The National Broadband Network (NBN) is supposed to be an upgrade to Australia’s existing internet infrastructure, replacing the existing copper wire and hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) networks with much faster fibre optic cable technology. Sounds promising, right? Well, the NBN should be an upgrade to your existing internet service, but it has been plagued with headaches and criticism, especially relating to download and upload speeds. In this review, Canstar Blue explains what the NBN speed tiers really mean and what you need to know to make sure you’re picking the right speed tier for your needs.
The rollout of the NBN has meant an ever-increasing complaints list, with the ACCC making a move to stamp out providers misleading consumers about the speeds they can expect on the NBN. If you’re a bog standard FTTN (fibre to the node) customer on the most basic speed and plan, your speeds probably won’t be much better than what you experienced on ADSL.
- In November 2017, Telstra compensated over 40,000 customers for slow NBN speeds after the ACCC said maximum speeds offered cannot be achieved under “real world conditions”.
- This gave rise to a lot of providers changing the way they display their plans, with many providers scrapping top tier NBN plans or not explicitly advertising that they are top tier plans.
If you’re not clued up on the technologies behind the NBN, you can be forgiven for being confused. In this report we’ll talk about the speeds on offer, how providers describe them and what you can really expect in the real world.
What are the NBN speed tiers?
There are four NBN speed tiers available, with maximum download and upload speeds measured in Megabits per second (Mbps). Be aware that some internet providers refer to different speed levels by different names, with some opting to reflect maximum evening speeds.
While the ‘NBN 12’ speed tier delivers pretty much the same speeds as what you’ll get with most copper connections – and is therefore not considered ‘superfast’ broadband – the other three tiers are all likely to be an improvement on most residential connections. When you’re choosing an NBN plan, it’s not just about the cost of the plan or how much data you’re going to need. You need to consider how quick you want it.
This ability to choose speeds does come at a cost, however. Most NBN providers generally offer plans across all or most speed tiers, but for an additional fee. Expect jumping into the next fastest speed tier to add about $5-10 to your monthly bill, while jumping from NBN 12 up to NBN 100 could double your costs!
- The reality is that if you want a top NBN plan, you’ll need to pay extra for it.
The telcos tend to advertise their cheapest NBN products, but these are almost always with NBN 12 speeds and a very modest data allowance. If you’re after the ‘true NBN experience’, it may be worth purchasing the fastest plan you can afford. Here is a selection of superfast plans.
How fast is my NBN plan… really?
The truth is you generally do not achieve top speeds all the time. The ACCC has stipulated that providers do need to be more forthcoming with real world speeds, especially in peak times.
- Peak times between 7pm and 11pm experience a drastic slowdown in NBN speeds, and are usually labelled ‘evening speeds’.
- Peak times could theoretically send your 100/40 plan down to around 40/10 quite easily.
- Many providers list a minimum speed, and only list their ‘evening speeds’, which can be confusing.
You should realistically enjoy most of the advertised speeds outside of peak times, but there are factors that come into play which can potentially slow things down for you, regardless of your speed tier. These include:
- The distance from your home to the telco exchange
- The quality of your hardware (i.e. modern/router)
- How congested your exchange is and how much bandwidth your provider purchases from the NBN
There are a lot of things to consider, and until you take a gamble on an NBN plan it can be impossible to know just how your NBN plan will shape up. Your location and time of day you use the internet are the biggest factors outside of how fast of a plan you purchase.
What different providers call their NBN plans
With the ACCC crackdown on NBN speed advertising, many providers have been reluctant to blatantly advertise the speed tiers of their plans.
- Instead they opt for labels like ‘Basic’, ‘Boost’ and ‘Performance’ or similar, which can be confusing.
- ‘Evening speeds’ are also often advertised over the maximum speed, only adding confusion.
Once you wrap your head around the jargon and all the terms, you might find it all to be very helpful in choosing the best NBN plan for your needs. Below is a brief overview of how some top providers label their plans, keeping in mind that their ‘evening speeds’ may differ:
|Provider||Speed Tier (Maximum Speeds in Mbps)||Plan Speed Label|
|Optus||12/1||Basic Evening Speed|
|25/5||Standard Evening Speed|
|50/20||Standard Plus Evening Speed|
|100/40||Premium Evening Speed|
|25/5||Standard Evening Speed|
|50/20||Standard Plus Evening Speed|
|100/40||Premium Evening Speed|
(Source: Respective Company Websites)
Note that your provider may offer a different variety of speed tiers and call them different things. However the general theme is that slower speeds are labelled things like ‘Basic’, middle speed tiers ‘Standard’, and the top speed tier labelled ‘Max’ or similar.
Telstra ‘Evening Speeds’ Explained
You may have noticed Australia’s largest telco – Telstra – has moved away from explicitly advertising speed tiers, and instead advertising ‘evening speeds’. It has also largely ditched the most basic NBN tier – 12/1. While this is at odds with many other telcos, the fact is it could actually give a better indication about what you can expect with Telstra. The evening download speeds (7pm-11pm) are as follows:
- Basic Evening Speed: 7Mbps (12/1)
- Standard Evening Speed: 15Mbps (25/5)
- Standard Plus Evening Speed: 30Mbps (50/20)
- Premium Evening Speed: 60Mbps (100/40)
While this may look disappointing on first glance, in reality the other providers probably can’t perform much better. This movement by Telstra has been a refreshing hit of honesty in an industry slammed by ACCC for being misrepresentative or deceitful. Our prediction is that in the coming months more providers will offer similar guides and be more realistic about the speeds customers can likely receive.
What NBN speed tier do I need?
Choosing the right speed for your needs can be tricky – you don’t want to overpay for a level of service you don’t need and you don’t want to buy a plan that is slower than what you require. Here is a rough guide to what each speed tier is generally suitable for.
- NBN 12: Suitable for social media, web browsing, occasional videos – good for light users
- NBN 25: Suitable for more intensive streaming and browsing – good for small households
- NBN 50: Suitable for HD streaming, responsive online gaming, uploading and downloading large files – good for families
- NBN 100: Suitable for 4K video streaming, streaming across multiple devices, uploading and downloading large files, ‘super’ responsive online gaming – good for larger households with extremely high multimedia demands
So, if your needs are not intensive, then it makes little sense to pay extra for tip-top speeds. Keep in mind that you likely cannot achieve these maximum speeds in peak time, and the more members of your household you have connected to the internet, the slower your experience will be. With that said, your budget can also affect the speeds you receive, so what can you get for your money?
How much does the NBN cost?
This depends on what NBN speed tier you’re after. Using unlimited data as a yardstick, the typical minimum prices are as follows:
- NBN 12: Minimum of about $50 per month
- NBN 25: Minimum of about $60 per month
- NBN 50: Minimum of about $75 per month
- NBN 100: Minimum of about $80-$90 a month
Generally it’s quite surprising that providers offer no discernable discounts for opting for a slower speed tier.
- If you’re looking at NBN 12, you may as well also look at NBN 25 because it won’t cost you much, if anything, extra.
- If you’re looking at NBN 50, then it’s worth looking into NBN 100. Although costs may be slightly higher, you might find you get better value.
With all of that being said, many of us on the NBN will be seeing speeds previously unseen on our old ADSL2+ connections. So, with more speed comes less time waiting and more time downloading. With that in mind, it could be worth looking at unlimited data plans for peace of mind, and you may expect unlimited data to be very expensive, but the results might surprise you. Compare some different plans on different tiers below to see what you can get for your money.
Unlimited NBN 12 Plans
As mentioned, the cheapest plans on this speed tier can be found for around $50 a month, but not many providers are this cheap. There are a lot more around the $60 mark. At these low prices you’ll have to watch out for set-up fees, modem fees, lengthy contracts and other fees to help make up for the cheap entry price. Keep in mind this basic speed tier is likely no better than your old ADSL connection so you can’t expect the world.
Unlimited NBN 25 Plans
To get the first ‘Superfast’ plan as designated by NBN Co, you’ll have to be willing to spend a minimum of $60 a month, or a few dollars under. A lot more providers come into play here, like Telstra, but the premium providers aren’t seen unless you are willing to spend $80 a month or more. At these cheap rates many providers hover around the $70 mark. Keep an eye out for bonus offers that may take a plan’s value even further, but once again watch for set-up fees and modem costs.
Unlimited NBN 50 Plans
You may have noticed this is one of the less popular speed tiers. Usually at this price, providers skip 50/20 and go straight for the top. Nevertheless, there are still many providers to choose from on this speed tier and the minimum you can expect to pay is about $75 a month. More commonly, providers offer something around the $80-$90 mark. Providers may be more willing to shed contracts and set-up fees here, but it still pays to keep an eye out for them.
Unlimited NBN 100 Plans
As the fastest fibre-to-the-node speed tier available to Australians, NBN 100 plans are usually the most expensive across all speed tiers, but not drastically so. The cheapest providers here hover around the $70 mark – likely to reel customers in and keep them around for a while. After that, the providers offer plans around the $85-$90 mark, but many more offer plans around the $100 mark. You’ll find that many providers also shed data-capped plans and instead offer unlimited plans only.
Is superfast NBN worth it?
As stipulated by NBN Co and the ACCC, ‘superfast’ NBN only means download speeds of above 25Mbps. While NBN 12 is still theoretically pretty good and generally the cheapest tier, the fact is it’s comparable in speed performance to ADSL2+ and can be even worse in peak times.
- Taking into account Telstra’s speed ratings, in peak times the 12/1 speed could easily slow down to 7Mbps or worse, which is barely enough to maintain a stream of HD Netflix and would only further worsen if more than one person is using your home connection.
Therefore, you could easily ‘upgrade’ to the NBN and be left disappointed by your new connection. To avoid that flat feeling, you will likely need to upgrade to a faster tier and pay more for it.
- Searching for superfast broadband and unlimited data could end up costing you over $100 a month. Is that extra cost worth it?
- You’ll have to weigh up your options and your need for speed; you’ll likely have to pay more than what you were with your ADSL2+ plan.
New providers are cropping up all the time and the next best plan will be just around the corner, so you may want to avoid lock-in contracts. Be sure to check out a range of offers from the big, established providers, plus some of the standout smaller guys. Be opened-minded and you should find a great deal.