditions for your location. We’ve touched on maximum speeds a lot in the previous technology descriptions, but it’s important to remember you might not get these speeds. The maximum speed is essentially the ‘bandwidth’ that your connection can ideally handle.
Typical evening speeds
The internet is most heavily used in the evening when most families are at home. This causes congestion on the network, so you are unlikely to receive the maximum speed. For example, if your bandwidth (or maximum speed) is 100mbps, you might only get 60mbps during peak period. Don’t worry – that’s still plenty to stream videos from multiple devices.
Download speed/upload speed
You might also see your speeds advertised as 100/20mbps. This indicates that the download speed is 100mbps, while the upload speed is 20mbps. It’s quite typical for the download speed to be much higher, as it represents the speed at which data can be delivered from the internet to your home. Upload speed is the opposite, representing how fast you can transfer data from your home.
The main takeaway from this article is that you should never expect your broadband connection to be operating at full strength all the time. Evening if paying for premium internet speeds, you may still only reach upwards of 60mbps during the evening. This is actually the standard laid out by the ACCC in Australia, so even if you have a bandwidth capacity of 1000mbps, your internet service provider (ISP) really only needs to deliver 60mbps in peak times.
At the end of the day, finding the fastest NBN plans comes down to comparisons and research. If you have concerns that your ISP isn’t delivering, it’s worth researching whether there is a different, more powerful technology available in your area, and then determining whether the increased cost for that technology is a worthwhile investment.