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What is the NBN? The NBN Explained

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is an Australia-wide internet network being rolled out across the country to replace our old ADSL technology and give Australians a faster, more reliable fixed-line broadband service. It sees old copper networks replaced with super-fast fibre-optic cables to deliver faster download and upload speeds to homes and businesses.

The vast majority of Australians will see their internet connections upgraded to one of several types of NBN based on three key technologies – fibre, fixed wireless and satellite. This article explains the different types of NBN connections and what they mean for you, as well as all the NBN basics to help you understand how the network works – and how to get the most out of it.

What is the NBN?

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is Australia’s new internet network, powered by copper wires, cable broadband and optical fibre to deliver high internet speeds to Australian homes.

It delivers faster internet speeds than ADSL and 4G connections, with possible speeds of up to 1000Mbps, making things like streaming and online gaming painless and easy. Rather than using only copper wiring like ADSL connections, the NBN has fibre-optic lines to deliver faster internet and limit bandwidth tension, meaning an overall better experience.

As well as the several different types of NBN connection, customers can subscribe to an NBN plan based on one of four standard speed tiers offered by their NBN provider, delivering faster upload and download speeds depending on what their internet needs are. Some providers also offer even faster plans outside of the normal four speed tiers.

What is NBN Co?

NBN Co is the company responsible for the rollout of the National Broadband Network across Australia. In addition, it acts as the wholesaler for NBN providers who then deliver products to users in the form of NBN plans, customer service, and any other features they offer, such as streaming subscriptions.

Think of the process like this:

  • NBN Co is the company responsible for managing the NBN network
  • NBN providers pay NBN Co (the wholesaler) to deliver their plans to customers
  • You (the customer) get to choose your NBN provider to deliver your home internet

NBN Providers & Plans

Looking to lock in an NBN provider or plan? Check out some of the providers and plans available in the table below. The table contains affiliate links.

The following table shows a selection of sponsored unlimited data Standard Plus Evening Speed (NBN 50) plans on Canstar Blue’s database with links to referral partners.

Unlimited Standard Plus Evening Speed (NBN 50) Plans

The following table shows a selection of published unlimited Standard Plus Evening Speed (NBN 50) plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard monthly cost (excluding discounts), from the lowest to highest, and then by alphabetical order of provider. Use our comparison tool above to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.

Unlimited Premium Evening Speed (NBN 100) Plans

The table below shows a selection of published unlimited Premium Evening Speed (NBN 100) plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of monthly cost, from the lowest to highest, and then by alphabetical order of provider. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.

What is the difference between NBN and broadband?

NBN and broadband are typically used interchangeably as terms to describe an internet connection, but another way to describe it is as an internet connection equal to or greater than ADSL connection in terms of speed. Simply put, NBN is a type of broadband, as is 4G home wireless broadband or mobile broadband.

NBN connection types

Here are the seven different NBN connection types and how they work.

Fibre to the node NBN

Fibre to the Curb NBN

Fibre to the building NBN

Fibre to the premises NBN

HFC NBN

Fixed wireless NBN

Satellite NBN

What is the best type of NBN connection?

The best type of NBN connection in terms of speed is Fibre to the Premises, which not only delivers faster speeds than other internet types, but is also capable of delivering faster NBN plans, such as NBN 250 and NBN 1000. Homes serviced by HFC can access NBN 250 speeds, with only a select few HFC homes able to access NBN 1000 plans, making it a second-best NBN technology choice. Although these technology types are faster, they are less common than other fixed-line connection types.

Other fixed line technology types, such as FTTC, FTTN and FTTB, are slower, and aren’t able to access the faster NBN 250 or NBN 1000 speeds. You’d hardly notice a difference for casual use when streaming, gaming or using social media, but when downloading large files, HFC and FTTP likely have the advantage.

What is the speed of NBN?

Most residential NBN providers offer a maximum theoretical download speed of 100Mbps (megabits per second) and a maximum theoretical upload speed of 20Mbps. The more you’re willing to pay, the faster your NBN speeds should be.

There are four widely available speed tiers on the NBN: Basic NBN 12/1, Standard NBN 25/5, Standard Plus NBN 50/20 and Premium NBN 100/20. The numbers represent their maximum theoretical download and upload speed in megabits per second. Several providers also offer a Premium plan with 100/20 speeds, meaning upload speeds are limited to 20Mbps — these plans are usually cheaper than standard NBN 100/40 options.

NBN Speeds

Speed Tier Max Download Speed ACCC Average Evening Speed*

Basic Evening Speed (NBN 12)

12Mbps

N/A

Standard Evening Speed (NBN 25)

25Mbps

25.1Mbps

Standard Plus Evening Speed (NBN 50)

50Mbps

47.7Mbps

Premium Evening Speed (NBN 100)

100Mbps

94.3Mbps

*Speeds correct as of June 2021, ACCC

NBN providers can choose which speed tiers to offer, with some also providing access to speeds of up to 250Mbps and 1000Mbps, which is 10 times faster than the standard maximum theoretical speed. However, these speeds are not possible for most households – only FTTP and some HFC homes will be able to achieve 1000Mbps speeds.

Basic and Standard speed plans would be great for general internet use, like web browsing and social media, but if you’re heavy on your downloads, streaming videos or playing online games, you should look into Standard Plus or Premium speed plans.

Keep in mind that the fastest NBN speeds are typically only available in certain areas and on certain connection types. Even NBN 100 speeds might not be available to every household. The best way to check which speeds are available to you is to check out your NBN connection type and enter your address onto the website an internet provider offering the speed you’re interested in, to see if it is available at your address.

Which NBN speed should I get?

Signing up to an NBN plan can be confusing, especially when you choose which speed plan. However, choosing the right NBN speed for you is fairly straightforward. There are two simple factors that can help you decide which NBN speed you need:

  1. How many people and internet-connected devices are in the home and using the internet?
  2. How do you and others in your household use the internet?

Smaller households of one to two people may not have a need for faster NBN plans, while households with three or more people who all use the internet, will most likely need a faster speed plan. How you use the internet is also important for deciding which NBN speed you should sign up to. If you only do simple web browsing and check emails, and if it is a small household, NBN 12 should be an adequate speed for you.

If you or anyone in your home plays online games, streams video, downloads files and is a fairly heavy internet user, you will most likely need NBN 50 and above in your home, especially in larger households or if two or more people are heavy internet users. If you’re wondering which NBN speed you need for streaming, the NBN Co website recommends NBN 50 speeds for HD video streaming, while NBN 100 is recommended for 4K video streaming.

Signing up to a slower plan because it’s cheap may be the wrong move if your internet speed needs are much higher than what the basic speeds give you. The result is most likely going to be very slow internet speeds, so make sure you’re choosing the right speed tier for your household.

Is my house connected to the NBN?

If you’ve been at your current home when the NBN switch occurred, you may have received notice from your internet provider that you can make the switch. Otherwise, it’s easy to check if your house has been connected to the NBN:

  • For FTTP connections, you should have a box installed on the inside and outside of your property.
  • For FTTC, FTTP and HFC connections, there’ll be a connection box somewhere near your property that’s allowing you to access the network.
  • For wireless connections, you’ll either have a satellite dish or an antenna fixed to your property.

If you’re still not sure, you can contact your NBN provider and ask. Otherwise, you can check your address on the NBN Co website to see if you have NBN in your area and if your home is connected or when it is expected to be rolled out to your home. You’ll also be able to see which NBN connection type you have at your home.

Who connects NBN to your house?

The NBN will be installed in your home or local area depending on the connection type you receive by NBN Co, free of any charges. However, you will need to pay your internet bill, as you would any other internet service, to your NBN provider, for supplying your service. Once you’ve chosen which internet company you want your NBN plan with, that provider will then set up installation (if required), including connecting your modem to the NBN.

The exception to this is if your home is in a new development area, in which case you may be required to pay a ‘new development charge’of $300. If this applies to you, you’ll be informed by your provider at sign-up.

Your internet provider may require you to pay a setup or installation cost separate to the NBN Co installer. Before signing up to any NBN plan, make sure you read the Critical Information Summary and details of the plan to see if there are any extra or hidden fees you will need to pay upfront. Many providers also offer a new NBN-ready modem, which may be included with your plan or optional, and you may have to pay for this.

Do I have to switch to the NBN?

Once the NBN has been installed in your area, you’ll have up to 18 months to switch over to the network before your old ADSL internet connection is turned off. You can opt out of the NBN, but it means that you’ll be left without a fixed-line internet connection to your home and you might change your mind later on. If you choose not to switch to the NBN, you should look for an appropriate wireless broadband service.

What is the alternative to the NBN?

There isn’t only one alternative to the NBN, rather there’s a handful. If you’re interested in having internet on the go, consider picking up a mobile broadband plan, or a postpaid or prepaid phone plan with lots of data. If you’re after a home internet solution, consider home wireless broadband, as it’ll provide big data allowances (and sometimes unlimited) depending on your plan and provider.

There are also other options out there depending on what you live and what you’re willing to spend to get different types of technology. Starlink will be available in Australia once its beta is finished, and OptiComm is a fibre alternative to the NBN available in some locations across Australia.

How much do NBN plans cost?

NBN plans start from just $29.99 per month, but for this you may only receive the Basic speed (NBN 12) and a limited amount of data (from 10GB). The slower speeds are generally cheaper and you can easily find cheap NBN plans for under $60, some with unlimited data.

If you want more speed and are looking at plans on NBN 50 or above and need unlimited data, these plans can start anywhere from $60 per month, and go up to around $90-$100. The fastest NBN speeds can easily cost over $100 — the faster the speed, the more the plan will cost. You might also find some of the more expensive plans may be bundled plans with extra inclusions such as entertainment add ons.

Do all NBN providers use the same network?

Yes. Unlike Australian phone networks, all NBN providers are powered by the same network, which is operated by NBN Co. However, the bandwidth these providers purchase – plus the speeds they offer to customers – will still have an impact on your user experience at home.

Do I need a phone line for the NBN?

No, a home phone isn’t a requirement for the NBN like it was for ADSL. Unlike ADSL, you don’t need to pay a line rental fee with the NBN, so needing a home phone isn’t necessary. However, if you want to keep using your landline number, you can still access your home phone through the NBN through the VoIP service, which allows you to call people through the network.

How to upgrade your NBN connection

If you’re dissatisfied with the speed of your NBN connection, you can get a quote from NBN Co for changing your connection type to Fibre-to-the Premises, which is generally considered as being the best connection type. NBN Co’s Technology Choice Program gives you the option of upgrading your connection at a cost.

Will 5G replace NBN?

5G offers faster maximum speeds than standard NBN, but it’s tough to say that it’s an NBN killer yet. 5G coverage is still incredibly limited across Australia, with its rollout still far from being finished. It could be an alternative to the NBN, but it’s unlikely to replace the NBN entirely. Also, NBN Co is now making ultra-fast download speeds of up to 1000Mbps available for providers to deliver to households with certain connection types, so we’re seeing some competition when it comes to super-fast internet.

Can you contact NBN Co directly?

If there’s a problem with your NBN connection, such as line damage causing constant dropouts, or if you’d like to make an enquiry about contractor conduct or technology locations, you can call NBN Co on 1800 687 626.

If you have issues about speed, network outages, connection dropouts or missing equipment like modems, you should contact your NBN provider.

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